Which is best pull-out or push-in interventions?

  • 09 March, 2019

Teacher question:

My district is looking to improve our current intervention model. Currently, our reading interventionists operate on a pull-out model. However, we have heard that a push-in model can be be more effective so are interested in moving in that direction. What does the research say about the effectiveness of pull-out versus push-in for reading intervention? If one is more effective than the other, what would that entail?  

Shanahan response:

When people tell you that you should adopt a model or approach that they like because it is more “effective” you should ask to see their evidence.

I went looking for research on “push in” interventions. There is, of course, a lot of research data showing that various pull out interventions have worked at improving reading achievement. However, I could find only one study on push in interventions and it was carried out 15 years ago. It was very small and preliminary study that did no more than “suggest the possibility” that such an approach could be beneficial. Too little to go on.

(If your colleagues have found any such studies, please send them along).

There seem to be two different versions of push in reading.

One is the idea of the teacher who essentially “shadows” certain students providing them with assistance as necessary (e.g., keeping them attentive, adding explanation when needed, closely monitoring student seatwork, etc.). The point of this kind of push-in teacher is to ensure that the struggling students fully participate in and benefit from the regular classroom teaching. (This model seems to be most common with physical handicaps and severe cognitive difficulties, but I’ve seen it with minimal disabilities as well. More on this in a minute,)

Another, version relegates the is the push-in teacher to the role of parallel teaching. This teacher works with a small group of students in their classroom, providing them with alternative instruction. While, the classroom teacher works with the more advantaged small groups, the push-in teacher is dealing with the more challenged teachers. With this approach kids don’t lose time walking down the hall to the intervention teacher, and they don’t suffer the discomfort and disconnect from classmates common with pull-out programs.

I’ve personally only seen any push-in model in practice once in my career… and it was one of the worst observational experiences of my life. The problems were so stark as to be the stuff of goofball comedy.

The push-in teacher instead of helping her charges to better understand and learn from the classroom instruction, seemed to be in competition with the general education teacher. At one point she literally got up and erased what the teacher had written on the chalkboard! Obviously, a horrible example, so horrible that I can’t imagine that it could go any worse in your district. In any event, if you decide to go the push-in route, you’d better make sure the teachers can work well together and that they have a shared vision of what’s needed to advance children’s learning.

For reading instruction, the alternative teaching approach makes the greatest sense. If the classroom teacher is devoting an hour to small group teaching, then each of the three groups might get about 20 minutes of attention per day. With the push in model, perhaps the two more advantaged groups could get 30 minutes each, and the strugglers could receive a full hour of actual teaching. That could be terrific.

With the neediest kids, I usually advise going with approaches that have done especially well in the research studies. Given the dearth of evidence on this approach—and the large amount of positive support for various kinds of pull-out efforts—I’d not argue for push in.My hunch is that if I could pull out a small group and teach them separately, I could do more successful job of teaching these kids effectively and could build better upon the classroom teaching.

However, if your colleague carried the day, I’d insist that the alternative teaching route be taken, and make sure that the children served by the push-in teacher receive substantially more instruction than would usually be possible.

Maybe push in can work even better than pull out, but I will need at least a small amount of research that actually supports this alternative. Until then, I’d recommend using any approach that maximizes the amount of teaching that the children are going to receive.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Lucia Schroeder
Mar 10, 2019 05:00 AM

I used a push-in approach with an experienced “aide”. For a 5th grade class with reading scores from grade 1 to 9 as scored on AR. During the year most students improved at least to mid-4th grade. I introduced topics with mini-lessons, then we each worked with small groups. When working with readers who needed the most help, we emphasized SILENT reading skills along with vocabulary development. NO “popcorn” reading.
We also used a lot of historical fiction from various reading levels and topics that supported our Social Studies lessons. Students shared in various ways from their books to create whole class lessons. During silent reading students were not limited to books “at their level” but were encouraged to read more difficult (sports related !) books with a partner or to question each other as to main ideas or unknown words. This became a team approach and helped develop classroom community.

