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Classroom Management, Teaching Tips & Tricks, Uncategorized   |   May 3, 2010

How to support kids who miss instruction due to pull-out programs

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Hi Angela! I stumbled upon your website looking for ideas on behavior management, and found I LOVE IT! I have since ordered your book also. I have a question for you…our state (and alot of the country I guess) is doing a program called Response To Intervention…my question is this…when my students are out of my room in Tier groups, I’m teaching either Language/Writing or Science/Social Studies….the students out of the room are missing instruction and assignments….I’m having difficulty figuring out what to do in order to keep them on target (obviously, they are students that cannot afford to miss instruction). I’ve tried a few different things but nothing seems to be working…any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank You! Kristen

Hi, Kristen, thanks for writing and giving permission for me to share your question on the blog! This problem is so common I thought I’d answer it here in hopes of helping other teachers and soliciting their ideas, as well.Special education classes, speech therapy, guidance counseling, gifted classes, RTI/intervention pull-outs—there are an endless list of interruptions to regular class instruction.

I’ve struggled with this issue in my own classroom: in one particularly difficult year, my students were pulled out in 5 different intervention groups which met at inconsistent times and frequencies, and were often canceled at the last minute due to staff coverage issues. My 12:30-1:30 math block was a disaster: I only had the entire class from 12:50-1:10 three times a week. Four kids came in at 12:35, six left at 12:40…it was incredibly hard to manage. I see the same difficulties now as an instructional coach, but fortunately, I do have some suggestions to help make the situation easier:

1) Teach core subjects when all or most of your kids are present by using some creative scheduling.

It’s not always possible, but think outside the box for solutions. Can you switch specials, lunch, or recess times with another teacher, even if it’s one day a week? Can you double up on a core subject or activity one day when all your kids are in class and skip it the next when they’re being pulled-out? Don’t be afraid to ask your administration if you know these changes will benefit your kids, and don’t be worry about confusing students. If your procedures are consistent and expectations are clear, changes in schedule won’t really throw them off.

2) Split a subject between two times.

One teacher I know who was tired of her reading pull-out kids missing writing instruction decided to split her 45 minute writing block in half. The first half is in the morning when most kids are in the room, and she does mini-lessons on writing craft and occasionally grammar and handwriting. (Since some kids are pulled out during this time two days per week, she introduces new or foundational skills only on days when everyone is present.) The second half of the writing block is after lunch, and the kids who aren’t in intervention groups practice the skills she taught that day. This way the pull-out kids aren’t missing any actual instruction, and are allowed time to practice the skills on days when pull-outs are not scheduled or canceled.

3) Create challenging projects or activities that only non-pull-out kids are responsible for.

Many on-grade-level kids feel left out and ask, “When do I get to work with another teacher?” Having a special activity that is only conducted when the others are gone can help alleviate that feeling and challenge your higher performing kids. Research projects are perfect for this: they’re easily differentiated to meet the needs of every child, fun enough that the on-grade-level kids will want to work yet not so enticing that the pull-out kids will whine endlessly about missing out, and you never have to worry about make-up work when the intervention kids return to the classroom.

4) Accept the fact that you won’t get to teach every concept to every child, and refine your instructional practices down to only the most effective elements.

Part of the frustration with pull-out groups is that everything feels too important for any kids to miss. But is that second worksheet really helping your kids master the skill? Do your students truly need to copy vocabulary definitions into their journals? Use the pull-outs to help you examine how you use your students’ time. If it’s not important enough for intervention students to make up later, is it important enough to assign? Cutting out 30 minutes of ineffective routines and practices leaves you with 30 extra minutes to focus on what kids really need.

5) Set up routines that allow pull-out kids to re-join the group seamlessly.

One year, my special needs students always missed the first ten minutes of math instruction, so I had the class do warm-up activities, journaling, or partner math games during that time. The latecomers knew to come in wordlessly and take out the same materials the other kids were working with, and immediately begin participating in the last 5 minutes of the warm-up. For children who weren’t able to make this transition easily, I had other group members set up the materials for them, so all they had to do was sit down and start working. This expectation had to be taught, modeled, practiced, and reinforced, but it only took a few days for the kids to get the hang of it.

6) Bring pull-out kids up-to-date with limited and structured peer-tutoring.

