Not all children learn the same. That may seem like an obvious educational observance, but it’s tough to put into practice, especially in a classroom of more than 20 children. And yet as many as 20 percent of kids have some form of dyslexia that make it harder for them to learn in traditional classroom settings.
Working with those children is the focus of Trident Academy in Mount Pleasant where the teachers embrace multi-sensory learning techniques and individualized instruction. “Trident Academy accepts students with average to above average intelligence as measured in an educational evaluation,” said Betsy Fanning, Head of School. The students at Trident commonly struggle with such learning disabilities as dyslexia (reading), dysgraphia (writing) or dyscalculia (math) as well as Asperger-like qualities.
“Our population is intellectually capable of doing the academic work, but their brains have not grasped the concepts,” Fanning explained. “They haven’t learned how to decode the written language.”
So to accommodate these children and their unique learning needs, Trident Academy focuses on three areas:
Small class size.
Most classes at Trident are just eight or nine students, allowing teachers more time to work with students one-on-one. All students attend Language Enhancement And Development classes known as LEAD where one or two students are specifically working on their reading deficits, Fanning explained.
All teachers are trained in this method of teaching in which students engage a variety of senses as they learn. The school uses the Orton–Gillingham approach to reading, which teaches the connections between sounds and letters.
For example, a teacher may place shaving cream on a cookie sheet and let students draw letters with the pads of their fingers as a way to use more senses in the learning process – say the letters, see the letters and feel the letters. And then the concept is repeated over and over, Fanning explained.
“There’s some value in writing with pencil and paper, but they need more than just that,” she said. “For a lot of kids, writing words 10 times is fine, but kids with dyslexia might be mixing up the letters as they write those words. They need more. They need a different way of teaching.”
The team at Trident Academy looks at each child’s needs and begins filling the gaps in their education. And for children with learning disabilities, that also means over-teaching – going over the same concepts again and again so it sinks into their long-term memory.
Children with learning disabilities need more time to grasp the concepts – something past teachers may have attributed to laziness or lack of trying, Fanning said.
“Kids come in defeated and hating school,” she said. “Then they realize, ‘I am smarter than I thought. I can do this, I just need something different.’”
Trident Academy is accepting applications for grades K-12 for the 2016-17 school year.