Soaring Eagle Academy

Our Curriculum Overview

Our Curriculum

SEA offers an individualized and research-based curriculum with the strongly held belief that all students have the right to access a rich academic curriculum appropriate to their individual learning style and developmental levels, while also supporting functional life skills and vocational job skills. Students receive instruction in accordance with the courses that they are enrolled in and all coursework is aligned to the New Illinois Learning Standards. Soaring Eagle Academy has a course catalog listing the courses and program standards offered.

Soaring Eagle Academy’s curriculum and its development were guided by several principles:

  1. Curriculum should be meaningful to each student. The student’s interests should guide their direction of learning.
  2. Curriculum should be developmentally appropriate. The level of learning should be matched to their regulatory capacities, social and emotional capacities, motor capacities, comprehension abilities and expressive language capacities.
  3. Curriculum should be experiential. Students should experience any and all concepts related to their learning in order to develop deep and lasting understanding.

SEA takes a developmental approach to curriculum for each student regardless of disability category, that takes into account what students should learn and how they best learn changes with each developmental stage and the experiences that come within their developmental stage. The curriculum used is continuously adapted for each individual student in order to accommodate the students’ current developmental level, their individual learning differences, and their previous experiences around the materials. Learning is maximized through interactive and active processes and by creating meaningful experiences unique to each student profile.

Students are encouraged to develop at their own pace and within their own level. Learning is supported by building on previous knowledge and experiences offering students the opportunity to work on topics over extended periods of time. Student learning occurs in both small group settings and in individual stations. Participating in small group learning gives them the opportunity to be introduced to new skills and concepts with peer model and discussion opportunities in a multi-sensory environment. The students then take what they have learned to their individual stations where they will deepen their understanding by reviewing, practicing, and expanding on concepts taught. Instruction in both small groups and in individual stations are scaffolded to support understanding and practice of curriculum but also is integral to supporting tiered learning and creating opportunities for extension activities.

Each student at SEA receives a highly individualized daily lesson plan that is specific to their learning level, sensory profile, individual strengths and challenges, that also supports their developmental level of emotional and intellectual functioning. Each student’s interests are honored within every learning opportunity. Based on this knowledge, student’s individualized curriculum is generated by interaction of the student’s natural interests, Developmental Language models, principles of the DIR®/Floortime™ approach and Illinois Learning Standards, Individual Goals and Benchmarks. Soaring Eagle Academy’s philosophy of education is that all curriculum be experienced in the contextual environment, in order to be meaningful and integrated with prior conceptual knowledge. Each student’s interests are honored within every learning opportunity.

SEA developed and adopted various curriculum components based on the importance of affect and experience in learning and offers an option for achieving a high school diploma based on high school courses within a robust course catalog or a certificate of completion based on individual student need and capacities.  SEA believes that children learn best when they are well-regulated, able to share attention with their communicative partner and/or teacher and are emotionally invested in the learning. When children are interested and emotionally invested in material, their capacity to be present for the experience and to be taught is heightened. Multi-sensory experiences lead to meaningful learning, which in turn creates better comprehension of material and regulation in children.

Literacy

Soaring Eagle Academy’s literacy curriculum encompasses the following areas: phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, fluency, vocabulary development, comprehension of written material, spelling, grammar, use and mechanics, expressive/creative writing and a concept group that supports the literacy books chosen each month.

The Superkids reading program is a comprehensive reading and language arts curriculum with phonics at its core. It provides meaningful and engaging content while providing systematic phonics based instruction. Soaring Eagle adapts Superkids to meet the needs of each individual student’s profile to maximize their learning. Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Earobics and Phonemic Awareness Lab (App) serve to support our students’ ability to develop phonemic awareness and emerging phonics skills.  To support Grammar and Mechanics learning and application, Soaring Eagle teachers utilize GUM (Grammar, Use and Mechanics) and Simple Solutions Language Arts for students that have built foundations in their reading capacities and are ready for their next developmental step in English and Language Arts.

To supplement reading and language arts, students engage in a range of novel studies chosen for their developmental level and comprehension capacities. Novels are explored in groups to promote reading and thinking together about the content. Many of the individualized lessons also incorporate news articles, biographies and other forms of informational text as they pertain to the content to be taught and the interests of the student.  Developmentally ready students also receive vocabulary and comprehension instruction through Word Wisdom. Word Wisdom offers informational text passages to provide context for targeted vocabulary words.  The lessons then embed understanding of the context through examples directly related to the students’ own experiences.  Students then demonstrate their comprehension of the vocabulary through the application of the words within sentences or short paragraphs.

SEA additionally facilitates writing instruction using SQ Sentence and SQ Write and Strategies for Writers, depending on each student’s developmental levels.  SQ Write/ Sentence uses executive functioning based learning tools to support the hierarchy of writing following a precise sequence.  SQ Write aims to support students in asking themselves effective questions related to writing.  These questions then guide the writing process to generate ideas for a complete and organized essay.  Students are taught a systematic way to brainstorm ideas and organize their thoughts to create effective writing samples. Strategies for Writers is another comprehensive K-8 curriculum that focuses on the traits for effective writing across subject areas/ text styles (narrative, opinion, how-to, research reports, etc.). For students who are developmentally ready, Strategies for Writers facilitates the writing process and focuses on: introducing a topic clearly, organizing ideas, logically supporting claims, and maintaining a formal text style.  Students are also given opportunities to review and edit peers work as part of the writing process. Writing progress is measured through assessments at the end of each unit.  Students writing samples are scored using a rubric measuring: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and presentation.

The language concept groups centered around children’s literature is unique to Soaring Eagle Academy’s literature curriculum. Taking the literacy recommendations from the Common Core, books are chosen to support a student’s exposure to a range of books and their language development. Each month, a book is explored with students. The books are adapted to teach at the level of the student. Concepts are experienced over the course of an entire week. Early learners will experience the concept in tangible and sensory-based ways. Later learners will learn about concepts while problem solving, making inferences, predicting and critically thinking. Literacy projects are designed to integrate all developmental capacities. The monthly concept group is based on developmental language theory that seeks to promote deep comprehension of concepts and words that children are exposed to throughout their day. The groups are designed to allow for new conceptual learning across different contexts throughout the week to build bigger and more full experiential meaning. The group dynamic is an important part of this work. We want children to experience the concepts with their peers, to be able to watch and observe others enacting and experiencing the concept and to interact with multiple partners through this experience. If a student already understands the concept, they may serve as a model to others, which is just as important. Students may understand the concept in one context but not in many. In addition, they may “look” as if they understand the concept because they have great comprehension strategies that appear to us, as adults, that they understand. To understand through linguistic means, the child needs many experiences, many matches and many opportunities to explore and act on in their world to make a deeper meaning and a truer connection.

English – High School

English I: This course will develop student competency in English usage and mechanics, oral and written communication, and classical and contemporary literature. Topics of study include novel study groups, individual novels, research skills, grammar, vocabulary, and writing. Basic Grammar skills are learned and then practiced in student writings. Students will use their critical thinking skills to examine various literacy forms.  A description of each of the main components of the course is listed below:

1)    Grammar, Mechanics and Use provides a foundation for writing skills development by focusing on sentence structure, parts of speech, usage, grammar, and mechanics. Each lesson provides examples, information, practice, application, and reinforcement of the skill learned. The program used is the G.U.M (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics) by Zane-Bloser.

2)    The program, Word Wisdom by Zane-Bloser helps students develop their vocabulary using research-based approaches such as but not limited to, activating prior knowledge, analyzing roots and other word parts, using context clues strategies, and learning reference skills. Students will read a passage related to a unit theme, use new strategies to unlock word meanings, process the meanings of the words, and then apply the words through activities that activate higher-level thinking activities. Additionally, students will be exposed to new vocabulary within their group and individual novels and will use the principles learned during this station in order to unlock and discuss their meanings.

3)    During this course, the students will be working on specific writing projects to advance the student’s writing proficiency. Students will focus on writing as a process that includes prewriting, drafting, editing, and revising. Emphasis will be placed on personal narratives, opinion essays, and reflective writings.