It’s unfair to expect another child to reteach your lessons, but it’s okay to set aside small periods of time for pull-out kids to work with high-performing children who enjoy helping and benefit from synthesizing their knowledge and skills. First thing in the morning or the end of the day can be great times for kids to buddy up and go over key textbook or paper-and-pencil practice that absolutely must be covered. Set up clear expectations so that the time is valuable for all children involved and re-work routines and partners as often as needed. I used to occasionally provide time during my third graders’ guided reading group rotations for 4 ‘student leaders’ to brainstorm, discuss, practice, and refine the teaching techniques they would use to help the pull-out kids. They would review the activity together and make sure each one could articulate the skill and demonstrate multiple strategies for tackling it. It was clear from their conversations that the peer-tutoring experience was helping them address their own misconceptions and walk away with a deeper understanding of the subject area.

7) Examine your teaching style: dealing with pull-outs is most complicated when students are required to be focused completely on the teacher and all doing the same things at the same time.

If your students are used to learning in centers, small groups, cooperative investigations, or workshop-style formats, it’s far less disruptive to have kids filter in and out of the classroom. That’s because those formats allow kids to do different activities at different times, freeing the teacher to facilitate learning (and help transition the kids who are coming and going from intervention groups). If you’re not comfortable with these teaching methods, pick the one you know best and try it out when most of your kids are at pull-out groups. Sure, it takes longer for pull-out kids to understand the concepts you teach in their absence, but when all students are allowed to work at their own pace toward mastery, this won’t become a huge problem. Do most of your direct instruction when the whole class is in the room, and provide guided and independent practice throughout the day. Pull-out groups can be a great inspiration to provide more differentiated instruction and start allowing students to construct their own knowledge instead of depending on you to impart it.

8) When feeling frustrated, remind yourself to be grateful that other educators are helping teach your students.

There are schools that have NO pull-out classes whatsoever. I’ve taught in those environments, too, and believe me, the only thing more frustrating and exhausting than keeping up with 8 million intervention groups is being solely and completely responsible for the success of every child in your classroom. If you are fortunate enough to have someone providing interventions for your most challenging kids, count it as a blessing. Tier groups are worth the hassle because they support you AND your students.

Does anyone else have advice on managing RTI tier groups and other intervention pull-outs?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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Discussion


  1. I am one of those teachers that are responsible for pulling out your students. I try to remember that they are missing important instruction time in their regular classrooms. When I can, I try to bring in the lessons that they are seeing in the classroom into whatever I am working on. This way they get part, if not all of what they are missing. Depends on the child and the teacher. I love it when the classroom teacher lets me know what they are working on.

    Angela, as usual, your insight and suggestions are priceless. Thank you for your web site, and your blog. I cannot not tell you how many times I have used material that I have gleaned from you.

    1. You are so welcome! I love the fact that you try to work with the classroom teachers. That collaboration is difficult to accomplish with such limited time for planning.

  2. Angela, I'm not sure what I appreciate more: your practical suggestions or your reminder to be grateful for the additional support.

  3. Angela, our school uses Read 180(90 minutes) and System 44 (45 minutes)for reading pullout programs and we are departmentalized in 4th grade. I teach 3 reading classes a day. I have a 90 minute block. I also do the intervention the first 30 minutes of my language arts block in each class. We have rearranged the kids schedules so they don't always travel with their homeroom class. They get plugged back into whatever class they are missing after their 30 minutes of intervention with me. It's not ideal but it works. Between the pullouts and intervention with me, I saw real growth this year in some of my low readers. 30/60 came to me from level J-P (below level for 4th grade)which is below grade level at the beginning of the year. Now I have 9 and they are not far from the Q range. You can make it work. You just have to be flexible.

    1. Carey, that’s great to hear about your kids’ gains! Flexibility is soooo important with teaching. It’s easy to harp on the way it “should” be, but how much more productive to just accept the situation for what it is, and make it work for the kids.

  4. Great ideas! I will save for next year. Pull-outs have been a major frustrastion as there is only one hour that I consistently have all students. I had to do a spread sheet to keep track of it all. While I'm greatfly for the help, it's hard to find a time where all get instructions needed. (And, boy, you are right! Those on-grade level students reaaaally hate being "left behind." 🙂

    1. Cindy, I had a spreadsheet, too! I felt like a lunatic but it was truly the only way to keep track of everyone’s comings and goings!

