FROM THE YELLIN CENTER NEWSLETTER - SPRING 2014
Help for Students at the New York Institute for Special Education
By Kristen Stair, M.S., School Psychologist and Franklin D. Raddock, Ph.D. School and Clinical Psychologist
The Yellin Center has worked with The New York Institute of Special Education, where Dr. Yellin has served as a member of the Board of Directors since 2008, to train its faculty and professional staff to apply a neurodevelopmental model to the learning needs of children with complex issues.
When we first met Paul Yellin, M.D. and staff members of The Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education, they embarked on a wonderful project to help our teachers and professional staff at the New York Institute for Special Education learn a neurodevelopmental, research-based approach to help our students achieve their best.
The Institute, founded in 1831 as The New York Institution for the Blind, today is located on a beautiful Bronx campus housing several programs, including the Van Cleve Program, where we work, which serves about 65 severely emotionally challenged children—many of whom have severe academic delays and learning disabilities in addition to severe behavior difficulties. About half of the children reside at the school during the week in order to provide them a longer programming day and intensive supervision.
In addition to our work as School Psychologists, we were involved in a Poetry and Writing Festival—an event which provided multiple challenges and opportunities for our students. Many of the students experienced great difficulty with writing, as well as reading, especially reading in public. Some strategies had been developed to help the students to successfully write and perform their poems. With the Yellin Center’s input, new strategies for student success made our Festival more successful and led to greater successes in the classroom.
For example, while many of the students disliked and had difficulty with the act of writing, some were excellent communicators. We implemented a bypass strategy which minimized the need for a large amount of actual writing. Students were encouraged to speak their ideas about a certain theme—for example “Helping the World to be a Better Place”—and a staff member would act as a scribe to help write down the words they wanted to use and provide assistance. Then, the students reviewed and approved their poems.
Another strategy provided scaffolding (a support structure) for students who had difficulty expressing their ideas. A mock “T.V. Interview,” complete with microphone, was conducted utilizing a structured series of questions, which allowed the student to easily answer some simple questions (e.g. “Name one thing you could do to help others”) and express themselves with greater ease. Again, staff would write down what the child said, assist the child and conduct the interview. The students loved the pretend idea of “being on television.” Ultimately, the student’s interview could be simply made into a poem, by just following the information obtained from the interview.
A bit of preparation—a frontloading strategy-- helped the students become mentally prepared for the more detailed questions of the T.V. interview. For example, they were asked, “Who would you like to help?” The World? Your family? Help yourself? And so on. Some simple choices set the stage for the theme “Helping the World to be a Better Place.”
It was amazing to see how well the educational strategies developed by Dr. Yellin’s team matched the strategies that we were using to assist our students to write poetry.
We, too, learned what the strategies were and could expand them and broaden their application. Other, more detailed, neurodevelopmental strategies could be applied to a host of educational problems across settings. A very important part of the approach was to not only approach the whole child (for example, by building on the child’s affinities or interests) but by building upon the child’s neurodevelopmental, educational and social strengths. Our professional staff was previously accustomed to emphasizing the problems the child had. The child’s difficulties needed to be specified in order to obtain the authorization of specialized services that the child required from the Committee on Special Education.
Emphasizing the child’s strengths, as well as the child’s challenges was important, too, in developing the child’s and their family’s confidence and ability to determine avenues in which the child could achieve success. Dr. Yellin and his team provided the needed training to our school’s teachers and professional staff, not only to assess each child but also to teach the child and their parents to understand the child’s strengths, challenges and learning process. This was a process of growing understanding or “demystification.”
At the present time, the program screens students based upon a variety of neurodevelopmental and educational factors. About 6-8 weeks after a student is admitted to the Van Cleve Program, a review is held of the student’s needs.
Problems in the classroom are identified and a decision is made to assess the student and come up with further detailed strategies to assist the child. In some cases, strategies are developed right at the 6-8 week meetings to try out.
During this meeting, the need for further assessment and strategy development is decided upon. A timetable for future review and implementation is agreed upon, with teachers, professionals and parents involved in the process.
Now that our teachers, psychologists, educational specialists and other professionals have been working with Dr. Yellin and his staff, many students have been helped in the classroom. For example, consider the case of 7-year-old, “Joey”, who exhibited difficulty relating to others, “tuning out,” suddenly not paying attention, refusing to write, not wanting to work independently and experiencing difficulty with comprehension. With supports and strategies tailored for Joey, which included: “front-loading strategies” to prepare Joey for what he was about to learn, specific recommended materials, finding subjects of great interest to him, well-timed prompts to help him stay focused and support from his mother at home, “Joey” is now quite willing to write on his own. He is also starting to play games with others and improve his focus and success in the classroom. He has developed quite a sense of humor too.
Following up on identifying a child’s strengths and challenges, initially by The Yellin Center Team and then increasingly by the program’s Neurodevelopmental Team, the focus has shifted to our school staff’s discovering strategies to assist students with real educational difficulties in the classroom. Under the guidance of Dr. Yellin and his team, an innovative and collaborative method of professional staff teaming up with our school’s administrators, teachers and parents is operational, enabling us to identify and implement specific strategies to help our students climb -- academically, “neurodevelopmentally” and socially speaking--to their highest heights!
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