4)    Students will participate in group novel and individual novel studies. The novels read will be thoroughly taught and all major concepts, vocabulary, literary elements, and themes will be discussed at length. These stations will expose students to a range of authors, content and background information while supporting students to make connections to their own lives and experiences. Everyone is expected to participate in discussions in order to analyze and understand the texts.

English II:  This course will develop student competency in English usage and mechanics, oral and written communication, and classical and contemporary literature. Topics of study include novel study groups, individual novels, research skills, grammar, vocabulary, and writing. Basic Grammar skills are learned and then practiced in student writings. Students will use their critical thinking skills to examine various literacy forms.  A description of each of the main components of the course is listed below.

1)    Grammar, Mechanics and Use provides a foundation for writing skills development by focusing on sentence structure, parts of speech, usage, grammar, and mechanics. Each lesson provides examples, information, practice, application, and reinforcement of the skill learned. The program used is the G.U.M (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics) by Zane-Bloser.

2)    The program, Word Wisdom by Zane-Bloser helps students develop their vocabulary using research-based approaches such as but not limited to, activating prior knowledge, analyzing roots and other word parts, using context clues strategies, and learning reference skills. Students will read a passage related to a unit theme, use new strategies to unlock word meanings, process the meanings of the words, and then apply the words through activities that activate higher-level thinking activities. Additionally, students will be exposed to new vocabulary within their group and individual novels and will use the principles learned during this station in order to unlock and discuss their meanings.

3)    Through writing instructional lessons, the students will examine writing as a process using the SQ Write program. This program directly teaches executive functioning skills to help them become organized and self-reliant writers. Students are given prompts to help them formulate the right questions in order to generate ideas necessary for an essay. They will use a Thought Organizer to capture their ideas, practice reading them out loud, and then finally write them down. The students will then practice the editing process in order to complete a final draft. Going through each of these steps will help the students learn how to write organized and structured essays. Students will each have a writing portfolio folder that will show their writing progress.

4)    Students will participate in group novel and individual novel studies. The novels read will be thoroughly taught and all major concepts, vocabulary, literary elements, and themes will be discussed at length. These stations will expose students to a range of authors, content and background information while supporting students to make connections to their own lives and experiences. Everyone is expected to participate in discussions in order to analyze and understand the texts. There may be periodic quizzes centered around the books. Two of the group novels that the students have been/will be reading are To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Math

Soaring Eagle Academy’s math curriculum utilizes the ORIGO Stepping Stones Mathematics (ORIGO) program. ORIGO is a developmentally appropriate math program for K-5th grade and is aligned to support all state standards. It was derived from research that points to developmental models of how children learn math in the most effective and efficient ways and designed to engage students in their learning, while helping them to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics. It allows for hands on experiential learning, which is a key learning principle at SEA, while supporting the understanding of the “language of math” that aligns with our developmental language model thinking. Whole class, small group, differentiation, investigation and problem-S solving activities are provided to support thinking and conceptualizing for each unique profile of learning. Math is taught for understanding, not memorization, with meaningful learning at the heart of all activities. Math curriculum is also supported by the work of the late John Van DeWalle, “Teaching Student Centered Mathematics”, as well as ALEKS computer math program and Simple Solutions Common Core Math all of which extend through the 8th grade level. Students learning above the 8th grade level enroll in Prentice Hall Common Core Algebra I. This program offers units around each Big Idea of Algebra (aligned to the Common Core standards) and provides opportunities to visualize, reason and practice the skills through the use of video, interactive learning activities, think and write opportunities, and error analysis and reasoning for strategies. Differentiated Remediation Activities and additional instructional support ideas from the Algebra I Companion and Student Book support the introduction of new vocabulary, key concepts, and lesson checks.

Each module of ORIGO Stepping Stones offers formative and summative methods to assess student knowledge and skills. Simple Solutions and ALEKS offer quarterly summative assessments to be used as indicators of student progress throughout the course of the year.

Soaring Eagle Academy also utilizes Prentice Hall Algebra I Geometry, and Algebra II, which provides built in Lesson Checks throughout each lesson to support ongoing, informal assessment. Each chapter offers formal assessment opportunities through Mid- Chapter quizzes, Pull It Together Performance Tasks, and a final Chapter Review to measure student progress.

Social Science

Soaring Eagle Academy’s social science curriculum is based on the guiding principles and ideas from Every Book is a Social Studies Book (How to meet the Standards with Picture Books, K-6) and Social Studies (All Day, Every Day in the Early Childhood Classroom). The curriculum was developed using the standards set forth by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). These standards guide our curriculum decisions by providing student performance expectations within the ten thematic strands being taught to our students.

The ten thematic strands include:

  • Culture
  • Time, continuity, and change
  • People, places and environments Individual development and identity
  • Individuals, groups and institutions
  • Power, authority, and governance
  • Production
  • Distribution and Consumption Science
  • Technology and Society
  • Global Connections
  • Civic Ideals and Practices

These ten thematic strands draw from the social science disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion and sociology, as well as appropriate content from the humanities, mathematics and natural science.

Utilizing literature books, Soaring Eagle Academy integrates cross-curricular materials to implement the standards set forth by the NCSS. These standards guide what students should be taught, how they will be taught and how their performance will be evaluated. The standards provide criteria for making decisions about what to include in the curriculum each month.

Soaring Eagle Academy’s social science curriculum is designed to support a student’s ability to activate their prior knowledge to learn about the world around them. General goals for the course aim to include teaching students about their role in relation to social and civic matters, helping students think critically, and to help students become concerned citizens and develop a social understanding. All concepts are adapted to each individual student so that learning is meaningful and developmentally appropriate. Concepts learned are integrated into other subjects to create cross-curricular projects and maximize learning.

Teacher assessments are made based on the student’s ability to draw from the text presented and make connections, expand concepts and think critically about social and civic matters on a personal, national, and global level. Progress is measured based on a student’s ability to write, recall, and/ or discuss the content as it directly affects their own experience as a citizen.  Teacher assessments include the comprehension of curriculum assessment developed by Soaring Eagle Academy and based on the Clinical Assessment of Language Comprehension by Miller and Paul.

Consumer Education

For Consumer Education, Soaring Eagle utilizes McGraw Hill Consumer Education and Economics to teach students financial literacy.  Instruction includes activities, field trips, projects and classroom debates that promote understanding of the economy, managing family and personal finances, limited resources and conservation, understanding and managing credit, as well as privacy, safety and security related to finances, the internet and advertising.  By the end of the course, Soaring Eagle aims to have students who are well informed about resource management, decision- making, and problem solving related to the purchases they make and how they spend their money.  Students are assessed through participation in class, Dollars and Sense projects, daily classwork and summative projects/ exams.

Science

McGraw Hill INSPIRE Science serves as the foundation of Soaring Eagle Academy’s science curriculum. INSPIRE is a research-based science curriculum for grades K-8. The program uses a developmental model of how students think and learn as they grow to choose meaningful topics and ways to explore. Content and experiments lead to discovery and application of the scientific method through the Five E’s: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate.  Teacher assessments are made based on the student’s ability to make connections, expand concepts, apply the investigative process to other unknowns and to act on the objects presented to them. The Student Journals offer records of student progress through writing prompts, reasoning strategies, and detailed explanations of the scientific process through gathering materials, collecting data and forming hypotheses.

Science (High School only – excludes Transition students)

McGraw Hill INSPIRE Science serves as the foundation of Soaring Eagle Academy’s science curriculum. INSPIRE is a research-based science curriculum for grades K-8. The program uses a developmental model of how students think and learn as they grow to choose meaningful topics and ways to explore. Content and experiments lead to discovery and application of the scientific method through the Five E’s: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate. Teacher assessments are made based on the student’s ability to make connections, expand concepts, apply the investigative process to other unknowns and to act on the objects presented to them. The Student Journals offer records of student progress through writing prompts, reasoning strategies, and detailed explanations of the scientific process through gathering materials, collecting data and forming hypotheses.

