Since 1965, Gateway has recognized that students with learning disabilities can learn and find success in mainstream classrooms, provided their learning needs are addressed early and through flexible, individualized instruction.
Language, language, language. “All of school is about language. Every subject, all content, virtually all instruction is accomplished via language.”(1) In Reading, Writing, and Language classes and in all content classes, students develop competency in the use of language to comprehend, to think clearly and logically, and to be effective communicators whether speaking, reading, or writing for any purpose. Through an ongoing professional development program, teachers are taught how to use language as they teach, how disruptions or delays in the development of students’ language abilities impact on their thinking and learning, and how to integrate language instruction into all the content areas.
Success matters. Our goal is to prepare children for full participation in school and in life generally. Understanding that a child’s world is school, the near-term focus is on teaching children how to navigate the academic and social aspects of the classroom, so they can succeed there as well as at other times throughout the school day. Students are taught self-awareness, the skills of self-advocacy and social communication, and the essential qualities of good character: temperance and compassion. Gateway’s approach acknowledges that its students learn in ways that are different from their mainstream peers. As they benefit from instruction that truly meets their needs, Gateway students become skilled, strategic, independent learners increasingly ready to meet the demands of mainstream education and life.
Understanding and acceptance are the first step. At The Gateway School, teaching and learning begin with a child’s sense of belonging and self-esteem. In small classes with a low student-to-teacher ratio, Gateway students understand they are valued members of the school community whose participation is welcome and encouraged. Relieved of the pressure or discouragement felt in prior school placements, each student discovers a nurturing, accepting, structured environment. Moreover, the student is in the hands of a teacher who views them holistically. Repeatedly asking “Who is this child?”(2), the teacher considers various aspects of a student’s development and how they relate to one another or interact to help or hinder the student. Instruction proceeds taking the whole, developing student into account.
Research-based, individualized instruction is the key. Instruction at Gateway is diagnostic, direct, explicit, multisensory, and guided by the findings of contemporary research. Structure, clarity, and just the right amount of support allow students to feel safe and encourage the risk-taking that must happen for learning to occur. Diagnostic instruction entails a teacher identifying the breakdowns in a student’s learning process and which unique strengths can be leveraged to promote learning. An adjustment to instructional approach, pace, or activity may follow. The result is individualized instruction that is responsive to a student’s unique needs. All instruction is direct, explicit, sequential, and multisensory. Teachers tell, show, and model for students what they are to learn and how to learn it. Skills, strategies, and content are introduced in a logical sequence that initially lays a strong foundation, then builds incrementally and gradually becomes more complex. Hands-on and experiential activities make learning lively and fun, while helping students grasp and retain knowledge or affording them another way of expressing their understanding.
Collaboration and team work are lifelong skills. All students participate in group-based, group-paced learning with the group size varying throughout the day. In this way, students learn to transition between learning experiences, generalize knowledge from one subject or circumstance to another, and integrate their language, academic, and social/emotional learning in real-time in the classroom. Consistent with diagnostic instruction, teachers pay close attention to student groupings. Most groupings are homogeneous, based on students’ age and proficiency, to allow for targeted instruction. Their small size facilitates individualization in the approach to and pacing of instruction. Moreover, learning in a group introduces a student to the benefits of collaboration and teamwork. Working in tandem with others, the student experiences not only personal growth, but also how others and the group as a whole change and prosper through the give-and-take of learning within a group.
1, 2 Lydia Soifer, Ph.D., author of Classroom Language Dynamics