Making 37 ½ Minutes Count: Teaching Learning-Disabled Middle School Students in a Pull-Out Program
Does teaching learning disabled students in a pull-out program under current conditions work?
Resource room services are given to learning disabled students for whom a self-contained special education class is deemed too restrictive. If the services are given in the general education classroom, the resource room teacher must adapt to the classroom teacher’s instruction and control. The students served may feel singled out or become distracted. If the services are given in a separate room, the student misses classroom instruction, which may cause him to fall further behind. Which model is the best for middle school students considering space and scheduling issues? Does either model give the support they need?
Research studies have continually supported the inclusive (push-in) model of special education over pull-out programs. In 2002, Rea et al published a study in Exceptional Children “suggesting that with adequate adaptations, individualized programs, and sufficient support, students with disabilities can achieve academic and social success in general education classroom.” However, in settings where any one of these is missing—where there is little or no planning time, where there are classroom management problems and behavioral concerns, and where scheduling is not well coordinated—many special education teachers simply have to pull the students out in small groups to provide services.
I teach in an urban school building that houses three schools. I am assigned to the elementary school and have a 6’ by 7’ classroom on the first floor. I also provide services to students from the junior high school. Their classroom is on the fifth floor. Due to classroom management issues, I was told by the director to pull the junior high students out of the classroom. From September to December, the number of students I worked with grew from 9 to 15. The groups were too large to fit in my room. I advocated the use of the 37½ minutes extended day program which began in February as an appropriate time for me to see my five most challenging students. For them, I reasoned, meeting during the first period of the dat at 8:00 gave these students the opportunity to begin their school day in a calm supportive setting.
- Interviews with the students on the value of resource room and their preference for push-in and pull-out service: These interviews were conducted in January and June so I could note changes in attitudes and observations.
- Weekly phone calls to parents and family members: These were used to analyze the family’s ability to support the student and observe effects in the student’s behavior.
- Conference notes and interviews with classroom teachers: These noted the willingness and ability of each teacher to share information about the curriculum and assignments as well as their attitude toward the students
- Attendance records and grades from progress reports: These tracked the results of my interventions.
January interviews indicated students sometimes felt embarrassed by my presence in class and distracted by other students’ behavior. June interviews revealed that the students preferred working with me in a pull-out program and saw the advantages of attending at 8:00.
Parents and family members whom I could reach or leave messages for supported my efforts. Attendance, punctuality and productivity improved with weekly and biweekly phone calls. However, one parent’s phone was frequently disconnected; her son refused to be seen by me in or out of the classroom.
I spent 60% of instructional time on math, because the classroom teacher gave me daily assignments, weekly progress reports, and worked with me to adapt the curriculum to meet my students’ needs. My students were held to the same standards and expectations as the rest of the class, and their progress was reflected in their grades. The ELA and social studies teachers were cooperative but less organized in tracking my students’ progress. Only 10% of instructional time was spent on science due to the teacher’s negative attitude toward my students and unwillingness to communicate with me.
Attendance and punctuality varied by week, but there was a 50% increase in instructional time because I no longer had to run between floors or search for my students. I observed the greatest gains in student motivation and effort; but there was also some improvement in grades.
I choose these students as the focus of my action research because they were the most challenging group to teach and the easiest to give up on. While research indicates that resource room services should be delivered by a push-in model, the conditions in my school—space, time, communication, and scheduling—all became roadblocks in my effort to serve them. Classroom behavior was often out-of-control which made it impossible for my students to focus on instruction. They were openly teased by other students for receiving my services. Most importantly, there was no collaborative planning time for teachers and me to prepare lessons. I was able to provide far more academic support by seeing students in a pull-out program early in the day. However, this service still did not fully address their instructional needs. I learned that I have the power to change conditions if I choose to take it. Changing the schedule made a difference in these students’ lives and gave them an example to follow, and it enabled me to work more productively with them.
- Services to special education students have been taken away by increasing class size, reducing personnel, and reducing class space all in the guise of inclusion.
- Resource room teachers should have the ability to determine group size according to students’ needs.
- Adequate classrooms should be provided. These should not be renovated closets or hallways.
- Collaborative planning time for classroom teachers and special teachers must be provided during the school day.