Our Key Elements of Success
Over the years, we have studied, developed and tested numerous strategies to help students learn well. Most of our teaching strategies are based on decades of educational research, which we have adapted and refined to suit our students and setting. The environmental strategies we use to foster a sense of well-being, however, were discovered as we worked with different students.
Out of the hundreds of strategies we use throughout the day, several of them have consistently yielded strong benefits. Here is a description of four that have yielded great dividends.
A School Environment That Fosters Resilience
Over the past several decades, there has been a growing body of research on what makes some students resilient, despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers they face. The findings indicate that resilient students have certain perceptions about themselves and the world that help them to persevere. Here are some of the key perceptions correlated with resiliency:
- Resilient students have a sense that their problems do not pervade their whole lives. Despite their challenges, they are still good at some things. They have “islands of competence,” which they develop over time.
- Resilient students have some degree of self-awareness. They understand their strengths and liabilities. They accept their liabilities and manage them relatively well.
- Resilient students have a sense that their difficulties will not last forever. Life will not always be so hard.
- Resilient students understand that not every problem is their fault. Some problems are caused by neurological, environmental or family factors that are beyond their control.
- Resilient students understand that how they respond to problems is more important than the problems themselves.
- Resilient students have at least one person in the world who believes in and supports their self-worth.
At Manus Academy, we use these research findings to create a school environment that fosters resiliency so our students can develop those perceptions that help them flourish despite the obstacles they face.
Strategies we use include: one-to-one instruction, small-class size, small-school size, ready access to a staff member who can help students work through problems that may seem overwhelming, close supervision, frequent prompts and encouragement and strategies to facilitate learning so learning feels good. Most importantly, we maintain a school atmosphere where everyone supports each other and not only accepts but appreciates individual differences.
The Manus Academic Process
To ensure that we deliver to each student the right instruction, delivered in the right environment and at the right intensity, we follow the Manus Academic Process described in the next section. This process allows us to see if the student is responding to each part of his or her instructional program to a satisfactory degree and, if not, the factors that interfere with his or her success and what we need to do about it.
The academic process includes routine data collection, monitoring and regular communication among our students, teachers, administrators, parents and program developer. This tight monitoring of each student’s response to his or her educational plan and the adjustments that follow are essential factors in a student’s success.
For a curriculum to be effective, its instruction and practice must be exactly what the student needs to achieve the curriculum’s objectives. The curriculum must include strategies that facilitate learning, minimize the barriers that hinder success and be highly structured and easy to implement so teachers, tutors and substitute teachers can deliver it correctly.
A curriculum must also be delivered at the right intensity and frequency so the student gets enough practice to make steady growth. It should be easy to modify and adapt to each student’s specific needs.
To determine if the curriculum leads to skill achievement, our teachers and students collect data. Specifically, they chart the number of practice exercises, lessons or chapters the student completes and note those objectives the student mastered because of this practice. The teacher then decides if the student’s growth is satisfactory. If not, the teacher and other members of the student’s teaching team determine the reasons then adjust the instructional plan as needed.
Finally, considering that educational research has provided a wealth of information on how to teach effectively, particularly students with learning barriers, a curriculum needs to be based on the principles and strategies of effective instruction yielded by the research.
The set of curriculums we use at Manus Academy is another essential factor in our students’ skill achievement. It targets the skills directly and leads to full student participation, high degrees of interaction between teachers and students and the students’ completing many practice exercises, both verbal and written.
Many of the curriculums we use have been developed and tested over decades by Rosanne Manus, the school’s founder. These curriculums are based on a large body of educational research that indicates the best ways to teach students, particularly those with academic barriers. Imbedded in the curriculums are strategies well-known to facilitate learning and minimize the impact of various neuro-developmental barriers. The curriculums are highly structured, comprehensive and data driven. They include teacher-training courses so all instructors learn to use and adjust them as prescribed.
One-to-one instruction delivered in a quiet environment has numerous benefits. The teacher can adjust instruction on the spot, as needed, and establish a close and trusting relationship with the student. The student can also more easily control attention and increase productivity and skill achievement.
A testament to the power of one-to-one instruction is the rapid progress most of our students make whose initial needs necessitate one-to-one instruction for the entire school day. Most of them respond quickly to this kind of instruction and are ready to join our small classrooms for part or the whole day within six to ten months.
Because one-to-one instruction anchors students and expedites their progress so well, we use this strategy and variations of it as much as we possibly can. For instance, students complete most of their remedial work in a one-to-one setting. They receive math instruction in groups as small as two and usually no larger than four, which helps the students maintain the high degree of attentional control required to learn math.