The Bridge School
Course of Study

Elementary: Curriculum in Action


Mathematics is one of the most frequently used knowledge and skill sets across everyday life activities. Math is encountered when handling money, telling and keeping track of time, following a recipe or formula, measuring heights and weights and determining distances. Without specific mathematics instruction with accommodations, students with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI) may face challenges in acquiring and using various math-related concepts and skills. They may have limited experience manipulating and counting objects, physically aligning numbers with quantities, seeing and writing numbers or understanding and using math-related words such as more, less, some, many, first and last. The Bridge School provides a systematic, standards-based mathematics curriculum and instruction that enables our students to solve such problems at home, at school, at work and in the community.

The broad goals in mathematics education are for students to:

  • Develop fluency in basic computational skills.
  • Develop an understanding of mathematical concepts.
  • Become mathematical problem solvers who can recognize and solve routine problems readily and can find ways to reach a solution or goal where no routine path is apparent.
  • Communicate precisely about quantities, logical relationships and unknown values through the use of signs, symbols, models, graphs and mathematical terms.
  • Reason mathematically by gathering data, analyzing evidence and building arguments to support or refute hypotheses.
  • Make connections among mathematical ideas and between mathematics and other disciplines.

At The Bridge School, math instruction builds on previous learning, promotes active student involvement, teaches rules and concepts and applies mastery teaching, problem solving and generalization. Beginning math skills in early elementary grades include learning about numbers and operations. Daily activities address one-to-one correspondence or the understanding that one set is exactly matched to another set, object discrimination and classification, quantity comparisons and seriation (ordering). This learning takes place in the context of ongoing instruction across classroom routines and curricular areas. For example, at the library there is one library book for each student or on a field trip, there is one ticket for each passenger. In an art lesson, students may select, sort or match tools, objects and materials that are the same or different or have certain properties such as color, size and shape. The daily morning meeting includes taking attendance or reviewing the calendar which provides rote counting activities, helping students learn the names of numbers and their order. Students often participate in counting and measuring activities in upright, hands-free support walkers which provide meaningful, action-based learning experiences. In elementary grades, our students learn to apply tools and techniques to determine measurements. They begin to collect data by conducting surveys of class favorites or opinions and analyze and share the results with peers and teachers using assistive technology tools and supports. Our students may use eye gaze to direct someone to distribute objects in a one-to-one manner or use a body-based signal or gesture to indicate that items are placed in the correct or incorrect location.

In Action

Given the physical limitations of our students, we are challenged with finding ways to help them learn standard order and to physically experience pairing each object with a number. Another consideration is how to give our students a perspective of the size of an object when they are viewing it from a seated position in a wheelchair. We have developed some novel approaches that incorporate the use of assistive technology to provide our students with opportunities to physically engage in learning mathematical concepts. Integrating mathematical principles into daily living activities has proven to be an effective way to ensure understanding and appreciation of many math-related concepts. All math activities support our students' use of augmentative and alternative communication by developing vocabulary that supports "problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and connections" (Common Core Standards Initiative for Mathematical Practice).

References and Resources

Best, S. J., Heller, K.W., and Bigge, J. L. (2010). Teaching Individuals with Physical or Multiple Disabilities. Boston: Pearson.

California Department of Education (2013). Mathematics Framework.

English-Language Arts (ELA)

Instruction in English-Language Arts encompasses a growing appreciation and knowledge of language and literature through the intertwined processes of speaking, reading, listening, spelling and writing. Language and literacy development is important for all students for personal, social and academic success. For students with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI), language and literacy instruction is particularly critical for accessing communication modalities and informational resources across the lifespan. Students with limited natural speech may not have had experience experimenting with sounds of spoken language or asking questions to gain information about the world around them and the words they hear. When students have SSPI, they may have had limited early literacy experiences with picture books or printed text, due to their inability to independently manipulate books and difficulties encountered by others while trying to hold or position a book in ways that the child can see it, turn pages and interact during book reading activities. Students with restricted mobility may have had limited experiences manipulating objects and exploring environments which could impact their ability to meaningfully comprehend words they hear or see in a story or in informational text.

