August 2014

I’ve been thinking this summer about our work with students who struggle academically and about the efficacy of our department. Overall, I’m pretty excited about the work we have done recently. We’re getting to kids earlier and providing more intensive support. We’re tracking their progress in smaller increments, mixing things up as necessary, and using consistent tools over time to measure growth. What’s more, we’re having great interface with teachers in both divisions. The department received a commendation from the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools two years ago and underwent a pretty extensive internal review this past year.  This last process was especially helpful as we seek to continue to improve our work with students with learning challenges at Foote.

We began the review process with some questions, some things we wanted to investigate. One targeted issue was tutorial time in the Middle School. We wanted to make sure that learning support made the most difference for students in their academic growth for the long-term. Currently, we work with students in study hall and language block time, using their coursework to provide instruction in needed skills. For example, a research paper assigned in eighth grade history provides a chance to teach myriad essential skills. In this case, these may center around research, organization, using evidence to support claims in writing and revising for unity and coherence. The assignment also provides a time and place to build executive skills like planning, time management and organization.

The problem is that, at times, there’s a gap between students’ levels in reading and writing and the work being assigned for classes. A child may need to work on paragraphing or sentence structure rather than a full research paper or essay. In reading, he or she may need intensive instruction in reading comprehension strategies, word work or daily fluency practice. These skill needs do not easily gel with many coursework assignments.  The good news here is that we are taking this issue forward through a designated study this year. Our five-person department and a strong and varied group of middle school faculty volunteers will work together to explore this issue with the goal maximizing the impact of learning support time for our students.  The committee will survey the available literature on remediation in middle school, research other programs and hopefully consider several viable options for our middle school model. By the end of the process, we’d like to have a plan to address this issue in the next academic year.

Another issue that came up during our review was professional development. Through the surveys distributed to faculty and LSP families, we found that teachers would like to more training in working with students with learning disabilities. Families also supported this measure. Lauren Goldberg, our curriculum coordinator, and I are plotting fun and effective ways to address this- watch this space! One thing we’ve already implemented is getting Learning Support involved in our Collaborative Mentoring Program so as to provide this training to new teachers as they come to Foote.

This is a great place to be. It’s very worthwhile to consider the good work that’s been done recently and truly exciting to make plans to keep changing and improving.

 

Study Strategies that Make a Difference

Meghan Karolyi, Carrie Bergantino and I have taught one session of study skills to the seventh grade and have another one scheduled for early January. Our first session focused on organization and time management. This time around we’ll be teaching strategies for test preparation and retention.

We’ll use the LEARN strategy:

L          Listen for hints, clues, and important information in class

E          Examine your notes, books and papers

A          Apply study and memory strategies

R          Review every night

N          Nail the test!

We’ll spend the bulk of the lesson on study and memory strategies and have students take a pre and post test to see how these improve their performance on memory tasks. This is definitely something to look forward to in the new year!

A Typical Tutorial in the Early Grades

As part of the curricular review process this year, the team presented a summary of what our department currently does to our working committee. We reviewed the numbers, the referral process and our engagement with teaching teams. One aspect of our work that we shared was the construct of skill-based tutorials for different age-groups. I thought it might be interesting to share what a session usually looks like in the lower grades. Here’s the breakdown:

           Starter:  usually a sound pack or fact or number practice

           Review of previously learned material through a quick exercise or game

           New instruction: explicit and multi sensory with modeling

           Guided practice of the targeted skill

           Independent practice if the student is ready

           Generalization

             Wrap up

Of course there is a lot of variability in place to meet different students’ goals and to keep engagement high. This schema is a good generalization, however. Skill-based tutorials move along briskly to pack as much learning and practice as possible into a finite session.

Fall is flying by in LSP

It’s been great to be back this year, working with students and teachers.  The back-to-school energy has given way to a more settled, productive tone as our tutorials have gotten under way.

This is our program review year and the team and our faculty cohorts are looking forward to maximizing this process. We have generated questions for growth to address through the review. The major umbrella topics are curricular alignment, teacher training and assessment. Subcommittees will gather resources, review the current research and conduct school visits to investigate our questions. By the end of the year, we should have some action points to take forward. It should be a wonderfully growth-oriented process for our department, that, hopefully, will help us improve our program and practice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEALS

Drs. Bennett and Sally Shaywitz presented at the New England Association of Learning Specialists conference last week.  In addition, the conference presented a panel of current university students with dyslexia and each described their experience. For me, the take-home message was one regarding accommodations. These students were hugely competent, creative thinkers and it is up to their teachers and learning support faculty to help them access coursework.

Of course, the importance of skill-based interventions cannot be overstated either!

Documentation and support

The requirements for accommodations for the testing boards are changing; Liam Considine and I are going to be meeting to review these requirements and to find ways to educate families about what documentation will be needed to ensure appropriate accommodations for secondary school placement tests.

On another note, the school sometimes makes recommendations for psycho-educational evaluations. It might be useful for families who are looking to get testing for a child to have contact with families who have already been through the process.  That way, they could ask questions and seek feedback from people who are truly in the know about this.

If you are a Foote parent whose child has had a psycho educational evaluation and you would be willing to support others undergoing this same process, please send me an email: cpamelard@footeschool.org

I will put a bank of contacts together for families.

Thanks so much!

Not good news

This past Saturday the Board of the American Psychiatrists Association voted to nix the diagnoses of  “Dyslexia” and “Dyscalculia” from the DSM-V.  I’m having trouble understanding this move. I’m also having trouble getting a straight story about it.  Changes in what is officially accepted as a diagnosis have a huge impact on educational interventions, legislation and insurance coverage. I personally know many dyslexic students who will be adversely effected by this decision – even just in terms of self-understanding. I hope there’s a good reason for this change and I hope steps are taken to transition students and families to the new terminology.

In other disappointing news, today the U.S. Senate rejected the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Basically, this treaty stated that it is unlawful to discriminate against persons with disabilities.

A few interesting reads…

I just wanted to put in a plug for Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed.  He highlights the power of “noncognitive skills” in student achievement.  Grit, optimism, self-control and emotional intelligence are remarkably accurate indicators of future success in children. What I especially liked about this book, was Tough’s treatment on how to help children acquire these qualities.

Susan King’s Quiet and Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right Brain World by Katharine Beals raise a different issue for educators. Both these texts discuss the increasingly social culture in schools as being detrimental to certain types of learners.  Introverts and the “Left- Brained Children” of Beals’s work need time to process alone. They also need avenues sharing their thinking that are not social, or group-based.