Biology: Soaring Eagle Academy utilizes Miller and Levine’s Biology curriculum to provide activities, questions, and experiments for the students that relate themes from biology to the phenomena they experience day to day. Topics covered include: the nature of life, cells, ecology, genetics, evolution, microorganisms, plants, animals, and the human body. In addition to the topics mentioned, the course also aims to discuss and realize the ways in which biology affects society and to further practice the scientific method.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

The Social Emotional Learning (SEL) integrates Developmental Language and DIR® based thinking to support students in building friendships throughout their school day in individual and small and large group activities. The social emotional curriculum is adapted for each student incorporating five areas: 1) Understanding of Self 2) Understanding of Others 3) Social Awareness 4) Social Communication and 5) Advanced Social Emotional Thinking. Each student’s developmental level serves as the starting point for facilitating peer interactions. At SEA, we believe that peer play follows a sequence of development similar to interacting with parents/caregivers/teachers: 1) being in the same room with peers, 2) being in the vicinity of a peer, 3) sharing attention with a peer, 4) engaging with a peer, 5) subtle response to a peer, 6) initiating with a peer, and 7) sustaining back and forth interactions with a peer.

As with all children and adults, we believe children with Autism develop friendships around activities of interest to them.  Students are offered opportunity to participate in social emotional learning (SEL) groups with SEA staff supporting the students’ individual regulatory needs while facilitating peer connections.  SEL groups are based on students’ interests that are ever changing but may include:  dance party, karate group, movement/swinging group, music group, doll house group, boys’/girls’ group, interactive story group, play group, trains group, cooking group, YouTube dance group, theater group, sensory group, fencing group, gymnastics group. This is a complex process with group location, number of participants, developmental level and natural interest of each member carefully considered, when forming and supporting groups throughout the school year. Students attend SEL groups on a daily basis and have opportunity to gain the following:  ability to participate in meaningful and predictable daily peer experiences, spend time with peers of different ages across the school in different contexts, observe peers and model after them, try new experiences and activities with peers with support, be a leader with peers or take direction from a peer, show off so as to build a greater sense of self, be an active participant in choosing activities tailored for building friendships, watch, initiate, expand and contribute to peer activities, work collaboratively with peers, be part of a peer group with a contributing role and experience dynamic multi-sensory  environments at the highest level of their ability to take in sensory affective experiences.  SEL groups are led and supported by the mental health staff (counselor/social worker), occupational therapist, speech language pathologist, behavior DIR® specialist, program and teacher assistants.

Art, Music and P.E.

Art, Music and P.E. standards are met in accordance with the Illinois Learning Standards through courses offered in the course catalog.  The standards under the curricular area of Art and Music emphasize learning through the artistic process. Four artistic processes are addressed in the standards: creating, performing/producing/presenting, responding and connecting.

The MUSIC program is tailored to each student’s interests, incorporating both instrumental and vocal musical experiences. Elements of music are explored and fostered through concepts that include rhythm, melody and harmony. Students learn about different types of music and instruments. Students participate in small groups, in structured and creative learning opportunities, featured to foster interest, appreciation and knowledge. A high school band has been formed to promote musical interest, while building students’ abilities to work as a group toward a common goal.

The ART program offers a wide variety of mediums and recycled materials utilized to promote creativity, self-expression, fine motor skills, meaningful art making, exploration and the use of individual imagination. Experiences offer exposure to a variety of artistic tools, principles of elements and design fundamentals and art techniques. Each child is met at their individual levels in order for them to feel successful. Art history and cultural aspects can be incorporated and explored for a higher learning experience. Art is taught in a group session allowing for the students to engage in social interaction, and at times, have the opportunity to learn from and motivate each other. All students contribute a beautiful hue to our rainbow in which they are allowed to explore and experience art without having anxiety of making mistakes. At our school, we don’t make mistakes but we embrace each other’s differences.

The P.E. curriculum is based on the Illinois Learning Standards for physical education and health set forth from the Enhanced P.E. Task Force. The standards and goals under the curricular area of physical education emphasize developing health and wellbeing through physical activity. There is an emphasis on supporting students to be able to work as individuals and as members of teams, which promotes social and emotional development at SEA.  Students are able to experience and practice the motor skills related to each unit. Each skill is broken down and tailored to the developmental motor level of the student. The student is then able to experience a range of movement experiences and acquire movement patterns and locomotor skills through the predictable and developmental sequence in an individualized manner. In addition, the groups are tailored to match the overall timing, pacing and rhythmicity to promote student development in cooperative group physical activity. The PE program is designed to promote movement, exercise, interaction and fun. As the students experience positive emotional experiences through their efforts and successes with mastering physical skill competency, the students are then encouraged to participate and enjoy physical activity as a part of their school day and then as possible in the community.

Transition / Vocational

The Transition Vocational & Life Skills Program prepares our high school students as they transition out of their school years and into adulthood. Through the collaborative efforts of a specialized team of educators and therapists, we work with each student and his/her parents and district to develop realistic post-school goals and plan how best to impart the skills and strategies necessary to enable the student to be as independent as possible with optimal quality of life. In accordance with IDEA requirements, the program addresses the five components of transition planning: education/vocational training, employment, independent living, recreation/leisure and community integration. All activities are presented in a dynamic and meaningful way, driven by student interests, personal strengths and developmental levels/capacities, to facilitate high interest and participation and ensure carry over of newly learned classroom skills to students’ everyday life. Program objectives are to produce young adults who can:

  • Generalize the ability to stay regulated and socially engaged in “real world” environments.
  • Uncover their social, recreational and vocational interests.
  • Have increased opportunity for work sites that align with their individual differences, strengths and interests.
  • Be gainfully employed in a supported work environment.
  • Engage in a healthy lifestyle through integrated recreation/leisure activities.
  • Effectively utilize daily living skills to function as independently as possible.
  • Develop skills and coping strategies required to achieve the highest level of independence and quality of life- a life filled with meaning and purpose filled with a joy for interacting, forming relationships and ongoing learning.

We believe that all students have the right to access a rich academic curriculum appropriate to their individual learning style and developmental levels while also supporting functional life skills and vocational job skills.  The Transition Program is committed to providing students with a safe, nurturing and individualized environment in which they can learn how to integrate into their communities. Our approach in teaching through a relationship-based model allows for students to connect and make meaning of the life skills being taught through academics, daily living tasks, vocational training, and rec/leisure experiences. Program activities take place through forming relationships in the community, work sites, and other dynamic locations. We focus on the process and embrace each of our student’s interests, personal strengths and developmental levels/capacities. We provide hands on experiences on site such as micro business skills, daily living skills, exercise, art projects, and other integrated community activities. Our team of trained support staff facilitate the process of self-regulation and teach functional skills so students can work as independently as possible. Classroom teacher, therapists and 1:1 teacher assistants (job coaches) support on vocational trips, on job sites and throughout the school day. This supports the generalization of skills across a variety of people and contexts. As students’ progress, they are met with the opportunity to determine job preferences and learn to work with growing independence, while staying calm/regulated and engaged, as they make contributions in the workplace and in other public environments.

Students have opportunities to explore vocational interests and skills both on site and within the community. SEA has established partnerships with businesses in the community and is committed to seek new partnerships as the need arises, since all vocational opportunities are individualized for each student based upon each student’s individual developmental levels, student interests and personal strengths. There is on site job coaching in the area of cleaning, organizing, office work, gardening in the school garden, mentoring younger students by leading clubs and working at the school store. There are offsite community experiences that may include cleaning at the Westin Hotel and the Hansen Center, organizing and light office work at Hillcrest management and an Assisted Living facility, gardening/planting at We Grow Dreams with students completing a timesheet and receiving a paycheck with opportunity to be hired after graduation, and stocking at Walgreens. Life skills experiences for meal planning/cooking, hygiene, doing laundry, managing money, self-advocacy, preparing a resume/portfolio, interviewing skills, etc. can be practiced in SEA’s Mock apartment as well as in the community.

Transition program activities will vary from student to student. While such activities among the general population are learned through trial-and-error, teens and adults with autism need significant training and practice with the calming/coping, social and communication skills necessary to perform in employment situations.  Providing community-based, “real world” social, vocational, and life experiences are perhaps the most critical learning opportunities that impact the potential for ongoing independence and quality of life for an individual with autism and that is the beauty of individualized vocational training because each student presents with a different individual profile making each experience meaningful to them in their own way.