A broad view of literacy considers the ability to obtain and use information from the environment through a variety of modes for a variety of purposes such as obtaining desired items or actions, making choices and decisions or gaining information and demonstrating knowledge. ELA instruction may focus on visual literacy, sight word recognition and/or conventional literacy using phonics instruction. Visual literacy entails discerning meaning from photos, pictures, logos and videos. Sight word recognition is taught through carefully selected, relevant or commonly encountered printed words from daily life such as labels or signs in the environment. These kinds of literacy skills are important in building knowledge, providing access to vocabulary for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, structuring daily routines and engaging in picture book reading. However, for a student to become conventionally literate, phonics instruction is needed. Phonetic decoding allows students to learn to read words based on letter-sound or syllable-sound correspondence and blending. Reading instruction at The Bridge School places equal emphasis on the sophistication of what students read and the skill with which they read.

At The Bridge School, our teachers and SLPs carefully assess each student’s language and literacy skills and design individualized instruction that includes accommodations to address challenges of ELA instruction and learning by students with SSPI. We introduce accommodations such as AAC tools and devices, adaptations of printed materials, environmental arrangements and workstation set-ups for instruction in key areas of reading, phonics, writing and vocabulary comprehension.


Phonics instruction explicitly and systematically teaches students to relate sounds to letters of the alphabet, break spoken words and text into sounds, and blend sounds to form words. Our teachers adapt instruction and provide accommodations as they teach students to apply this knowledge of letters and sounds as they read words, sentences and connected text. Many Bridge School students are unable to produce approximations of letters and sounds, therefore, our teachers use adapted phonics instruction and guided practice that encourage students to use internal speech and/or physical movements to indicate their engagement in the decoding process.

Accommodations are also made for students with cortical visual impairment (CVI). These accommodations may include using light boxes that provide back lighting for objects or documents, dimming environmental lighting, placing objects, letters and words on a black background, worksheets adapted with "glow writing" and placed on a light box, positioning an object or text in the student's preferred visual field, enlarging and simplifying text or objects and/or verbally describing the salient features of objects, letters or words.

Reading (word recognition and fluency)

All activities and materials are designed to meet the specific needs of individual students. The most common adaptations for reading activities are those for cortical vision impairments (CVI). The examples in these photos will show various strategies and tools we have found useful. Communication goals and objectives are infused into the educational curriculum so that multiple objectives can be addressed in a single activity. The following examples illustrate how the students use their communication systems to reinforce their educational objectives.

Writing Instruction

Everyone at The Bridge School writes everyday! We have implemented a comprehensive writing curriculum that provides our students a developmentally sound, sequential pathway to independent writing. The Bridge School staff is particularly creative when it comes to finding the right tools and the most effective strategies to support our students' writing. A team approach ensures that communication goals as well as educational goals are addressed concurrently and that the students are seated and positioned for optimal participation. Materials and tools are adapted to meet each student's specific needs. A common AT intervention is a linkage between the student's SGD and the computer allows them to use a familiar keyboard and access strategy to write. Many of our students have cortical vision impairments and require adapted materials and strategies.

See it in action!

Specialized equipment and materials make it possible for Abigail to use her vision to spell, write and read. Displaying the text on a light box, lowering the environmental lights and presenting the target letters with bright colored outlines on a black background all contribute to her success.

Vocabulary Instruction

Students often learn vocabulary while participating in daily conversations, listening to stories and reading independently. Direct, systematic instruction in vocabulary comprehension is essential for our students because they may not readily learn vocabulary given limited access and opportunities to engage fully in conversations or an inability to ask about the meanings of words. Vocabulary instruction includes focusing on both informational text in a given curricular unit and teaching words and concepts encountered in literature such as storybooks or poems. Our students begin working to build comprehension with prompting and support by answering and asking questions, identifying main ideas and recalling details in stories. In time, students learn to make fuller use of text to determine the meanings of written words using context cues, linking ideas or from learning the meanings of suffixes and prefixes.

