Merge: A push-in classroom delivery of specially designed services.
A question that I hear often from Speech Pathologists is, “How do I successfully merge into the classroom?” Some SLPs try to merge because of parent or administrative pressure to provide services in the “least restrictive environment,” while others are just looking to change their service delivery. In this monthly series of posts, I will be explaining how I have merged into different types of classrooms for the last 5+ years.
What makes merging into the general education class work?
- My SLPA and I both provide merge services. This year, I am merging into Kindergarten only and she is covering the other classrooms. Other years, we have divided the grade levels more evenly.
- We merge during oral language instruction, so that ideally the students are talking during this time.
- We merge into all grade levels (but not all classrooms) that have students with language goals. I do not typically merge into classrooms for articulation students.
- Merge is never my only therapy service. I always also provide at least once per week pull-out services.
I began merging years ago when my district adopted a “school wide” language model. In this model, specific language instruction is taught to ALL students, not just English Language Learners. This language model provides direct instruction using sentence frames, games, models, repetition, and some seat work activities. I explained to the staff (via email) at the beginning of that first year that my SLPA and I would be coming into some of their classrooms during language time. We would come in one to two times per week for thirty minutes each. Our goal was to directly or indirectly assist students who were on the speech caseload. However, we also would take some students for intervention purposes.
Initially, many teachers were confused about what it should look like to have this additional adult in the room. They took a few approaches:
- Some ignored us.
- Some wanted us to take our kids and “do something with them.”
- Some thought we were going to take over the class period.
Over time, however, we became regulars in the classroom and were greeted warmly by most.
None, other than emailing the teacher at the beginning of the year. Seriously. I don’t prepare anything in advance. I go into the room, assess the lesson and topic at hand, and jump in from there.
This is the trickiest part of merging into the general education classroom for me. When my SLPA or myself pull students for small groups within the room, we have a notebook and keep track of data as it relates to the students’ goals. When we are providing other types of instruction, however, I admit that I don’t take data. I try to at least remember what we did during merge and write it into their data forms. I do not bill Medicaid for this time. Because I always provide at least one pull-out therapy session per week, I know that I will always have data to measure progress.
So, what is the SLP actually doing in the classroom?
Assisting with the whole class:
With some grade levels and with some tasks, it has worked best to assist with the entire class for all whole group instruction. This system works well in Kindergarten. The teacher is often at the front of the carpet leading the students with sentence frame activities. I listen to all the students, but especially focus on the ones in my caseload. I will have them quietly repeat information to me, slow them down, or provide them with the correct words to use. In the Kindergarten class, I also provide input to the teacher throughout the lesson and act as a helper teacher. Because there is a student using AAC in this year’s Kindergarten class, I have taught the assistant/nurse how to keep her engaged in the lesson, even when she cannot find the same words as the rest of the class on her devices.
Pulling small groups:
For some activities and some grade levels, it works better to pull small groups. These groups consist of students on the speech caseload and one to two intervention students. We work at a desk or a table within the room. We are always working on the same work as the rest of the class, but in very small group form. In this therapy model, we can provide visuals, sentence frames, and individual word prompting as needed. Some of my students also need positive incentive to stay engaged so we provide constant reinforcement that the general education teacher is unable to provide.
When possible, I ask the teacher to seat my focus students in the same area on the carpet or desks during my merge time. Sometimes, however, that does not work out. In these cases, I may be the amazing, spectacular floating SLP. I roam from student to student and help them with the task they are doing. I ask them verbal questions and have them restate information for me. I may throw in a few extra questions related to their specific speech goals.
Occasionally, I end up leading the instruction. This is rarely pre-arranged. The teacher may be in the middle of the lesson and asks for some help. Or I may volunteer myself because it is an area that I feel comfortable leading. I end up leading instruction on a regular basis when there is a substitute teacher in the room. I help with visuals (I am the school’s visual queen!) and teach the students some ASL vocabulary to help them communicate with my AAC user.
The advantages to merging into the general education classroom:
- I know what is going on in the classroom! This is invaluable information during my pull-out therapy services. I can add vocabulary words from the class into the therapy session easily, without bugging the teacher each week to provide this information. I can see and determine appropriate social skills for students who struggle in this area.
- I form better relationships with classroom teachers. I can honestly say that I know the teaching styles of every teacher in whose room I have ever merged. I understand them better as people. This helps me to help my students more.
- I see my students in more than one setting. It is a warped perspective to only see my students in the speech room. It is not where they are and what they are doing 6+ hours of the day.
- I provide easy screening and intervention services. Just by including a student in a group that I am already running in a classroom provides me with so much information! I have asked teachers to refer students that they didn’t even have on their radar after walking around the room a few times. I can provide services and recommend testing for other students after including them in my small groups or monitoring them in class. It is a very easy way to start the RTI process.
- I remind the school that I am a valuable part of the school community. When I am off in my corner speech room, I am forgotten. Intentionally and unintentionally, people don’t know who I am or what I do (and yes, I’ve been at the same school for 14 years). When I am out teaching in the classrooms, they know and respect me. They remember to refer students to me. They are reminded of the goals of their students.
Click here to read the rest of the series about how SLPs can successfully merge into other parts of the school.
Now it’s time to hear from you! In the comments below tell me:
1. Do you merge into general education classrooms? What does it look like?
2. If you do not merge, what is preventing you from doing so?