Assessment

A variety of assessment tools are utilized for ongoing progress monitoring and instructional planning surrounding student strengths, areas of targeted growth and current functioning. These tools include: DIR® Functional Emotional Developmental Levels (FEDLs), Curriculum Based Measurements, Systematic Observations, SEA Regulation Continuum Scale, Daily Home- Communication Sheet, SEA Concept Data Collection Sheet, SEA Vocational Interest Survey, Clinical observations of Sensory Processing and Motor Planning, Projects, Benchmark Progress, Checklists, Rubrics, Pre-Tests/Post-Tests, Illinois Alternative Assessment (IAA) and the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

Principles of Early Learning

As students learn to become learners, there are many guiding principles that support this process in development. Taking from best practices in early learning, Soaring Eagle Academy uses a developmental approach to support the student in “learning how to learn.” Some principles that Soaring Eagle Academy uses when teaching students are as follows: (Adapted from the work of Lilian Katz).

        1. A developmental approach to curriculum acknowledges that what students should do and should learn is determined on the basis of what is best for their development in the long term (that is, the dynamic consequences of experience).
        2. When students are introduced to formal instruction before they are developmentally ready or before they understand the concepts being taught, they may learn the knowledge and skills offered, but they may learn them without the ability to use them.
        3. Unless students have some experience of what it feels like to understand some topics in depth, their ability to seek in-depth understandings cannot be developed and deepened.
        4. For students who are at emerging developmental levels or emerging language capacities, investigation and observation are most important and natural ways of learning.
        5. The goal of all education and learning is to engage the mind of the learner in its fullest sense.
        6. Student’s abilities to be interested, engaged, absorbed and involved in intellectual effort are strengthened when they have many opportunities to learn about concepts over extended periods of time.
        7. When student’s interests draw them to real events, particularly those in which engaged adult partners are involved, and the adults respond to this interest by providing support and information, by focusing their attention on important aspects of the phenomenon of interest, and by inviting their participation in the activity, the students are in an optimal environment.
        8. Desirable affect states are not likely to be learned from instruction; rather, they are learned from being around significant others and adept communicative partners who exhibit, exemplify and model these affect states.
        9. Feelings are not likely to be learned through instruction; both positive and negative feelings are learned in the context of and as consequences of experience with a competent communicative partner who is able to honor those feelings, give words to match the feelings and model capacities to understand and respond to those feelings.
        10. When students are new to the process of learning and are developing their language capacities, it is critical that they learn through interactive rather than reactive and receptive experiences, through direct and first-hand experiences rather than indirect and second-hand experiences, and through active rather than passive experiences.
        11. When students are new to the process of learning and are developing their language capacities, it is critical that they have ample opportunity to interact with real objects and real environments.
        12. When students are new to the process of learning and are developing their language capacities, it is critical that they have opportunities to apply in meaningful contexts the knowledge and skills learned in the more formal parts of the curriculum.
        13. When students are new to the process of learning and are developing their language capacities the larger and more important is the role of adults in helping them to develop social competence.

Student Supports

Additional Supports for the Individual Sensory Profile of Each Student

  1. SENSORY AND MOTOR MODULATION AND INTEGRATION ACTIVITIES        Sensory modulation is when the senses work together. Each sense works with the others to form a composite picture of who we are physically, where we are and what is going on around us. Sensory modulation is a neurological function that is responsible for producing this composite picture. It is the organization of sensory information for ongoing use.
    • Vestibular stimulating activities: This refers to the information that is provided by the receptors within the inner ear. It is concerned with the perception of movement and gravity as well as the development of spatial awareness, balance, equilibrium, postural control and muscle tone. It is also considered to be an important center for bilateral coordination and the development of lateralization.
      • Rolling games
      • Spinning games (swing, scooter boards)
      • Ball games (bouncing on ball)
      • Trampoline workout (bounce sitting, run in place, jump)
    • Proprioceptive stimulating activities
      • Heavy load walks and hiking trips
        • Wearing heavy weighted vests
        • Crawl or creep with heavy weights
      • Cocooning – wrapping child in tight sheet or blanket and hold like a caterpillar in a cocoon
      • Climbing mattresses or blow-up pillows
      • Pulling a wagon filled with heavy books, pushing a wagon with heavy objects, carrying objects from one place to another
      • Animal walks
      • Body wheelbarrow walks
    • Motor planning: Child’s ability to organize, plan and then execute new and unpracticed fine motor or gross motor activity
      • Balance beams
      • Obstacle courses
      • Problem solving within motor tasks
  2. PERCEPTUAL MOTOR CHALLENGES 
    • Throwing
    • Catching
    • Crossing midline
    • Kicking and hitting balls
    • Drawing (paper and pencil mazes)
  3. PRAXIS ACTIVITIES
    • Ideation
    • Motor planning
    • Execution
  4. TACTILE DISCRIMINATION 
    • Finding objects hidden in beans, rice, birdseed
    • Hiding in a pillow case
  5. STRUCTURED TEACHING STRATEGIES
    *When needed for children with significant motor challenges (to be used at the discretion of the staff and modified to include affect and meaning).
  6. SPEECH AND LANGUAGE CAPACITIES
    *See our section on developmental language models

Best Practice in Autism Intervention

Taking from best practices in Autism intervention, Soaring Eagle Academy created comprehensive therapeutic interventions and academic curriculums. The following are the ten universal best-practice features that have been shown to provide a common foundation to all successful intervention programs.

1) Emphasis on earliest possible screening, diagnosis, eligibility for Autism services evaluations and ongoing assessment in the immediate implementation of appropriate effective Autism interventions.

Soaring Eagle Academy has built in evaluations and ongoing assessments to support our understanding of the student, their developmental level, their individual sensory profile and their language capacities in order to be responsive immediately to the implementation and adaptation of necessary interventions. The IRSP (Individualized Regulatory Support Plan) was developed to support this process.

2) Programs are tailored to the needs of each individual with specific adaptations that match the person’s spectrum profile, age, stage of development and emergent potentials.

Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student as a unique individual with strengths and areas of need. Programs are developed to meet them at their developmental level and then to move them to higher capacities.

3) Highly structured and skill-oriented teaching and treatment programs

Although Soaring Eagle Academy does not use skill-oriented teaching, we look at the individual students needs and offer teaching that is organized and structured to meet the needs of the student. All students have schedules that are supportive in meeting their comprehension needs, regulatory needs and learning needs based on where they are developmentally.

4) Frequent informal reassessment and systematic data-based tracking of skill growth and related plan review and revisions

Soaring Eagle Academy takes daily data on goals developed to promote regulatory capacities, engagement, academic development, motor development, speech and language development and emotional development. The team meets to discuss progress and to make revisions to goals when needed in order to continue to adapt to the changing needs of each student.

5) Use individual motivational strategies and systems (behavioral model motivators are more extrinsic in nature, and developmental model motivators are more intrinsic in nature. Most programs will utilize a certain combination.)

Soaring Eagle Academy believes that true learning and communication are their own reward. When we make communicating easy, students learn that they are competent as communicators and are motivated to communicate further.

6) Teaching areas are structured, organized and distraction-free environments, which incorporate intensive one-to-one and small group sessions. Activities and routines are flexible yet predictable. Time spent waiting is kept to a minimum.

Soaring Eagle Academy develops classroom learning environments keeping in mind the student’s visual spatial needs, motor system and auditory system. Learning areas are individualized and modified based on the unique needs of the student. Schedules, activities and routines throughout the day allow for flexibility in order to meet the individual needs of each student. 

7) Provide multiple settings and consistency of methodology across time and spaces, in at least three and up to six settings, for promoting skills generalization

Soaring Eagle Academy works with students in a range of settings to encourage generalization of capacities. We offer movement throughout our space every day in order for students to experience multiple spaces: music room, art room, sensory gym, mock apartment, lunch room, school store and classrooms. Within those multiple spaces, we offer opportunities for students to share and demonstrate developments acquired across a range of domains.

