At Manus Academy, we serve students whose academic needs are diverse. These case studies illustrate how we follow the MAP (Manus Academic Process) to deliver customized instruction to each student.
1 – Elementary School Student with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Language Delays and Some Skill Delays
Drew was enrolled in Manus Academy in the fourth grade after receiving a psycho-educational evaluation during which he was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. Results from the cognitive and educational assessments indicated that he had average cognitive functioning and average achievement in academic skills, except for reading comprehension and applied math. He also had significant delays in receptive and expressive language.
Although Drew was eager to make friends, he had trouble making and keeping them. He did not know how to respond appropriately to other classmates’ remarks or how to initiate and maintain conversations. He also felt overwhelmed in large groups. Drew’s interests included computer games, space science and animals.
To address Drew’s delays in language, reading comprehension and applied math, we developed an instructional plan that involved intensive remediation in these skills. To promote relatively fast progress, we arranged for Drew to work with a tutor in a one-to-one setting in a separate room and for two hours every day. He received math instruction in a two-to-one setting for another hour each day. During the remaining two-and-a-half hours, he participated in group instruction and recess with the five other students in his class. His teaching team also kept in regular contact with his speech and language therapist who shared with us ways we could help Drew practice his speech and language skills in school.
During Drew’s whole-group instruction, his teacher coached him intensively in how to interact appropriately with her and his classmates. Drew practiced greeting others, responding to their questions and comments and following the teacher’s directions. He earned points for practicing these skills and traded the points for a favorite activity each day.
Because Drew had trouble sustaining the mental energy required to complete his lessons, we included short periods of physical exercise to increase his alertness. He took scheduled walks outside with his tutor and participated in light calisthenics and stretching in the classroom. His teacher also coached him to become aware of when his mental energy was low and ask for a quick break during which he could move around.
The low student-teacher ratio and the high degree of teacher interaction gave Drew the support he needed to make steady growth in language and communication skills. This growth contributed to his additional growth in the academic subjects, particularly reading comprehension, applied math and written expression.
Over time, Drew grew more comfortable with his classmates and whole-group instruction. He initiated conversations on his own and, with the teacher’s prompting, maintained short, reciprocal conversations with his peers and other teachers. While he continued to have difficulty sustaining the mental energy required for his lessons, he responded well to the accommodation of short breaks. He gradually became more aware of when his mental energy was flagging and, on several occasions, asked the teacher if he could get up and move. This emerging self-advocacy gave Drew a greater sense of control over his environment.
2 – Middle School Student with Learning and Attentional Difficulties
When we first met Tonya, she was a seventh-grade student attending a local private school. She had a history of learning and attentional difficulties that made completing school assignments difficult. By seventh grade, she had already attended five different schools, trying to find one that was the right fit.
Tonya was bright but could not read fluently, write well or sustain focus long enough to complete assignments, particularly math assignments. Because of her failures, she became discouraged. Tonya’s parents enrolled her in our school. After reviewing her previous school records and psycho-educational evaluations and completing a brief assessment of our own, we developed a customized instructional program for Tonya that included developing her reading fluency, written expression skills and her ability to complete assignments accurately and in a timely manner.
Tonya worked in a class with five other students. For two and a half hours a day, she worked one-on-one and in groups of two other students to build reading fluency, written expression and math skills. During the remaining hours, she worked with her whole class to learn the content courses of English, social studies, science and communication skills and refine her social skills.
Over the course of the first semester, Tonya’s teacher and tutor charted and graphed Tonya’s practice in reading, written expression and math to ensure that she was practicing with enough intensity and responding satisfactorily to her instructional plan. She was progressing well in reading and written expression yet continued to have problems completing math work accurately. She learned the math concepts well and remembered the computational procedures yet often made careless errors. Her errors usually stemmed from not following the operational signs and working at inconsistent speeds, which diminished the quality of her focus.
To help Tonya increase her math accuracy, her teachers coached her more intensively to adopt those habits that increase accuracy. These habits included Tonya’s previewing the math work to increase her awareness of its details and saying aloud each step of the first several problems to establish a comfortable working rhythm.
To help Tonya alter her perception that math work is tedious and never-ending, her teachers also had her estimate the amount of time needed to complete each task then note the actual time she spent completing it. After comparing her estimated times to her actual times for several weeks, Tonya began to sense that most of her math work was quite manageable when she worked methodically. As her accuracy increased and her perception of the tasks changed, Tonya began to approach math work more readily.
Tonya’s teachers and other staff at Manus Academy also trained her to solve problems. Rather than give up in frustration as soon as she perceived a problem she couldn’t handle, they trained her to first examine the problem objectively with her teacher or classmates, define it, think of different solutions then try one or more of them.
