Konstantinos Rizos considers the role of therapies in enriching, strengthening and promoting the curriculum, not as an additional provision, but as a fully integrated and essential part of a setting’s curriculum as a whole.
As a starting point, we need to define what it means for therapies to be part of the curriculum. Many may argue that this might not need clarification as therapies are always included in the pupil’s timetable, therefore, are part of the curriculum. We will touch on that argument a bit more later, but what needs to be made clear is that this inclusion on a timetable is only the first action towards meaningful and practical integration.
Therapies are not complementary to a pupil’s individualised curriculum; they are part of the curriculum. When included in a child’s Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP), they are as much a part of the curriculum as academic or non-academic (eg social and community teaching skills, enrichment, behaviour management) subjects. One cannot have one without the other. How good is a teacher identifying and setting writing targets if a pupil cannot properly hold a pencil? What good is setting reading targets if a pupil experiences profound communication difficulties? How helpful is it to have behaviour systems that adjust the environment to foster positive behaviour change if the pupil’s understanding and thoughts have not been considered? Who can better assist with gaining information on those thoughts (or private events, as we sometimes call them in Applied Behaviour Analysis) than a psychotherapist? We can only talk about successful curricular integration if all decisions on goals and systems were made with close staff and therapist liaison before, during and after.
Therapies are not just another slot in the pupil’s timetable
To better integrate the therapies into the curriculum, we first need to understand the role of the therapies in a child’s continuing curriculum journey. Regarding my point about timetables, therapeutic sessions should not be treated as another activity included in the pupils’ class timetable. During direct sessions, the therapist will monitor and assess the goals to promote positive change. Of course, therapies need to have allocated times for the sessions to be conducted. However, the provision delivered should not start and end in those sessions.
The work done in a session, especially considering that the direct sessions may not generally last longer than an hour maximum per week (depending on the child’s EHCP provision), needs to be transferred and generalised into the classroom environment (and eventually outside of it). That means that the programmes need to be continuously run in settings outside the therapeutic rooms, to ensure that consistency, generalisation and maintenance are also looked at.
Direct staff and therapists need to have a close communication system to ensure that bi-directional feedback is being delivered for the benefit of the pupil and opinions and progress is shared. For example, the great work that an occupational therapist is doing with pencil grip needs to continue across all writing times. The great work of a speech and language therapist in strengthening communication whilst engaging in play activities in the therapeutic room needs to continue during outdoor free play. The great work that a creative arts therapist is doing with a pupil on promoting their initiation of greetings needs to continue during whole class outings in the community.
Communication and training are key
Effective and prompt communication amongst all professionals is a crucial component. This not only ensures that all parties have a clear understanding of the purpose of the goals and how to run them effectively; it also ensures that whatever changes need to be made will be made sooner rather than later. What is more, successes will be celebrated across all stakeholders and professionals.
Training is of paramount importance because it facilitates the effectiveness of the chosen interventions. Therapists need to spend time with class staff to help them understand and appreciate the reasoning, and we need to present the desired outcomes in a way that makes sense to the child’s school life outside the sessions.
Training and communication should not just be the sole responsibility of the therapist. All professionals should ensure that everybody is on the same page and have a shared vision and a collective understanding of the pupil’s needs and abilities.
One of the pitfalls of unsuccessful integration of therapeutic provision into a pupil’s daily life may come from direct staff not understanding what a therapist does and works towards and therapists not being aware of a pupil’s other needs, perhaps not directly related to their therapeutic goals but equally essential to know.
All skills are interconnected, and when cross-curricularity is evidenced and observed, it makes a curriculum even better.
Steps towards therapies curriculum integration
Every setting has its own curriculum. Some curricula might be more flexible and ‘welcoming’ to adaptations. In contrast, others may be more concrete and have distinct and separate thematic and teaching units that need to be followed hierarchically.
However, the adaptability of a curriculum should not be a consideration when it comes to therapeutic curriculum integration. As discussed, a potential barrier is the inconsistency of implementation of goals across professionals due to misinterpretation. Goal setting should come from the same source – the curriculum itself. Therapists should make it their goal to look at the pupil’s individualised curriculum as a whole.
They need to come into close contact with the strengths and needs of each pupil across all the subjects formulating their individualised curriculum. This is easier said than done, but it is not impossible.
Steps that professionals can take to ensure that the therapeutic provision is fully embedded include:
• Look at the pupil’s individualised curriculum as a whole and gain a better understanding of the pupil’s overall strengths and needs.
• Identify goals that are directly linked to their discipline by looking at the relevant subject areas.
• Liaise with other therapists after the goal-setting has been completed to, if possible, introduce cross-disciplinary interventions.
• Liaise with the pupil’s direct classroom staff to gain information and clarify the reasoning and challenges of accessing the curriculum.
• Agree with all professionals that the selected goals are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).
• Have good awareness of the school’s monitoring system on assessing achievement and progress of goals.
• Incorporate the same logic and, if possible, adopt the same monitoring system to review goals.
When the above steps are followed, they will assist in creating a common language amongst all professionals. It will profoundly impact the child’s progress on the curriculum as a whole and not just on specific goals. Therapeutic goals will cease to be a specialist’s work and will become a part of the child’s standard toolkit towards achievement. Therapeutic objectives and outcomes will be as much part of the curriculum as the goals set by teachers, positive behaviour management specialists and other professionals. What is more, they will strengthen even more the sentiment of belonging and being part of a bigger whole for everybody.