8) All personnel are well-trained and continuously evaluated for competence and consistency in application of the intervention model used–optimally a family-centered choice with life-span planning

Soaring Eagle Academy has an extensive training protocol for all staff members. Initial and yearly training occurs for all staff and includes in-services on the most current information related to working dynamically with students in a developmental framework. Every week, SEA staff meet for 2 additional hours of on going training about a range of relevant topics (curriculum, language, regulation and engagement, therapeutic interventions, social emotional development). Staff are regularly coached and provided feedback for competence in the application of the intervention model used at SEA. They are formally evaluated yearly by appropriate SEA staff.

9) Comprehensive home programming and parent training within a team approach that seeks to use the family’s talent in a co-treatment model

Soaring Eagle Academy has an open door policy for parents. Parents are included in programming and training specifically in regards to their child, as well as more generalized training about the model used at SEA or related topics. Parents are encouraged to come on site and spend time working with their child and SEA staff as part of a co-treatment model.

10) Intervention strategies are maintained full day and year-round from preschool through adulthood, as provided by our family and respite-care providers and our public and private services and programs.

Soaring Eagle Academy is an intensive therapeutic day school providing a social and academic learning environment 26 hours per week, following a typical school year calendar of 181 days of attendance, with an extended school year summer session of 39 days. The social and educational program is implemented by a comprehensive team of certified professionals with initial and ongoing training in the DIR® Floortime approach, Developmental Language Models and educational best practices. Each student’s team consists of a special education teacher, a one-to-one teacher assistant, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, social worker/counselor, DIR® specialist, and support staff based on their IEP and therapeutic plan.

Developmental Language Model

Developmental Language Models are based on what is known about the science of language acquisition in typical development. A Developmental Model for Language Assessment and Intervention supports our understanding of “how” language is learned, the mechanisms for language learning. Furthermore, Developmental Language Models focus on what is appropriate for each developmental stage, rather than what is chronologically expected. They view the child as an agent of their learning, interacting with the environment to build new ideas, forge new comprehension and express new meanings.

  1. Language develops not because of any innate linguistic competence or because of strict reinforcement principles, but because human beings are motivated to interact socially and to develop concepts of self and others.
  2. The important elements of development are not abstract linguistic or cognitive structures or concrete verbal behaviors, but rather they are the phenomena of intentional and symbolic acts of speech, their conversational functions, their consequences for participants and their context-creating power and context-dependent properties (Dore, 1986).
  3. Language acquisition occurs in the context of dyadic, dynamic interactions, which are motivated by the child’s drive to develop a concept of self and to interact with others socially.
  4. All conversational partners (parents, teachers, teaching assistants, therapists) contribute significantly to the language acquisition process by adjusting their linguistic input to be compatible with the child’s developing linguistic and communication abilities. They do this by supplying a scaffold to allow the child to communicate despite primitive abilities (Bruner, 1978).

One contemporary Developmental Language Model, The Intentionality Model, is a foundational component to all learning at Soaring Eagle Academy. The Intentionality Model (Bloom and Tinker, 2001) is based on the work of Lois Bloom and Margaret Lahey (1978, 1988).

Intentionality contributes to development of language in these two ways:

  1. The child’s actions in the world, as well as his/her interpretation and expression of language, lead to the development of new representations or the mental contents of his/her mind.
  2. The child’s participation in the social world depends on and is promoted by these acts of expression and interpretation between the child and caregiver.

Further, engagement is “the child’s emotional and social directedness for determining what is relevant for learning and the motivation of learning” (p 14 Bloom and Tinker).

In our work at Soaring Eagle Academy, this work and these foundations have been instrumental in guiding us in creating a robust curriculum where students are able to experience and act upon their environment.

What is Language

Let’s begin with the question: “What is language?”

Lois Bloom and Margaret Lahey, describe language, “as a means to communicate and express ideas, representing objects, events and relationships in a systematic way where rules govern the combination of words and sentences.” Language further represents the shared knowledge of a community, or culture, and will vary based on the speakers within a region.

Language is a complex system that develops in the context of the social relationships of the child. Language goes beyond the production of “words” for it is the way in which we share ideas, share feelings and represent the contents of our minds to our communicative partners. Language is the way we make ourselves known to others.

Precursors to Language

  • Important precursors to language: In order to develop language, there are many critical precursors that emerge between 0-12 months of age, prior to the expression of first words. In the first year of life, the child is developing a foundation for communication based on developing capacities for intentionality, shared attention, affective engagement, reciprocity and the building of ideas and meaning. These are developed in the context of playful interaction with caring parents and caregivers, either through gestural, non-verbal affective exchanges or pre-verbal sound making.
    1. Building intentionality: Intentionality is a cornerstone for language development. This means supporting a child’s ability to experience themselves as competent communicators. As communicative partners, we want to accept any communication as intentional (eye gaze, gaze shifts between people or objects, facial expressions, body proximity, gestures – reaching, pointing, showing, vocalizations, and approximations of words) and give meaning to their early communication by responding and encouraging more of the same.
    2. Supporting shared attention: Shared attention happens when the child can bring something to your attention with curiosity and delight, as if to say, “Look!” Early on, children appeal for shared attention with another through gaze, gestures and sounds. You respond and together are sharing interest around the same idea, demonstrating “mutual engagement.” In DIR ®, we join the child around their interests (“following their lead”), and thus we are able to validate their experience and intention. As we support and sustain shared attention with the child, they in turn can share and expand on their interests further.
    3. Support sound making and social communication: By mirroring back, imitating with joy and variation of rhythm a child’s tone and volume, you help a child to understand that sounds and social communication are meaningful. By establishing a continuous flow of back and forth playful sound-making, you lay foundations for the flow and rhythm of communication central to social relationships.
    4. Support reciprocity: When children gaze lovingly at communicative partners, vocalize with enthusiasm and use their gestures and bodies to initiate and respond to their partners, they are engaged in the dance of reciprocity. Relationship formation and early communication development depends on reciprocity. Our responses to a child’s first stages of communication and intent give meaning to sound production, shared experience. We lay the foundation for their very first “circles of communication.”
    5. Support the development of ideas and meanings: Before children begin to use words to communicate, they spend time building a broad foundation of ideas and world knowledge. This knowledge (object permanence, being intentional in the world, understanding causality and symbolic play) is a pre-requisite to the use of early words. (Piaget 1955). We build ideas and meaning by starting with the contents of the child’s mind and expanding ideas based on what is meaningful and relevant to the child.

See section on Ideas and Meaning for more information.

Essential Components of Language Formation

Lois Bloom and Margaret Lahey define the elements of language through the intersection of “form, content, and use.” Lois Bloom and Erin Tinker further add “effort and engagement” as factors influencing language development. Comprehension is inherent within this model, but can be further defined and understood.

  1. Form:
    • The sounds of a language
    • The smallest speech sound that carries meaning (plural /s/, -ing, past tense -ed). The way we say words within a certain order to express meaning.
  2. Content is the meaning that is expressed through words. There are many categories of meaning that are expressed as we communicate with others (objects, actions, relations between things).
  3. Use:
    • The reasons why we talk (to comment, to get another to do what we want, to protest). How we consider another as we communicate with them (what information do they already know, what do they need to know, how do we adapt to different partners?) How we start, maintain and end communicative exchanges with another.
  4. Effort can be defined as the resources (cognitive process) that a child brings to any language learning exchange and the work it takes to acquire language.
  5. Engagement can be defined as the child’s social and emotional development and its impact on determining what is meaningful and relevant to learn when acquiring language.
  6. Comprehension can be defined as the ability to interpret and make sense of spoken or written language. (Miller and Paul, 1995). Bloom and Tinker further define the interpretation of spoken language by saying that “for interpretation at a minimum, the child must connect what is heard to what is already in mind, recall elements from memory that are associated with prior experiences of the words, and form a new intentional state representation. (Bloom and Tinker, 2001, p. 15)

See section on Comprehension to learn more.

How can we support a student’s growth in language development?