References and Resources

Best, S.J, Heller, L.W., and Bigge, J.L. (2010). Teaching Individuals with Physical or Multiple Disabilities. Boston:Pearson

Soto, G. and Zangari, C. (2009). Practically Speaking. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

California Department of Education. (2014). English Language Arts/English Language Development (ELA/ELD) Framework.


A rich science education has the potential to capture students' sense of wonder about the world and to spark their desire to continue learning about science throughout their lives.

Science is not just a body of knowledge that reflects current understanding of the world. It is also a set of practices used to establish, extend and refine that knowledge. Both elements - knowledge and practice - are essential. Students in our elementary grade classroom participate in science instruction that supports their ability to develop an understanding of four core ideas: physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and learn about the applications of science. In early elementary grades, students learn to recognize patterns and formulate answers to questions about the world around them. In subsequent grades, our students learn and demonstrate growing proficiency in gathering, describing, and using information about the natural and designed world. They learn to structure simple explorations of their own and discover the ways that scientific inquiry can enhance their own lives.

Key elements of the scientific inquiry that our students encounter include:

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Proposing answers and designing solutions
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information and results

Science instruction offers increased opportunities to complement other content areas. For example, science involves skills introduced in mathematics, such as measuring and comparing quantities. Science incorporates skills learned in English-Language Arts (ELA) such as reading informational text and composing brief informative and explanatory texts.

Our science curriculum sets an active collaborative learning context that is well suited for Bridge School students who are practicing assistive technologies and supports while learning scientific knowledge and practices. Importantly, science is fundamentally a social activity, and scientific knowledge advances through collaboration. Individual scientists may do much of their work independently or they may collaborate closely with colleagues. Thus, new ideas can be the product of one mind or many working together. In order for students to appreciate the many ways in which science is relevant to their daily lives, science instruction connects with their own interests and experiences. Science tends to be very hands-on as students observe, manipulate and explore objects and materials. Because of this emphasis, Bridge School teachers routinely adapt materials and provide additional accommodations that maximize each student's active participation and learning. Students apply their communication skills as they ask questions, engage in discussions and use augmentative communication systems to express ideas and findings. Just as real world scientists approach their work, our students are encouraged to interact frequently with their teachers and peers, both formally and informally. They may exchange emails, post blogs, engage in discussions in large and small groups, share procedures and present and respond to ideas in posters and reports.

In Action

References and Resources

Melver, l. and Heller, K.W. Science and Social Studies Instruction and Adaptations. In S. J. Best, K. W. Heller, And J. L. Bigge (2010.) Teaching Individuals with Physical or Multiple Disabilities. pp433-455.

Next Generation Science Standards for Today's Students and Tomorrow's Workforce

Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools

National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Visual & Performing Arts

The arts are not a frill. The arts are a response to our individuality and our nature, and help to shape our identity. What is there that can transcend deep difference and stubborn divisions? The arts. They have a wonderful universality. Art has the potential to unify. It can speak in many languages without a translator. The arts do not discriminate. The arts can lift us up.

