Runway for exceptional learners
At Cajal Academy, we recognize that bright and twice exceptional learners often have very asynchronous development—in fact, that was a key consideration in our approaches to individualized instruction, personalized strategies and project-based learning. By integrating content areas such as language arts, math and science along with instruction in the body, social and emotional skills required for a fulfilling life-lived experience, we model for our learners both the importance of self-advocacy and self-care and the tools one needs to achieve them. By fluidly regrouping our cohort according to their learning styles, strengths and needs within each project, we can give each child room to go far in their areas of strength while having the support they need to improve the skills that threaten to hold them back.
This runway to grow—and the self-directed learning skills to do so—is as essential as the therapeutic supports. The ability to identify creative opportunities and make novel connections are particularly salient skills for kids whose unusually high intellectual or artistic talents pose both the opportunity and at times the obligation to chart their own course. Pursuing one’s own passions requires resilience, discipline and organization that can only be developed through exposure to intellectual challenges that stay one step ahead of their current level of growth. All too often, bright and gifted children are allowed to “skate by” on their intelligence without receiving the intellectual “grist” they need to develop basic study skills, research and the growth mindset that all children need to pursue intellectually-challenging futures. What starts as “boredom” at school can later turn into frustration and even falling behind, as they lack the basic skills they need to create their own futures and propel themselves forward.
This philosophy drives our classroom and curricular design. It begins in the admissions process, with identifying each child’s strongest skills but also their passions. Across both our core content classes and our project-based learning, we take a mastery-based approach. Our individualized learning programs are architected to present new content through each child’s strongest cognitive skills while using therapeutically-derived strategies to increase their capacity in areas that challenge them, through the process of neuroplasticity.
Within both our project-based learning and core skills class, we curate a combination of experiential, traditional, movement-based and digital learning tools to ensure that each learner has the runway they need to delve into the content at the speed and intensity that’s right for them—but while having shared communal learning and social experiences so that no learner is isolated by either their gifts or their challenges. We also build in opportunities for kids to explore their own areas of particular passion or talent, giving them the opportunity to develop self-directed learning skills that they can then explore more broadly to all areas of learning. Learning outcomes are expressed through a range of creative and academic formats developed by the learners themselves—not just through worksheets and tests.
This individualized approach can open up the ability to engage with content in ways that may never have been open to them before. But rather than just do this for our learners behind the scenes, we share our reasonings and the sciences behind them with our learners themselves, to help them build awareness of their own learning needs along with the perspective and the tools they need to self-monitor, self-manage and self-advocate for them through personalized strategies.