Design for Success--Flexible CurriculumBy Christine Haggerty, Dean of Academics
Published in the The Cedar Spectrum, November 2010
The academic design of Cedar Ridge Academy has always worked with the ebb and flow of therapy. Time frames are individual, just as comprehension and learning style depend upon the educational background, motivation, and inner workings of each student.
Therapeutic progress does not conveniently follow the traditional academic schedule of semesters. Actually, most of life does not arrange itself around spring break and parent conferences. Life flows. It changes on its own in response to the natural rhythms of the human experience.
Learning also has its own rhythm in response to the nature and discipline of individuals. 'Doing time' in a traditional classroom has worked for so few of our students in their home setting that it would make no sense to duplicate it at our school. We have a system that flows, covering ground in direct relation to mastery and hard work.
Before students can make rapid progress in credits at Cedar Ridge Academy, they need to address two specific areas of learning:Content Knowledge
Content knowledge consists of information specific to the different subject areas. Content knowledge in biology involves understanding the history behind the Punnet Square, and how flowers are pollenated. English content involves the basic parts of a story, and understanding differences in genres such as fiction and nonfiction.
When a student misses information in a content area because he or she ditched class, slept through class, or attended class high or intoxicated, they end up with gaps in their content knowledge.
It is after their son or daughter failed enough classes for enough semesters that many parents recognize that their child needs to be sent to a more appropriate setting in order to have a chance at any kind of future.
It is this clear threat to their student's future that prompts many parents to take final, definitive action on the behalf of their son or daughter.
A gap in content knowledge through any of the grades causes difficulty for many students to progress in the subject areas because those students are missing information they need to move on. Trying to learn in the content areas with missing pre-knowledge is like trying to build a house on a hole; students must fill in the holes in their knowledge so that they have something on which to build new knowledge.
Another common learning situation among our incoming students is a lack of learning strategies. For many of them, school was easy through the elementary grades. Once they hit junior high and school required discipline, just picking up the content in class was no longer enough. Now they were expected to do homework, many of them failing suddenly because they didn't turn in work--not because they couldn't understand the material. As parents, and guardians, you know the rest of the story.
Strengthening learning strategies begins with identifying a student's learning strengths. I'm not sure why, but most of our students come in with the following two qualities: their auditory vocabulary is greater than their visual vocabulary and the two are not synced; and, they are highly verbal. The vocabulary gap is addressed through students reading text out loud to match the auditory and visual pieces into a comprehensive vocabulary. The verbal strength and vocabulary are both addressed in pair or group discussion; students discussing work in any area are using their verbal strength to process subject content and content specific vocabulary.
As a result, our curriculum employs a lot of projects and we encourage group work. Progress through the courses is guaged at achieving an 80% minimum on each assignment, but, more than that, progress is based on what an individual student needs to practice or learn regardless of the grade.
Initially, students struggle. They move at what seems like a sluggish pace at accumulating credits. During the first six months, students are figuring out how to be students. Many of them are motivated to get school done, but they are discouraged by their lack of study skills. Others see their transcript and figuratively weep over their lack of credits, feeling hopeless about ever graduating.
Cedar Ridge Academy is not a magical cure for students who are struggling in school. It is a solid chance, certainly. It is an opportunity for students to secure their prospects for a good future.
But it is also hard work. We do a thorough job in our content areas. We work and rework assignments. But, we also provide the support, experience, and relationships our students need to succeed now and in their futures.The Cedar Spectrum, November 2010.