Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Classroom Environments that Support Inclusive Intervention

Last year was my first year in reading intervention for quite some time.  It was the first time I had been completely out of my classroom and devoting my entire day to supporting readers.  My time is spent with primary students needing additional reading support.  I don't consider my readers to be struggling or deficit, but to be a different place than most of their peers.  My role, as I see it, is to help them to build bridges and make connections so they can be a part of their reading communities.  I still find myself thinking between my role as a classroom teacher and my role as someone providing reading support.  Both roles provide different advantages and challenges in supporting readers.

To support readers I prefer situations in which I am able to go into classrooms (some advantages here).  I'm not a big fan of the word push-in.  It sounds controlling.  It sounds forceful.  For me, I think of it more as working alongside.  There's something that feels more accommodating about going into a classroom.  I feel like it sends the message that the student is most important.  It seems to say, "I'll meet you where you are."  I also find that it helps me to make stronger connections to classroom instruction and help students with transitions between lessons and the work they do in their classrooms.

I am continually reminded of how lucky I am to have teachers who are willing to set up communities that make coming into their classrooms to support readers work.  Of course, for this type of situation to work classroom teachers and support staff must be willing to work together in the best interest of the children.  Communication has to be open and honest.  Time has to be respected on a daily basis.  These are some of the characteristics I find conducive to success:
  • Long Literacy Blocks:  Recently I was talking to a few friends who work in the same role I have in other districts.  They were asking how I managed to get into classrooms with schedules being the way they are.  As we talked I realized some of what makes my situation work is that teachers dedicate 120-150 minutes in literacy instruction.  In grade levels where teachers run similar schedules, it is also possible for me to flexibly move students between classrooms to better match lessons to student need without shaking up everyone's schedules.   
  • Consistent Routines and Schedules:  It's easier to go into classrooms that have consistent routines and schedules.  In these classrooms students know their role across learning times and teachers are freed up to meet with small groups and individuals.  Coming into classrooms works best in classrooms that are using a workshop model.  There's much flexibility within the structure of a workshop to meet with students.  
  • Timeliness:  Both teachers and support staff have to work to respect time.  If I say I am going to be in someone's classroom for a certain period of time it is important that I am there every day at that time.  Because the time of support staff is also limited, it is helpful when classroom teachers are keeping the class on schedule to help utilize the time available for specialists.  
  • Cooperative Learning Environment:  I find the best inclusive intervention happens when the tone in the room is one where everyone works together, problems are solved as a community, and each member is seen for the strengths they bring the others.  In these rooms the group understands they're stronger together.  The teacher isn't the only one solving problems, and students are connected to others beyond their classroom.  
  • Students Engaged in Self-Selected Work:  I have found I've had the most success in classrooms where students have choice and ownership in their work.  In these situations, students know they have time during workshops to complete projects as learning carries across days and isn't as full of deadlines.  Stepping away from their work for a bit doesn't mean they won't be able to finish.  Students given tasks to complete by the end of a literacy block worry they won't be able to finish on time.  Additionally, it is easier for me to connect our learning to the work they are doing when they are working on authentic tasks related to learning.  
  • Students Are Responsible for Their Time:  When all students in the classroom are responsible for their time and have ownership in their learning they are more likely to use their time effectively.  Interruptions are much less in these types of classrooms.  
  • A Hum of Learning Fills the Room:  Silence isn't necessary for me to go into a classroom.  As a matter of fact, our small group can sometimes be a distraction in a room expected to be silent.  However, in rooms where everyone respects the learning space it is much easier to meet.  In these rooms students and teachers move to one another to talk.  Voices are kept at a whisper and conversations are about learning.  There's conversation in these rooms, but it is purposeful conversation.  
  • Thoughtful Movement:  It isn't necessary for everyone to stay in their seats for small group work to happen, but it is easier when movement is limited to purpose.  In classrooms where students collect books, tools, and other items needed before finding a space to begin there is less movement during the time we work together.  
As the calendar turns to August I'm busy thinking of ways I can better support students in the coming year.  What worked?  What needs to change?  I know I couldn't do any of this without the help of the classroom teachers that support these students across the day.  I'm fortunate to be part of a community that believes in the power of literacy and putting students first.


  1. Cathy,
    This line says it all-
    "My role, as I see it, is to help them to build bridges and make connections so they can be a part of their reading communities"
    Isn't this the goal we have for all readers? Your post is helpful in thinking about my role as the classroom teacher and what our classroom needs to provide to support all readers and teachers.
    Your readers (and teachers) learn so much from your willingness to think deeply about their needs and who best to support them,

  2. Where is the LOVE IT button when you need it? I just love everything about this post.

    Inclusive intervention. "I'll meet you where you are." Flexibility. And that last line. {Swoon.}

    Yes, yes, yes to it all. Thanks for sharing about the classroom environments that allow for successful inclusive intervention. I need to read this again (for the fifth time) and let it all soak in.

    As always, I'm thankful for your willingness to share!

  3. Cathy - your reflection, as always, is so honest and thought-provoking. We teachers need to be open to working together to create the best learning environments for students!

  4. I echo the sentiments of others...this post was so thoughtful, insightful and focused on what really matters: our students. Your framing of characteristics essential for success focuses on the classroom and the teachers...not the knowledge/skills/behaviors needed in students. We need to accommodate them and not the other way around. This was so well said. I plan to share this with my graduate students this Fall!