Shouldn’t instruction as be as individualized as learning?
Data-driven, personalized educational programs for how each child learns and experiences the world.
It’s easy to see that a child struggles, but until we look deeply at the cause of their struggle, we’re unlikely to find the right solution. For instance, we can see at a glance that a child struggles to read for more than a few minutes—but is this because of 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 she simply 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 thus how to develop an effective solution.
Just in the last ten years, brain scientists have realized that the human brain is constantly rewiring itself as we learn: a principle called “neuroplasticity.” We don’t just acquire new knowledge, we change the way our brain functions to increase capacity in new skills while reducing capacity in thought patterns that we no longer find useful. And that means that each child’s skills and potential are not static, but rather can be developed through an intentioned approach to building up the neural networks required to perform those key cognitive skills.
Now that we know this, we feel a moral imperative to put that science to work for kids, starting with those kids who are struggling with learning, social, emotional or motor-sensory challenges.
This is the premise behind our individualized programs. We start with a deep dive into the learning, social, emotional, medical, sensory, executive function, auditory processing and other elements that influence how this child experiences the world. These include extremely granular, basic cognitive building blocks like free recall, phonological processing, organization of thought and many, many more—building blocks that are engaged in various combinations in every academic, social and physical task. We then regroup these 150+ data points into specific cognitive, social, emotional and physiological tasks, from “fact recall” to “handwriting,” creating integrated snapshots of how the strengths and weaknesses that this child brings to each cognitive, social, emotional and physical task.
These snapshots reveal two critical pieces of information. First, they quickly reveal any ‘outlier’ skills: both strengths and weaknesses in which this child is at the very high or very low range of the bell curve against which neuropsychological tests are normed. Second, they provide a view into how cross-cutting challenges may be manifesting across multiple social, emotional and learning tasks, allowing us to dig beneath the surface of missed benchmarks to identify the specific skill sets that are holding a child back. Like the first domino in the chain, these are the skills that when addressed, can create the biggest improvement for the child.
From these snapshots, we create an individualized instructional program. New content is presented through a child’s greatest cognitive strengths, allowing them to experience their own gifts. Meanwhile, we employ games, movement and other strategies developed in therapeutic settings (including occupational, language and psychotherapy) to build up the neural network a child needs to perform each of their low-lying skills, applying the principal of neuroplasticity.
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 as of this stage in their development.
This approach transformed learning outcomes in math for our pilot student, by allowing us to identify that what had appeared to be a significant struggle with math was in fact a language disability interfering with his very high math intuition. Once we understood that the problem was not math but the language used to describe it, we were able to identify ways to give him free runway to explore his own abilities in math, while using obstacle courses, music, games and more to address the language disconnects. You can read more about it in our case study, here.
Throughout this process we teach the kids the science behind it, giving them the perspective and resilience they need to develop a growth mindset. We build their awareness of their own learning, social, emotional and physio profiles 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.
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.
This commitment flows throughout all we do. 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.
What Makes Cajal Academy Different:
Check out the links below to find out more about the science behind the Cajal Academy approach, including neuroplasticity, growth mindset and how education can be individualized according to each child’s neuropsychological profile.