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Shouldn’t instruction as be as individualized as learning?

Data-driven, personalized educational programs for how each child learns and experiences the world.

 
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It’s easy to see that a child struggles to read for more than a few minutes at a time, but we have to look deeper to understand the causes behind it. Is it the visual processing effort required to absorb the letters on the page? The phonological processing required to associate sounds into words? The visual memory task of recognizing the appearance of a word you’ve seen before? Or is it that the child’s back gets tired from sitting still for too long? It is only by breaking the task apart into its component parts that we can understand what problem the child needs us to help solve—and without understanding that, we are far less likely to come to an effective solution.

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At Cajal Academy, each child’s program starts with a deep dive into the learning, social, emotional, medical, sensory, executive function,auditory processing and other elements that influence how they experience the world. As we do, we look to identify the passions that drive them, and which neurocognitive skills are the strongest for each child: their most effective “learning language” (auditory, visual, kinetic, etc.). We also begin to form a view of how cross-cutting challenges may be manifesting across multiple social, emotional and learning tasks, and from this to identify those skills that can most improve a given child’s life-lived experience.

This ever-evolving picture forms the foundation for developing a personalized educational program for each child, using a four-pronged approach:

  • We allow each child to experience their own gifts, by presenting new content through their strongest cognitive skills while accommodating for areas of weakness;

  • We strategically target those challenges that impede their learning or life-lived experiences through specialized instruction, expert therapeutic services and games that build capacity through the principles of neuroplasticity;

  • We give each child the perspective, growth mindset and agency they need to optimize their own learning and life-lived experiences through personalized strategies they can use to self-monitor, self-manage and self-advocate for their unique needs at every stage in their developmental and healing process; and

  • We design the classroom experience to fluidly support each learner’s needs for movement and sensory support while leveraging the body as a powerful learning tool, through our exclusive, Body-Informed Instruction.

These instructional strategies are applied across the 6 pillars of our core curriculum, through an integrated team approach. Find out more about our core curriculum here.

To give an example of how this approach transforms learning outcomes, our initial pilot student had been two years behind in his math facts when he left the public school, and had always believed he was “no good” at math—despite being an extraordinary drummer who improv’d with highly complex rhythms and shifting time signatures. Integrating data points across his complex and multi-variate profile, we saw that he was challenged by expressive language, the visual processing of columns and symbol relationships—but that he could teach himself to do pretty much anything with his body. So we shifted to teaching him math through colored, multi-length rods, which we put in front of him in ways that presented math questions but without using the words that sound like math. “How many pinks could you trade in for this purple?” “Can you hand me 17? 23? How many different combinations can you make?” “Can you give me four rods of the same color that are the same as this combination here?” Suddenly, he was handing us the answers literally faster than we could check his work. Three weeks later, he was cutting a pipe into precision lengths—without using a ruler. It turns out he’s just so good at math that the parts of his brain that we use to describe math can’t keep up, so traditional ways of teaching it to him simply didn’t make sense.

This discovery transformed his sense of self—and the way we teach. By removing what was for him a numeric language problem, he was able to access his high math aptitude for the first time, and now he is flying through new mathematical concepts at a rate he never thought possible. Meanwhile, leveraging well-established occupational therapy techniques, we added movement-based games like bouncing a basketball or running an obstacle course while skip-counting, to improve his facility to recall the math language he was missing. Rather than drill a sheet of 15 math facts every day, we strategically target the language he’s missing to express them, and do it in a way that feels like fun.

We take this same approach across all academic areas, and in social and athletic arenas as well. In order to figure out how to make the biggest impact for a child, we start by understanding at a very granular level what each academic, social and physical function demands, and, at an equally granular level, what are each child’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead of expecting that the child will mold themselves to the way the class is taught, we see the obligation as resting on the educator to design each task in a way that this child is best able to learn.

This approach and expertise flows throughout all we do, for all our learners. And, for those children who need more intensive interventions to target a given learning disability, social or physiological difference we integrate therapeutic intensives with highly-experienced and licensed therapeutic experts. It is our belief that a child’s school-based education should address those things that will make the biggest impact for this particular child, and then leave them time to explore, to play and to be with friends and family once the day is done—not to drive all over the county seeking the therapies they need to meet the baseline that other families take for granted.