One of the great insights of Montessori education is that while children may learn and develop in broadly predictable patterns, each child is an individual learner traveling on a path and at a pace that is uniquely her own. Our hands-on classrooms and many experiential activities offer learning opportunities to children at varying stages of development. As educators, we combine our observations of children and their work with our knowledge of common developmental patterns to understand how each child is learning and growing.
As they explore classroom activities, participate in small and large group instruction and receive individual guidance from teachers, most children progress through the typical pattern of development within a reasonable time frame. At any given moment, however, we recognize that a small number of children need additional support either to overcome a roadblock or to participate at a level consonant with that of their peers.
For these children, Ancona provides the Student Support Team (SST) consisting of two learning specialists (Jacki Bober and Kathy Yates) and a school counselor (Tony Gleason). Our learning specialists are specially trained teachers who evaluate and assist children with learning differences to develop successful strategies for learning. Our counselor works with classrooms and small groups of children to promote good friendships and a healthy school climate. He also assists children in overcoming social/emotional barriers to learning. Because learning and social/emotional problems can be related, the SST works together as a team to pool their expertise and ensure that each child receives the best consideration we can give. Our team approach includes collaboration with outside professionals – occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, psychotherapists, tutors, etc. — whom parents enlist to address needs that we cannot meet in the school.
When a student is having difficulty learning a skill or mastering a concept, or if a child is demonstrating a social or emotional difficulty, Ancona teachers try varying methods, materials and explanations as they look for a successful strategy for that particular child to get the most out of school. When a child continues to struggle despite the alternatives the teacher has tried, the teacher will make a referral to the SST. Following observations, assessments and some initial work with a child, the SST will determine what, if any, services would be appropriate, and a member of the team will write a brief Student Support Plan to outline the services that will be implemented.
Short term services address a specific learning goal (i.e.understanding place value or improving a child’s relations with other students) and last for a stated period of time (i.e. 8 sessions of 30 minutes each). When the plan is complete, the SST makes one of three decisions:
- The intervention was a success, and the child continues in the classroom program.
- The student is making progress, and the intervention will be extended for another set period.
- The student is not making progress, and further diagnostic information is needed.
When neither classroom alternatives nor short-term intervention are successful and the student is still struggling, we need additional diagnostic information to determine whether learning differences are present and to know how best to support the child. We keep lists of recommended diagnosticians available for parents.
Identifying learning differences is usually a great boon to understanding the child and helping her. Some parents fear that obtaining and disclosing diagnostic information will result in negative “labeling” of their child, but nothing could be further from the truth. Obtaining high quality diagnostic information allows us to tailor our interventions to the child’s specific learning needs, to teach self-advocacy and to optimize her learning.
When a neuropsychological or other professional diagnostic evaluation outlines specific learning needs that can be addressed by our SST, we will put in place a long-term plan that includes ongoing support in and outside of the classroom, coordination with any outside providers and regular monitoring and review of the support plan. On occasion, learning needs are so complex that a one-to-one aide is required to assist the child in navigating the demands of the classroom. In these cases, the SST provides coordination and supervision for the aide provided by the parents..
Of course, we work in close partnership with all parents whose children are receiving student support services. Parents who wonder whether their children need student support services should begin by discussing their concerns with their classroom teacher or advisor.