At The Bridge School, we embrace Barbara Jordan's respect for the arts and have designed our educational curriculum to integrate the various forms of artistic expression into our academic activities in addition to implementing a standards-based Visual and Performing Arts curriculum. The Visual and Performing Arts curriculum provides essential foundational steps for our students as they develop their ability to communicate their thoughts, feelings and understandings of the world around them. Through participation in standards-based curricular activities in dance, music, theater and visual arts, our students begin to develop life-long skills of art appreciation and creative expression. Participation in the arts provides each student with experiences to enhance his/her own perceptual, physical and technical abilities while expanding communication skills across broad forms of self-expression. Using adapted tools and assistive technologies, students gain knowledge, vocabulary and skills needed to express their ideas creatively in verbal and nonverbal ways. Individually and as a group, they learn to experiment and solve problems of access and expression. Additionally, they begin to understand what it means to be a member of the audience. They enhance their understanding of the academic content and learn beginning acting skills by portraying community helpers, favorite characters in books or historical figures. Our students explore the use of traditional media (e.g., paper, paints) and electronic media (e.g., digital video, photo software, animation) to create and express ideas. They learn to use assistive technologies and digital devices to access and share the vast amount of music, art, and information that is available to them through the Internet.

By connecting the arts with other curricular content areas, our classroom teams help students build and apply skills in reading, math, science and social studies in meaningful ways. Their artistic accomplishments across the curriculum may include using paints and other materials to create works of art that represent ways of life from long ago, moving to music and experimenting with rhythmical motions to learn and reinforce math concepts and creating costumes and props to enhance their performances of acting out a plot or retelling a familiar story. Our students learn about why, when, and where people dance and how dance is an expression of various cultures from past and present times and places.

At The Bridge School, Visual and Performing Arts often involve the collaboration of classroom teams with guest artists and incorporates local community events to support our students' standards-based arts experiences. For example, each year we host a performance by the Wisdom Dancers and our students learn about Native American culture and language through story, music and dance. Our annual Bridge School Benefit Concert each Fall creates numerous opportunities for artistic connections and expression by our students as they create backstage door art, conduct interviews with musical artists, explore photography and share experiences, opinions and preferences for various songs and artists. The Children's Drama Services performs at our school each Spring to engage our students in their original medley of songs and stories portraying traditional and contemporary songs and characters from children's movies and television shows. Integrating community artists into a comprehensive, standards-based arts program brings the experiences of practicing artists to the students, who learn that artists continually strive to solve problems, improve their skills and focus on meaningful expression in their art form. Many of our staff and family members apply their own artistic skills and talents to our arts curriculum. Through these experiences, our students begin to see themselves as members of a community of artists with a growing sense of appreciation for the various performing art forms including dance, theater, music, and the visual arts of painting and drawing. Follow-up activities help the students build understandings and connections between the creative work they do and that done by others.

In Action

Every activity is designed to incorporate a wide range of goals and objectives across the educational program. Art can be integrated into our curriculum as a part of larger projects or as a vehicle where other areas of the academic program support a student's creative expression. Independent, upright mobility devices (hands-free walkers), adapted tools and speech generating devices (SGD) ensure full participation in these activities.

More Art In Action

References and Resources

Visual and Performing Arts Framework for California Public Schools

National Performing Arts Convention: Taking Action Together (May 27, 2012). Useful Quotes for Art Advocates.

Social Studies

Curriculum and instruction in History-Social Science involves the study of human beings, their interactions, cultures and their contributions. It involves the study of continuity and change. History-Social Science draws from diverse fields of history, geography, economics, political science, anthropology, psychology, sociology and the humanities. At its heart, the broad goal of History-Social Science focuses on helping young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good. Instruction aims to develop responsible, informed and engaged citizens who will foster civic, global, geographic and economic literacy.

Teaching is centered in the chronological study of history. History, placed in its geographic setting, establishes human activities in time and place. In other words, the importance of time and place, when and where, history and geography, is stressed repeatedly. Students develop chronological thinking through making and reading timelines that correspond to their unit of study. They begin to develop geographic skills by using maps to identify the absolute and relative locations of places and environments. Students also begin to develop civic skills by participating in rule-making processes in their classrooms, decision-making scenarios, and service-learning activities that address real problems at school or in their communities. Our students learn to see the connections between ideas and behavior, between the values and ideals and the ethical consequences of those beliefs. Students learn about the values of fair play and good sportsmanship and respect for the rights and opinions of others. They hear and read stories of ordinary and extraordinary people to describe the range and continuity of human experience and introduce the concepts of courage, self-control, justice, heroism, leadership, deliberation and individual responsibility. Students begin to realize that tragedies and triumphs have resulted from choices made by individuals and begin to recognize that ideas and actions have real consequences.