      Isn’t it funny how the on-grade-level kids ask for pull-outs? It just goes to show how far we’ve come since the stigma of special ed classes was something kids feared. Now they’re worried there’s something wrong with them if they DON’T get extra help. 😉

  5. I love your suggestions. I would add to #8, sometimes it is okay to "let go" of a grade. While you can't always excuse a kid from an assignment, sometimes it is prudent and the ethical thing to do. Of course, this can't be done for all work, but I don't think we as teachers need to beat ourselves or that student up over a missing assignment when they were receiving specialized instruction. Be grateful for that specialized instruction and realize that is the most important component at this time for the student, not necessarily the assignment they missed.

  6. Hi, Angela.

    I went to an MTSS/RTI workshop about a month ago given by Wayne Callender
    (wayne@partnersforlearning.org) and Wow! This was an awesome
    presentation. In fact, our district is planning on inviting him to speak
    to all teachers at the beginning of next school year.

    Anyway, one of the things that we'll start doing in our building is what
    is called a "push-in" in contrast to a "pull-out". This is like a "All
    hands on deck" type of instruction. In this situation sped teachers, title
    teachers and paras come into the classroom and work with you in small
    groups for Tier 2 or Tier 3 students. In our bldg. we have 3 4th grade
    teachers. One will take Tier 1 students, the others Tier 2 or 3. Tier 3
    are your lowest of low that cannot and do not survive with regular
    instruction and need that extra support. Let's say you have 15 students
    who are on Tier 3. Then you would have 3 groups of 5. Your sped teacher,
    you and a para would take a group. Each of the students visit each
    teacher and work on different skills. Of coarse you would have a sped
    student in each of the groups to be in compliance with SPED regulations.
    The title teachers would then be in the Tier 2 class–those students who
    need a little more help than Tier 1 but not as much as Tier 3 students-and
    the same is done.

    This "roadmap" uses a tiered approach for addressing student needs. It
    maximizes the use of regular, title, and special education resources for
    the benefit of ALL students. With all the communication going on teachers
    can use the assessment for the purpose of instructional decision making.
    It is very intensive and requires collaboration from all involved.

    I don't know about you but boy do I have a difficult time getting any
    information from our Title teachers and Sped teachers as well. Trying to
    track info is hard. And then they're doing something totally different
    than what you're doing or focusing on. With our teachers, who knows what
    they're doing and so far it seems like it's not working.

    I hope this makes sense. Let me know if I need to clarify anything.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share what your school is doing. I know a lot of schools are moving toward push-ins. They spin it like it’s what’s best for kids, but I think it’s just to ease personnel demands as they’re laying off teachers and increasing class sizes.

      For push-ins to work, all the teachers involved have to be given some regular common planning time, and that doesn’t seem to be happening in most schools. They expect 3 teachers to be in the room working with kids at the same time, but they’re not given time to really talk about where the kids are at or where the instruction is going. Half the time the special ed teachers and paras don’t show up because they’re pulled into meetings and other duties, and administration figures it’s okay since they don’t have to arrange for classroom coverage–just leave the kids with the gen ed teacher, she’ll figure it out.

      I really hope this plan will go better at your school.The fact that your district has hired Wayne to speak to the teachers (and hopefully give input as to how the system is implemented) is a really good sign. Please check back in and let us know how it goes. 🙂

  7. At our school we have a time for each grade level to have special reading and math groups. For 30 minutes, every student goes to a differentiated smaller group. This is when Tier 2 kids are in groups of 3-5 and Tier 1 students are in groups of 2-3. We use every teacher at the grade level, the librarian, aides, floaters, special education personnel- and in this way we are using the intervention time for every student.

    It would be hard to do without being well set up, but you might be able to coordinate something even with just your grade level. I love it because we are looking each month at the groups to see if kids need to move, and we are not only providing intervention for the ‘low’ kids, but we are providing enrichment for the kids who need that too! I think even if we didn’t have this program, I’d want to still use that pull-out time for extra practice and enrichment with the other kids as much as possible.