  1. Support the development and progression of FORM: Children can imitate sounds and words, even sentences without comprehending the meaning behind what they are saying. It is critical to remember that working on sounds alone does not support the development of language. Therefore, always working on sound production and combinations of words together with content that is at the appropriate level of development for the child is essential. Modeling the words within the communicative exchange allows the child an opportunity to attempt to say it, with success if they are able. Simultaneously, you are building comprehension because the child is introduced to the word in context at the exact time that they are experiencing the concept. Responding to the child’s intent is far more important than expecting multiple or more accurate sound/word productions, which does not build meaning and can lead to frustration in communication.
  2. Support and develop meaning around a range of CONTENT categories. Content categories (the meaning expressed through communication) include but are not limited to the following: recurrence (more, again), existence (events and nouns in the environment that you would share an interest in), non- existence (all gone), actions (open, stop, jump), locative actions (up, in), possession (my, mommy’s), attribution (wet, dirty, broken, hot), quantity (two, plural -s), temporal (and then, then) and causal (because, so). Create opportunities in the environment where there can be a lot of experiences around these content categories. Expand meaning and support comprehension growth by helping a child make connections in their environment. Avoid a focus on labels and instead focus on the relations between things in the child’s natural environment and their experience. A child learns about a ball by feeling it, holding it, experiencing its roundness and its ability to bounce. Pictures are unable to convey these important salient cues and may lack meaning for a child when used in isolation.
  3. Support and develop the USE of language. Communication should express a range of functions. Too often we promote in our children the ability to label objects or request needs and wants. By treating language as something to be “taught” rather than “experienced” in the context of relationship and interaction with others, children are not able to develop a full range of functions within communication. We want to support a child’s ability to comment, to regulate another’s behavior, to negate, to question, to inform, to pretend and to engage in extended conversation (discourse). Shared experience is how this starts. We can help children to comment in the context of shared experience by asking fewer questions, waiting longer for their initiation and commenting more ourselves in conjunction with affect cues. It is also helpful to communicate by taking turns naturally in communication rather than specifically telling a child when to take their turn or focusing on the teaching of rules for social communication. Communication is best when it occurs in natural contexts where the rewards of communication are natural consequences of the exchange rather than extrinsic motivators or rewards.
  4. Support and understand the EFFORT that the child is exerting in any communicative exchange. We want to send the message to our children that communicating is meaningful. Messages are received and things happen. Communication is power. The more effort the child has to put forth within the communicative exchange, the less the child will want to communicate in the future. Finding the “just right” challenge for any child is a critical piece. In addition, we must remember that a child only has a certain amount of resources to devote to language acquisition at any given time in their development. Because language development doesn’t exist within a vacuum, the development and effort that a child is devoting to the motor system, sensory system, visual and spatial systems, auditory system, emotional and cognitive systems needs to be acknowledged and accounted for within every therapeutic session.
  5. Support the child’s ENGAGEMENT in the communicative exchange. The DIR® model works to support the child’s ability to engage with parents/caregivers/therapists. This is critical for language development because once a child can be responsive to another, he is available to try and understand another’s actions and another’s words/sentences. Through engagement the child is available to the social world where language can be explored and interpreted with the help of significant others.
  6. Support the child’s comprehension in the communicative exchange. When working with children we can pair words with objects and actions that the child experiences at the very moment of experience in order to enhance making meaning and understanding. We use the “here and now” to support the student’s ability to use context to establish more meaning. We start by thinking about what ideas the student has and by teaching the next concept based on what we know about their developmental capacities.

Comprehension and Learning

When people talk about comprehension, it is often in the context of understanding vocabulary, following directions and/or answering “wh” questions.

At Soaring Eagle Academy, our view of comprehension is far more expansive. Comprehension is not simply the vocabulary that a student understands, nor is it their ability to follow discrete directions. This simplified view of comprehension can be detrimental to the very work we do with students every day. Rather, comprehension is broad and complex, encompassing many aspects of understanding. Comprehension takes into account what the student knows about social communication (when to respond to another), what the student knows about concepts and ideas (vocabulary knowledge) and what the student knows about how the words are said and what particular word order signifies.

At Soaring Eagle Academy we view comprehension as a cornerstone for any curriculum development. Language comprehension plays a critical role in any student’s capacity to understand their world, to understand how their world works and to understand how they can be a part of that world. When learning is meaningful and based on a student’s current level of understanding, anxiety and dysregulation decrease while connections between and among ideas and current knowledge increase.

Amy Weiss (2010) indicates that the ability to interpret verbal language is supported tremendously by nonverbal aspects of communication, i.e., “what is going on at the same time, who is speaking, what was previously said, what visual information is available.” The integration of nonverbal and verbal interpretation is often challenging for our students. They can often miss or misinterpret components of the message being conveyed by their partners.

When students don’t understand, they become more reliant on context – what is visually present in the environment. At Soaring Eagle Academy, we recognize that when students do not comprehend what is being asked of them, concepts they are asked to learn or what another is sharing with them, the use of context is critical. We use many visual supports to augment the verbal message. These include real photos of students and places within the school, real objects at hand in the interaction and real actions and exchanges that augment each auditory signal. Books, digital stories and video clips are also used to support a student’s understanding of concepts and experiences.

When students don’t have strategies to help them figure out meaning based on context, anxiety and dysregulation occurs. Our staff at Soaring Eagle Academy understand that when students become dysregulated, it is often because they do not understand what is being asked of them or where they are being asked to transition to. Visual supports, as mentioned above, as well as the use of language that is developmentally matched for each student, can tremendously decrease dysregulation caused by a lack of comprehension.

Ideas and Meaning and Learning

How do children develop ideas about the world? How do they make meaning as they interact in their world with significant communicative partners?

From the moment the child begins to act on their environment, they are developing ideas about the world. Piaget (1955) observed children problem solving with objects and toys, acting on objects in their environment, learning about object permanence and imitating significant others. Through these actions and interactions, children began to expand their ideas, leading to new ideas and new meanings.

Ideas and the origin of ideas are a critical component in language development. The child’s experience in the world is a critical aspect to the development of meanings. Meaning is what is relevant to the child (his or her needs, interests, present context, past history) as well as what is significant to the child (Katherine Nelson, 2007). Every interaction that a child has and every action that they perform in the world results in knowledge that becomes the foundation for language. This knowledge becomes the very thing that children talk about. Children talk about what they understand and what they know something about.

For students whose experience in the world has been limited based on their individual profile, their knowledge and ideas about the world are naturally limited. Their ideas, and therefore, what they talk about, are limited.

A student’s ability to make meaning in the world can be compromised due to motor planning challenges, visual spatial deficits, sensory processing differences and a lack of exploratory movement in one’s environment.

At Soaring Eagle Academy, we believe that the development of ideas and meanings is critical for learning. Many of our students have sensory systems that have not allowed them to experience the world in typical ways, and so our curriculum is designed to promote development by offering experiential and active participation (student as agent) in play and learning. Cause and effect, problem solving and opportunities for multiple experiences of the same concept/idea are offered every day during literacy, math, science and social studies lessons.

When students are active participants in their learning, their comprehension is most robust and their ability to understand and make meaning is easiest.

Soaring Eagle Academy teaches by beginning with what a student already has ideas about and then slowly expanding those ideas and that knowledge to become broader and more expansive.

Examples of Developmental Strategies for Language (Developed by Linda Cervenka, Sima Gerber and Michele Ricamato)

Shared Intentionality Support student’s ability to understand others by:

  • Pointing out affect states during natural exchanges
  • Making reference to and calling attention to a range of other’s intentions
  • Slowing the pacing of the interaction
  • Model actions within natural interaction and DO NOT request or demand an action or response.

Support student’s ability to express intentions by:

  • Taking the time to observe and reflect on what the student is doing
  • Interpreting all behaviors as intentional and communicative
  • Responding contingently “as typically done” to the student’s actions, gestures, facial expressions
  • Encouraging use of natural eye gaze but not insisting eye regard

Support adult partners in…

  • Developing the ability to observe and reflect on what the student is doing
  • Understanding that they can move slowly within the interaction
  • Reading and understanding their student’s subtle cues
  • Utilizing interactions that naturally occur within the student’s day (i.e. snack time, sensory gym time) to support development
  • Persevering – Understanding that if they miss an opportunity to respond to a subtle intent there will always be another!