Bonnie Mozer
Mar 10, 2019 05:16 AM

As a Reading Specialist with several years experience, it was iimportant for me to consider several factors in order to decide how to best serve students in need of reading improvement.
Recently I was hired to supprort reading improvement in an elementary school with experienced teachers. I was only at the TKschool 2 and one half days a week. Some of the referred students would be only able to see me one day a week. Therefore. I submitted a push in schedule for students closest to grade level during their group rotations so their teachers could observe and follow up the same day with the same students in small gruop instuction. Students 2 or more years below grade level also received addition time with me in the reading room. All students made considerable progess and most reached grade level after at about the six week mark.

Bonnie Mozer
Mar 10, 2019 05:19 AM

Error Correction : TK-6 School

Mar 10, 2019 06:14 PM

Is push in considered the same thing as co-teaching?

Mar 10, 2019 06:55 PM

To answer Allison's question, push-in could be co-teaching, but could also be 2 teachers doing small group lessons in the regular classroom. When I push-in to a first grade classroom for example, I do the whole group read aloud/mini-lesson, then we break into small groups. The regular ed teacher has her two groups for 20 minutes and I see that classroom's reading support students in two separate groups of 4 each for 20 minutes of guided reading using the "approaching" level reader. Any remaining students not being seen by either teacher for a 20 minute block are doing RAZ Kids, eSpark (iPad programs) or independent reading. True co-teaching involves both teachers planning and executing a lesson together - dividing teacher and students' responsibilities according to desired lesson outcomes.

Tim Shanahan
Mar 11, 2019 12:53 AM

Allison — not usually, push in is aimed at supporting the learning of specific children because of some kind of problem or disability. Typically in co-teaching or team teaching the two teachers share responsibility for the whole class.


Mar 11, 2019 01:35 AM

Pros and Cons
In my previous district, our building switched a number of years ago to having reading instructional assistants doing evidence-based reading interventions in teachers' rooms for a few reasons. The primary reason was that it encouraged teachers to stick to the master schedule - it was not possible to keep going with whole group instruction with the IAs in there. Previously, our neediest students were missing out on some important stuff when their teachers kept teaching whole group once they left, instead of switching to small group time. It also limited transition time to interventions. Finally, it helped the behavior in some ways - kind of adopted the teachers' classroom expectations in the intervention groups. The cons are then the classroom was pretty busy - interventions and skill group instruction happening with lots of student responses and teacher feedback plus the other students doing independent work. It becomes very important to have volume control of both students and adults in the room. One other con is that it was harder for me to observe the interventions on a regular basis to determine if the instruction was going well. My IAs were pretty experienced though.

Nancy Duggan
Mar 11, 2019 08:43 AM

In the room or down the hall is not, in any substantitive way, improving reading. In either location the direct instruction method, the skill of the teacher, the match of the curriculum to the needs of the student and the amount of time with instruction and practice reading will contribute more to the success than the push in or pullout model.

Carrie Franzene
Mar 11, 2019 10:38 AM

Consideration regarding the choice of model needs to include not just the identified students but also the class needs as a whole. As we see class sizes increase, it is important to have the teacher student ratio decrease for all students to receive targeted instruction at their level in literacy block. Flexible grouping and observation of individual needs can be better met with two teachers during to increase the intensity. Specific students who need greater intensity or more specialized instruction can receive this during a different (additional) block of time. This will develop the mindset that the responsibility of meeting students’ needs can belong to us all in the school community.

Rachel Owen
Mar 11, 2019 06:20 PM

If you have enough space in the classroom, I like having both adults lead a reading group while other students do independent work.
1) Less lost time due to moving (like it says above)
2) I agree that for the students who need more adult time, their group can meet longer.
3) It provides more efficient use of teacher coordination time, because the teachers are in the same place at the same time many of the things teachers need to say to each other just take a moment
4) All students should have opportunities in the day for instructional conversation, and in a small reading group that can happen
5) Two adults are available to supervise the students who are supposed to be working independently but sometimes need to be redirected back to their task

Rachel Owen
Mar 11, 2019 06:21 PM

They key, like it says in the article, is to maximize actual teaching time.

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Which is best pull-out or push-in interventions?


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