Students typically learn social studies content and skill based on their own personal experiences and prior knowledge from home, the community and early schooling. For example, students with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI) may bring their own experiences of their voices going unheard or their opinions marginalized. Our social studies curriculum recognizes the critical role of previous learning that is anchored in each child's personal experiences, home language, family and immediate world. Our curriculum builds on this knowledge to develop an ever-expanding sense of each student's sense of place within the world first by focusing on the child's immediate present and/or prior knowledge and then moving outward to develop important linkages with the larger geographic, historical, political and economic world. As Bridge School students participate in History-Social Science units, appropriate adaptations and strategies are implemented to facilitate learning. Textbooks may need to be adapted for access and vision, alternate materials introduced and assistive technologies incorporated to provide access and meaningful active participation.

Importantly, our teachers and speech and language therapists align History-Social Science instruction to the grade-level expectations in the domains of English Language Arts (ELA). Classroom teams introduce important foundational skills that serve as building blocks for subsequent grade level instruction while providing opportunities for students to learn academic language, read and write expository texts and develop higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills. Instruction emphasizes the importance of enriching the study of history with the use of literature, both literature of the period and literature about the period. Poetry, novels, plays, fairy tales, essays, myths, legends, tall tales and biographies help to shed light on the life and times of the people and spark students' own thinking and imagination. This literature helps to reveal the way people saw themselves, their ideas and values, their fears and dreams, and the way they interpreted their own times.

In Action

References and Resources

Mehler, L. & Heller, K.W. (2010). Science and social studies instruction and adaptations. In S. J. Best, K. W. Heller, & J. L. Bigge (Eds.), Teaching individuals with physical or multiple disabilities (pp. 432-455).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Introduction (2014)

History–Social Science Framework Field Review Draft (2014)

Modified Physical Education (PE) & Recess

Movement matters. It is our reason for being-to physically interact in a physical world.

In PE and recess, our classroom staff and North School peers tailor their interactions to more fully engage our students in movement activities, object manipulation and other experiences designed to promote physical activity and movement. Every time our students adapt their actions and movements to some aspect of the environment - a grassy field, a bridge on the play structure, a new toy, an energetic peer or the encouragement of a caring teacher - they are thinking as they move. They solve problems, learn new concepts and acquire an understanding of cause and effect as they interact on the playground or explore along our garden pathways.

Physical education encompasses a full spectrum of games, sports, fitness and movement activities. Our curriculum in physical education emphasizes the:

  • Ways in which our students move through space and time in their environment,
  • Ways in which they move in space together with their partners,
  • Continuity and change in movement,
  • Manipulation of objects in time and through space,
  • Manipulation of objects with accuracy and speed.

At The Bridge School, our education teams adapt physical education activities in ways that meet the needs of each student requiring modifications and accommodations. The accessible features of the playground and our garden area provide many opportunities for physical activities and during specially designed PE instruction, Bridge School students experience upright, self-initiated mobility in customized hands-free support walkers to explore and safely access their environment and to interact with people/objects. Our students learn skills required to engage in a range of recreation and leisure activities that afford them opportunities to learn rules of games, participate as both player and spectator, interact with new people, form friendships and access community facilities and events. Active participation in PE promotes leadership skills, teamwork, and cooperation with others. Our students gain confidence to try new experiences, accept capabilities and limitations, and develop their own unique potential.

In Action

References and Resources

Smith, L.B. (2006). Movement Matters: The Contributions of Esther Thelen. Biological Theory 1(1). Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognitive Research.