Ideas and Meaning

  • Follow the contents of the child’s mind in terms of exploring toys and objects and then gently add a new ‘meaning’ – e.g., from pushing the buttons on the phone to waiting for it to ring.
  • Use the focus of the child’s interests as the objects to search for or to play back and forth games with – e.g., hide the child’s favorite car first visibly and then under the blanket.
  • Help the child ‘make sense’ of the objects in his or her life by using them in therapy (as well as at home) – e.g., bring the child’s blanket to therapy and use it to cover Mommy and the favorite car.
  • Hide the child’s favorite toys in different places in the room (the cabinet, the shelf, the plastic bottle) to entice the child to explore and act on objects.
  • Play the child’s favorite games over and over and eventually (but not too quickly) up the ante….wait, delay, anticipate.

Comprehension

  • Come as close to the child’s interests and the contents of their mind while sharing an experience with them. Talk about what they are looking at, what they are doing, what they are acting on within the session.
  • Reduce the complexity of your language input but maintain the grammar of the language, the melody and the interactive flow of communication.
  • Use affect, facial expressions and gestures to support understanding by augmenting the linguistic signal.
  • Target particular words and phrases for comprehension work based on developmental information.
  • Embed comprehension work in contexts that are familiar to the child and affectively strong (meaningful).
  • Use visual supports that are meaningful to the child (real photos, real items, pictures) to support linguistic information that may be fleeting.
  • Pair language with the child’s actions; timing and contextual support (where these phrases naturally occur) are critical at early stages.
  • Present targeted language in many familiar contexts to promote learning.

Cognition

  • Activities to improve abstract thinking skills within play and dialogue
  • Activities that incorporate emotional themes into academic contexts
  • Problem solving with peers during conflicts
  • Understanding questions (why, how, when), concepts of time, comparing and contrasting of ideas, anticipating the feelings of others, predicting, ability to infer.

Motor Performance

  • Neuromotor
    • Coordination of motor and cognitive tasks
  • Fine motor
    • Grasps an object (age 4 months)
    • Bring both hands together (age 4 months)
    • Feed herself a cracker (age 8 months)
    • Passes an object from one hand to another (age 8 months)
    • Can pick up a tiny object (11 months)
    • Pulls toys with strings
    • Builds tower of 6 blocks
    • Pretends to push a train made out of three blocks after watching an adult do so
    • Strings 1-4 large beads
    • One hand starts to be dominant
    • Holds crayon with the whole hand (fingers straight)
    • Imitates an adult making circular strokes or dots (The child will make a circle or dots after watching an adult do so.)
    • Copies horizontal and vertical lines
    • Uses spoon well
    • Jumps in place with both feet
    • Builds tower of nine blocks
    • Snips with scissors
    • Completes 5-6 piece puzzle
    • Holds crayon with three fingers
    • Copies circle (can make a circle when he or she sees another one on a paper)
    • Imitates cross (can make a cross after watching an adult draw one)
    • Draws person with head
    • Uses spoon and fork properly (without making a “big” mess)
    • Builds tower with 10 blocks
    • Strings small beads
    • Holds writing utensil with three fingers
    • Copies square
    • Draws person with head, feet and body – 30 minute attention span (5-10 minutes per activity)
    • Dress/Undress independently (except for closings, i.e. buttons, zippers)
    • Crosses midline
    • Does not switch hands in the middle of an activity
    • Clear dominance in right-handed children
    • Builds tower 12 blocks
    • Can build three steps out of six blocks
    • Draws angled lines and triangle
    • Draws a person with head, body, legs and face
    • Can color in lines
    • Cuts on straight lines
    • Holds knife in dominant hand
    • Draws diamond
    • Cuts with knife
    • Holds writing utensil with three fingers with movement in the fingers
    • Ties shoelaces
  • Gross motor
    • Lifts head while lying on stomach
    • Rolls over one way
    • Keeps head level with body when pulled to a sitting position
    • Rolls over both ways
    • Sits without support
    • Gets into a sitting position from stomach
    • Stands holding on to someone or something
    • Pulls up to standing position from sitting position
    • Can walk holding onto furniture
    • Walks and runs on full feet
    • Climbs on furniture to look out the window and gets down
    • Climbs stairs holding on with two feet on each stair
    • Assists in dressing
    • Jumps in place with both feet
    • Kicks stationary ball
    • Rides tricycle
    • Stands on one foot for 2 seconds
    • Swings on swing when stated in motion
    • Hops on one foot 1-3 times
    • Plays catch with large ball
    • Good control of tricycle (curves and spins)
    • Walks on straight line
    • Can climb steps holding an object
    • Hops on each foot three times
    • Stands on one foot 8-10 seconds
    • Rides two wheeler with training wheels
    • Can swing by himself
    • Bounces and catches tennis ball
    • Stands on one foot with eyes closed for 3 seconds
    • Walks on line in heel-toe fashion
    • Skips
    • Rides bicycle without training wheels
    • Jumps rope
    • Catches and bounces tennis ball

How DIR® Strategies and Thinking Support Communication, Language Development and Learning

Contemporary Developmental Language Models give us an understanding of how language typically develops, and therefore provides an essential developmental roadmap for supporting children with language disorders. DIR® thinking about child development as a whole and DIR® strategies provide further support when intervening with a child that has language challenges and difficulties in relating and communicating.

Why follow a child’s lead? That is our ultimate goal for entering their shared world – to help them be empathetic, creative, logical, reflective individuals. — Stanley Greenspan, M.D.

The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR®/Floortime™) model is a framework for assessment and intervention for children with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other challenges of relating and communicating.

The “D” (Development) identifies the child’s developmental level of emotional and intellectual functioning. It is our road map to understanding a child’s overall developmental level. Where does the child exhibit constrictions in their development? What are their strengths? Where are their challenges?

The “I” (Individualized) determines the individual’s way of reacting to and comprehending movement, sounds, sights and other sensations. It is our guide to supporting each child’s unique capacities and challenges. How does the visual-spatial system of a child impact their ability for eye gaze and complex referential gaze? How does the reactivity of one’s sensory system impact their ability to remain calm and available for shared attention? How does the motor planning capacity of a child impact the ability to understand the rhythm and timing of communicative exchanges?

Individual Differences and How Those Differences Impact Language

1. Sensory Reactivity

  • Over-reactivity – When a student is over-responsive to their environment, there is a direct and negative impact on their ability to be calm, attentive to input and ready to learn. Students whose nervous systems over-respond to input are unavailable to comprehend their world, make meaning in activities and express their intentions to others. Soaring Eagle Academy uses our understanding of a student’s individual regulatory capacity to better understand how their language will be impacted and to develop strategies, supports and interventions to remediate this challenge.
  • Under-reactivity – When a student is under-responsive to their environment, there is a direct and negative impact on their ability to be intentional as a communicator. Under-arousal leads to challenges in being able to act on the world. Further, under-reactivity impacts the student’s ability to sequence chains of interaction and communication, make meaning around activities and be attentive to auditory input. Motor planning, ideation and play are negatively impacted and affect the learning of the student. Soaring Eagle Academy uses our understanding of a student’s individual regulatory capacities to better understand how their language will be impacted and to develop strategies, supports and interventions to remediate this challenge.
    1. Auditory – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to auditory input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the auditory capacities of each student.
    2. Visual – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to visual input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the visual capacities of each student.
    3. Tactile – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to tactile input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the tactile needs of each student.
    4. Vestibular – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to vestibular input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the vestibular needs and sensitivities of each student.
    5. Proprioceptive – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to proprioceptive input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the proprioceptive needs of each student.

2. Motor Planning/Sequencing – When a student has challenges with motor planning capacities and sequencing, their ability to be intentional in their environment as both an active participant and a communicator are negatively impacted. Soaring Eagle Academy supports student’s capacities in motor planning throughout the entire school day by infusing activities, opportunities and strategies to support each student’s ability to become more intentional in their ideas, communication, play and learning.

