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edusationsart.jpg I have never been a fan of mainstreaming, especially for elementary students with learning disabilities in reading. As a special education teacher in a small Minnesota school district, I have a pull-out model that focuses primarily on remediation of reading disabilities. I view what I do, short focused assessment-driven reading lessons, as therapies.

Most students identified as special needs languish at the 5th percentile even with the special education instruction they receive. Most special education program instruction differs little from the regular classroom instruction. Hence, the lack of progress of the identified students. They need something different.

Moving to the therapy-based model was difficult at first. I faced resistance from my school administration, yet was able to pull it off for the majority of my students. The results have been exceptional. Some of my students have gained two reading levels during one year of remediation through 15-20 minutes of focused one-on-one lessons during a 30-minute classroom pull out. This level of success is not possible with a mainstream model where the focus would be more on maintaining a student’s progress in the regular classroom, rather than building the skills necessary to succeed on their own.

The importance of early identification and remediation cannot be stressed enough. Students who have reading difficulties or do not have rich experiences with words and books prior to school have a difficult time catching up. The readers gain more words and broader vocabularies and those who struggle continue to struggle. The readers gain meaning quicker and enjoy reading and school while the non-readers are turned off by the written word. Catching them early is essential.

The idea of mainstreaming to minimize the stigma that often accompanies students in special education has some merit. However, the educational gains, at least in terms of elementary students, I have found to be less than significant. My experience suggests a pull-out model with therapy-based instruction provides more substantial gains.

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