Tonya’s habit of avoiding problems was strong and she needed much coaching to manage problems effectively; however, over the school year, she began to tackle them with increasing success. She also continued to make steady academic gains. Because of her increased skill, Tonya started feeling happier and in greater control of her life.
3 – High School Student with Delays in Academic and Organizational Skills
David, a tenth-grade student in our high school program, had a long history of struggling with several academic barriers. They included weaknesses in written expression, reading comprehension, time management, organizational skills and social skills. David was exceptionally strong in high school math but had trouble demonstrating his knowledge on paper because of his written expression difficulties. He also had an excellent rote memory and could recite many of the facts he read in his history and science books but could not often connect or use these facts to engage in higher-level reasoning.
For many years, David struggled to manage his school work and adapt to the different schools he attended. Because of his barriers, however, his efforts frequently did not pay off. David began to conclude that it did not matter what he did, he would fail anyway. He started to avoid schoolwork and resist his parents’ and teachers’ efforts to help him.
To encourage David to reinvest in his academic growth, we created a learning environment and instructional program that would ensure he would succeed with reasonable effort. During the school day, he attended class with five other students, worked closely with his teacher and received some individual instruction from a teaching assistant. To help him catch up and complete an English course that he had failed the preceding year, he also stayed after school three days a week to work with his teacher.
To increase his comprehension of what he read, we gave him study guides of his United States history and biology chapters. These study guides prompted him to note the key information in the chapter and they minimized the demands of having to write complete sets of notes. Following these structured outlines allowed David to focus on practicing study and reading comprehension skills that led to his understanding and remembering the essential information in the assigned chapters. This removed the challenge of trying to organize all the information on his own, which would have been too much for him to handle at that point.
To help David build his weak writing skills, we also arranged for him to take writing composition for which he would receive a credit that would go on his transcript. This course offered him intensive and guided practice in writing paragraphs, essays and research reports. The teaching assistant worked closely with David as he followed the writing process over and over, from generating ideas, to organizing them in a logical sequence, to verbally composing then to writing, editing and proofreading the work.
Other strategies and accommodations included: 1) the teacher’s frequent modeling of the skills, prompting David in the next step, giving him frequent feedback and praising him for good effort; 2) a five-minute break at the end of each hour; 3) intensive coaching in time management, organizational and study skills; 4) an opportunity to talk with a staff member about concerns or when he was having trouble controlling his emotions; 5) opportunities to engage in structured social activities during which he practiced certain social skills; and 6) completing a daily academic journal in which he noted the work he completed that day, the degree to which he was sufficiently alert and “in the flow,” factors that helped him succeed, factors that got in his way and strategies for handling any problems he experienced.
David also saw a counselor once a week to help him sort out some other problems he was experiencing in his personal life. With David’s parents’ permission, the teacher communicated with the counselor from time to time to share information about David’s school performance and overall progress. His teacher also shared similar information with David’s parents by way of a weekly email summary, periodic phone calls and quarterly and year-end conferences.
The accommodations, frequent interactions with his teachers and close supervision allowed David to produce good work with reasonable effort. Over time, David’s work habits improved and became more consistent. His teachers gradually withdrew some of the accommodations as David did not need them as much. As he became a more effective and efficient learner, David eventually caught up in his coursework and was back on schedule to graduate at the expected time. Feeling better about himself and life in general, David started revealing his dry wit and fun sense of humor. The other students enjoyed his company and he made some good friends.
4 – High School Student with a History of an Eating Disorder
Marion was a sophomore who recently spent time at a residential school and treatment center that specialized in working with young people with eating disorders. Marion made good progress at the center and was ready to refocus on her academics. She had a history of academic success and making high grades. She fell behind, though, during the two years that she struggled with her eating disorder. She was currently one semester behind at her home school.
To help Marion catch up academically, her parents enrolled her in Manus Academy for the remaining five months of the school year (from January through May) and for the summer school session. We arranged for Marion to focus intensively on three courses at a time rather than the usual six. As Marion completed each of the three courses, she added another course to her schedule.
During the school day, Marion worked in a class with five other students, a teacher and a part-time tutor. Because geometry was somewhat challenging for Marion, she received some one-to-one instruction in that subject followed by supervised practice. Since Marion was particularly strong in English and social studies, her teacher arranged for her to complete additional and independent work in these subjects after school each day. Marion’s teacher regularly checked her independent work to ensure that it met the same high standards that we set for Marion in class.
While Marion focused on catching up academically, she and her family also saw a family therapist to help her maintain the gains she made at the treatment center and manage any problems she experienced at home or with her friends. Marion’s teacher and family therapist communicated monthly to share notes on Marion’s progress. The combination of a customized learning environment and continued counseling enabled Marion to successfully manage her academic, home and social responsibilities. By the next fall, she was ready to re-enroll in the public high school she previously attended.