3. Motor Development – When a student has challenges in motor development, their ability to experience their environment as both an active participant and a communicator are negatively impacted. The way in which the student experiences and makes meaning around curricular material and daily interactions does not allow for a fully functional experience. Soaring Eagle Academy supports student’s capacities in motor development throughout the entire school day by infusing activities, opportunities and strategies to support each student’s ability to strengthen their motor capacities, core and tone. This enables them to experience the environment and learning more fully and to become more intentional in their ideas, communication, play and learning.

4. Visual-Spatial Processing – When a student has challenges with visual-spatial processing capacities, their ability to understand their world, experience their environment or learning opportunities and move purposefully throughout their space is negatively impacted. The way in which a student visualizes and understands their spatial environment impacts their ability to attend, understand the learning materials and actively participate as an agent of their learning. Soaring Eagle Academy supports student’s capacities in visual-spatial processing throughout the entire school day by infusing activities within the curriculum that support integration of the visual and spatial capacities.

Visual-Spatial Processing Capabilities

(Referenced from the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders, Diagnostic Manual for Infancy and Early Childhood, Harry Wachs, O.D., Director of Vision and Conceptual Development Center, Washington, DC)

Body Awareness and Sense

  • Year 1: Purposeful, coordinated movement guided by vision and sound
  • Year 2: Purposeful movement for interactive play (rolling a ball back and forth)
  • Year 3: Awareness of body boundaries of self and others
  • Year 4: Awareness of body affecting others in space and time
  • Year 5: Awareness of body for coordinated actions

Location of the Body in Space

(Involves location of own body parts in relationship to each other, location of body as a whole in its immediate surroundings and location of the body in terms of the broader environment)

  • Year 1: Beginning movement in space
  • Year 2: Observes things move in space in relationship to self
  • Year 3: Purposeful movement in relations to other moving objects
  • Year 4: Planning and organization of movement prior to the action
  • Year 5: Becoming a team player

Relation of Objects to Self and Other Objects and People

  • Year 1: Reciprocal interactions with people and things
  • Year 2: Self-control in relation to other people and things
  • Year 3: Development of symbols
  • Year 4: Rules and expectations
  • Year 5: Boundaries and Membership

Conservation of Space

  • Year 1: Space is uni-dimensional
  • Year 2: Space is three-dimensional and movement in space is alterable
  • Year 3: Relationship of object in three-dimensional space
  • Year 4: Relationship of object to object in space
  • Year 5: Combining time and space

Visual Logical Reasoning

  • Year 1: Knowledge through sensory/motor action
  • Year 2: Moving from action knowledge to planning the actions
  • Year 3: Understanding the cause and effect of the action
  • Year 4: Stability of early visual-spatial thinking
  • Year 5: Logical thinking to solve problems

Representational Thought (Drawing, Thinking, Visualizing)

  • Year 1: Direct representation
  • Year 2: Words, pictures, gestures and toys
  • Year 3: Early imaginative play
  • Year 4: More purposeful representations
  • Year 5: Matching space to representational thought

The “R” (Relationship) is our guide to supporting development that occurs in the context of a socially and emotionally developing child. Taking the component parts or skills of language and working on those in isolated and discrete ways does little to develop robust linguistic systems. Why do we communicate? Why do we attempt to share our ideas and experiences with those important communicative partners around us? Language develops because we are all motivated to interact socially. We, as human beings, are driven to understand and develop our sense of self and of our communicative partners. We develop language and we communicate with others because we desire to become part of a social world and to make connections with others. Let us begin there.

At Soaring Eagle Academy, we support students in developing a sense of themselves and others within the community of our school. We support relationships and social interactions as the foundation of every academic interaction.

The DIR® Developmental Milestones (Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Dr. Serena Wieder)

1. SHARED ATTENTION AND REGULATION: the child’s ability to take in sensory information and remain organized and attentive.

  • Use the child’s individual sensory and motor profile to draw him into shared attention.
  • Harness all the available senses, as well as motor capacities and affects (e.g. involve the child in interactions that involve vision, hearing, touch and movement, coupled with highly enjoyable activities).
  • Woo the child into interaction by joining their ideas and being playful in the joining.
  • Stretch the child’s capacity for shared attention by increasing interactive circles or communication rather than trying to get the child to focus on a particular object or toy.

2. ENGAGEMENT: ability of the child to sustain mutual engagement with another individual while experiencing a broad range of emotions.

  • Follow the child’s lead in order to engage in interactions that bring pleasure and joy.
  • Build on these pleasurable interactions.
  • Join in the child’s rhythm in terms of affect, visual, auditory and motor movements.
  • Join with physical objects of the child’s pleasure.
  • Attempt to deepen the warmth and pleasure by giving priority to his or her comfort and closeness.
  • Use playful obstruction to entice him or her to focus on you.

3. AFFECTIVE RECIPROCITY AND GESTURAL COMMUNICATION: the ability of the child to initiate and respond using circles of communication in a back and forth exchange that is driven by affect (intent).

  • Be very animated and attempt to exchange subtle facial expressions, sounds and other gestures.
  • Open and close circles of communication by building on natural interests.
  • Treat everything that the child does as purposeful and meaningful.
  • Encourage initiative by avoiding doing things for the child.
  • Support initiative by enticing the child to do things to you.
  • Over time build obstacles to increase the number of circles communicated in order for him/her to achieve his goal.

4. COMPLEX PRE-SYMBOLIC SHARED SOCIAL COMMUNICATION AND PROBLEM SOLVING: the ability of the child to extend circles of communication by creating a continuous flow of circles. Problem solving abilities emerge at this level.

  • Create problem-solving opportunities for the child.
  • Lengthen chains of interaction to beyond 10 circles of communication in a row.
  • Support the beginning of symbolic play in the form of simple schemes and representational ideas.

5. SYMBOLIC AND CREATIVE USE OF IDEAS, INCLUDING PRETENd PLAY AND PRAGMATIC LANGUAGE

  • Role play and puppet play
  • Use toys and dress up in pretend fashion (toy or costume is elevated to the level of an “idea”).
  • Themes of aggression and power will emerge.
  • Expand range of themes.

6. LOGICAL AND ABSTRACT USE OF IDEAS AND THINKING, INCLUDING THE CAPACITY FOR EXPRESSING AND REFLECTING ON FEELINGS AND HAVING INSIGHTS INTO SELF AND OTHERS.

  • Ask why questions.
  • Ask for opinions.
  • Compare and contrast different points of view.
  • Ask the child to predict or put themselves in someone else’s position.
  • Reflect on feelings and ideas.

The DIR®/Floortime™ approach is intensive and comprehensive and involves family members, educators and therapists. It is based on recent developmental and neuroscience research that shows that the core deficits in ASD are related to compromised mastery of early stages of emotional interactions and underdeveloped pathways connecting different parts of the brain. The DIR®/Floortime™ approach creates opportunities for mastering the early stages of emotional interactions, at the same time helping different components of the mind to work together in order to build healthy foundations for relating, communicating and thinking. This, in turn, enables children to work on the core deficits that characterize ASD and make more progress than formerly thought possible in reading and responding to emotional signals, empathy and creative and reflective thinking.

Soaring Eagle Academy students are supported according to their sensory profile, individual strengths and challenges, and developmental level of emotional and intellectual functioning. Based on this knowledge, student’s individualized curriculum is generated by interaction of the student’s natural interests, the DIR®/Floortime™ Approach and Illinois Learning Standards Goals and Benchmarks. Soaring Eagle Academy’s philosophy of education is that all curriculums be experienced in the contextual environment in order to be meaningful and integrated with prior conceptual knowledge. Each student’s interests are honored within every learning opportunity. We are invested in wooing children into the process of learning.

Soaring Eagle Academy developed and adopted various curriculum components based on the importance of affect and experience in learning. Soaring Eagle Academy believes that children learn best when they are well regulated, able to share attention with their communicative partner and/or teacher and emotionally invested in the learning. When children are interested and emotionally invested in material, their capacity to be present for the experience and to be taught is heightened. Multi sensory experiences lead to meaningful learning which in turn creates better comprehension of material and regulation in children.