  8. I too work at an RTI school. I struggle with this same issue- how to make sure every student leaves with the same information. It’s not possible. It seems unfair, but the kids being pulled out are missing foundational skills necessary before learning anything else. That’s more important. I like your idea of creative scheduling. Good thought! You really made me think about the activities I have my students complete when you said that if it’s not worth making up its not worth giving in the first place. Man, I’ll be throwing out some things that’s for sure!

    1. I strictly work with my school’s RTI population. I can see where the homeroom/subject teachers’ frustration stems from; however, most students (usually older. T3 students) are overloaded in the classroom because they are missing the basic, basic skills. The pull out (or push in) is setting them up to start from the basics, o r far below the “on grade level” curriculum. (Ex: I have 5th graders reading on a first grade level, end of school year) I like #8 because, honestly at times, I feel as though the homeroom teachers (AT MY SCHOOL) take out their frustrations on me and I have to remind them I am here to do my job in helping the students.

  9. These suggestions have worked well for me over the years, but I hadn’t thought of #3! Sometimes the on-grade-level students notice that the others get pulled out for remediation, and they attempt to do a sloppy job so they can get pulled out, too. I think I will try having something that they can do that’s different. I always try to remember that students who are pulled out NEED the instruction they are getting in the pull out session, so I don’t worry too much about what they miss. I always try to make sure they don’t miss the best part of the lesson, though.

  10. As a gifted/enrichment teacher who facilitates a pullout, I love your thoughts in #7 about differentiated instruction! We have designed a model in our district that works to pull out the gifted/advanced students 1 hour weekly to serve their needs, but the key is the teachers pick the times that work for them. That helps minimize disruption (although it’s not perfect). During those times, they provide remediation in the classroom while I work with the high achievers in the Challenge Lab. The teachers also initiate other extension groups for language arts, math or science/social studies…they pick the best times in their schedule, I provide the instruction/enrichment activities during those times, and again, they use the time to work with a smaller class on remediation. It is truly an RTI, but “Response to Intelligence.” The beauty of it is that since it is not just for the gifted, but also for other high achieving students, we can serve more students’ needs both in the Challenge Lab and in the regular classroom. Win-Win! Here’s the link for more info: challengelabenrichment.blogspot.com

  11. I teach four 60-minute block ELA classes besides Social Studies for my homeroom. I have students pulled out for MTA (dyslexia program) for 50 minutes of my 60-minute class, 4 times a week. Friday is the only full class I have them for, and sometimes not even then because a few of them are SPED and get pulled on Friday for remediation work. This year has been harder than others because everyone (admin included) feels its better for them to miss ELA (not tested) than Reading, Math, or Science (tested subjects). No amount of creative scheduling I’ve tried can make up for only having 10-15 minutes a day to teach writing, grammar, and spelling. The only thing I can think of that might work is flipping instruction for these kids. That is, if they can access the internet from home to be able to watch the videos. Any other ideas?

    Our special ed teachers and instructional coaches are spread so thin they can’t even come in to class like they are scheduled to provide basic support for Tier 2s, 3s and SPED students. (Special ed teachers are scheduled to come in twice a week but only make it about once every other week.) And in 5th grade we don’t get aides or paras. We have 30 kids in each or the 4 classes.

  12. Gentle Counterpoint- It is challenging to be one of the teachers who does pull-out work. I’m a resource specialist. It is difficult to get teachers to provide me with their schedules or respond to emails. When they do provide me with a time to pull out, I sometimes arrive to find that the class isn’t there because their specials schedule has changed and no one has bothered to inform me, or the teacher has given the class extra recess. I’ve tried working with teachers by doing push-in. I’ve scheduled push-in math with teachers to find that on half the days we were scheduled, the teacher was doing art when I arrived, or was lecturing, leaving me with nothing to do.

    What I want to tell classroom teachers sometimes is this- the work you are doing right now is way above what my student is able to do. If they are going to have any chance of catching up, they need this time with me. So when I walk into the room, please smile or at least acknowledge me.

    The work I do is important, even if classroom teachers don’t see it. I serve students with disabilities, and the students are legally entitled to their service time. Thank you for reminding classroom teachers to appreciate the work we do with students.

    1. Beth, I know this comment is a couple years old, but I hope you have found a new place to work, where your colleagues are kind. I have worked in two districts in my 20 year career, and sped staff like yourself was not treated that way. What a terrible working environment.

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