Maximize Family Activities for the Benefit of your Child’s Development
(From the Coquitlam Kids On the Go, May 23-30, 2012)
Families’ daily activities, such as shopping and cooking as well as fun activities, such as games or puzzles can serve as powerful tools enhancing a child’s development. Parents frequently do not realize the potential for their child’s learning when these activities are used purposefully and in a mediational manner.
For instance, many children succeed by trial and error to complete a puzzle. They may even develop strategies on their own. A parent can help their capable child by ‘bridging’ these strategies to other situations. Why would you organize puzzle pieces into groups before proceeding? What criteria did you use for sorting them? Color? Shape? Content? Where else would that be a useful strategy? When you have to write a story, would you first organize your facts? Always let the child know how impressed you are by their approach to the task. Younger children, or children who may struggle, will learn through a mediated puzzle activity what an ‘edge’ or a ‘corner’ piece is. They learn how to compare systematically, and develop planning skills. They learn vocabulary related to the puzzle. They will learn super ordinate concepts such as ‘shape’ and ‘color’. When mothers of young children were videotaped while engaged in a puzzle activity with their child, one mother asked her child when the child requested help, “what color do you see on the puzzle piece?”, “where else do you see that color?”, “look carefully!”, while another mother responded to her child’s plea for help “I am helping you, I am telling you where to put it.” Predictably, children of mediational mothers scored significantly higher in standardized language tests then children of instructional mothers.
Parents can play a powerful role in the development of their child’s vocabulary and language, but more importantly in their child’s development in learning how to learn.
Ingrid Jeffrey B.A., M.Sc., SLP
Executive Director, Mediated Learning Academy
The Mediated Learning Academy is pleased to announce that Sam Silviera has been awarded the BCIC YOUNG INNOVATOR SCHOLARSHIP AWARD for $2000.00 towards his post secondary education.
Congratulations to Sam Silviera!
We are all very proud of you!
A Special School that meets Special Kids’ Needs
By Jennifer Saltman – Staff Reporter
The Coquitlam Now
It’s recess at the Mediated Learning Academy, and it’s what you don’t hear that sets this school apart – even though all the kids are cooped up inside on a gloomy day, it’s quiet.
The calm would be unusual in any school, but Mediated Learning Academy, housed in the old Burquitlam Elementary, is not just any school.
Almost all of the school’s students, kindergarten to Grade 12, have special needs – they are learning disabled, autistic, Down syndrome, have medical conditions, were bullied or just need to learn at their own speed.
“We end up with all kinds of students here,” says principal Kathleen Jeffrey.
She says the independent school accepts all kids, but for some reason, mostly children with special needs end up applying.
The reason is the program.
Teachers at Mediated Learning Academy help children learn through mediated learning experiences and brain-based teaching. To do this, they use something called Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment (FIE), a program developed by psychologist Dr. Reuven Feuerstein to modify children’s cognitive processes – such as comparison, categorization and planning – through a structured learning experience.
Simply, the teacher helps the learner recognize the thinking processes that go into solving a problem by using a variety of teaching methods.
The teaching method consists of questioning students, encouraging them to find a more efficient way to find a solution and helping them figure out when to apply what they have learned.
The school’s belief that all children can – and want to – learn means that teachers modify their detailed, individualized plans so the student can learn.
“The most important thing here is the kid,” Jeffrey says. “Child is No. 1.”
FIE is taught for 20 to 30 minutes a day, then the rest of the day is spent on curriculum work. The curriculum is taught in a way that draws on the FIE lesson and keeps bringing in cognitive function.
Classes have a maximum of 10 students to one teacher, along with aides, part-time occupational therapists and speech pathologists, who work with students individually.
Jeffrey estimates that for 67 students there are about 30 full- and part-time staffers to educate them. All staff members are trained in Mediated Learning and go through special training and workshops on a regular basis.
Jeffrey says that mediated learning can be used to teach any student. The way subjects are taught in public school works for some students, she says, but not for all of them. While public schools do the best they can, parents should have a choice about where they send their children to be educated.
The school is operated by a non-profit society started 13 years ago, offering the Variety Learning Centre summer school program. In the first year, five students registered, but 13 years later 120 kids are filling classrooms in the program.
Six years ago, to keep up with demand, the centre started Saturday classes. They started with six children registered and most recently had 55 taking classes.
The Mediated Learning Academy, which is regulated by the Federation of Independent Schools Association, finally came into existence in September 2003 after years of parents asking when Jeffrey and her mother, Ingrid, would start up an independent school.
“It’s always been parent-driven,” Jeffrey says.
Despite receiving partial funding from the provincial government, fees from students and sponsorship, the school is constantly filling out grant applications and fundraising, something parents also help with.
“It’s a struggle,” Jeffrey says. “In an ideal world, I wouldn’t turn any families away.”
Summer and Saturday classes used to be held in a pair of portables on Vancouver School District property, but Jeffrey says when they decided to start the school, they needed more space and started looking in Burnaby.
Then, she heard from Dex Hallwood, director of purchasing for School District 43, who told her the Burquitlam school was closing and the building would be available for a tenant.
The neighbourhood was vocal about getting the right kind of tenant for the school, Hallwood says. Since Mediated Learning Academy moved into the empty school, the neighbourhood has embraced it.
He says he’s had calls from people living in the area who say the academy is a great tenant and neighbour.
“They’ve become a very good neighbour in the Burquitlam area,” Hallwood says. “They do a very good job with the students and provide a really important service.”
Jeffrey says the arrangement was beneficial for everyone involved.
The rent the academy pays helps the school district recover costs and the empty school is not boarded up and a magnet for vandalism, graffiti and partying youth.
“It’s a win-win situation for us, as well as the school board and the neighbourhood,” she says.
And the neighbourhood and school district aren’t the only parties reaping the rewards of Mediated Learning Academy’s presence.
Enrolment has doubled since last year and parents and students, many of whom have moved to be closer to the school, are singing the school’s praises.
“It’s amazing, but it actually works,” says parent Jeanie Der, who heard about the program by word of mouth.
Der’s 17-year-old daughter Jessica started going to Mediated Learning Academy when it opened last year. Der says Jessica is a slow learner, but hasn’t been diagnosed as having any specific learning disability.
“They (teachers) feel she’s got information in her head, but it’s all scrambled. They’re able to unscramble it for her.”
Before, Jessica was attending public school in Burnaby, where the family lives. Der says since Jessica moved to the Mediated Learning Academy, she has noticed both a change in her daughter, and in herself.
“This is the only school that fills Jessica’s needs,” Der says. “This is the answer to my prayers.”
Shosha Abraham also sees something remarkable about the academy.
“Believe you me, I noticed a huge change in him,” she says of her 18-year-old son Avaran.
Avaran has a brain disorder called Asperger’s syndrome, and attended private schools before attending Mediated Learning Academy when it opened. The family moved from Vancouver to Coquitlam to be closer to the school.
“They have a program that is so broad spectrum that it can handle a wide spectrum of of learning disabilities,” she says.
The strength of mediated learning is that it makes connections between what students are learning and real life, something that works for Avaran, his mother says.
After two to three months of school, Abraham says her son came home and said, “Mom, I can think. I didn’t know I could think.”
She says she has no idea what goes on in his head, but since Avaran started at Mediated Learning Academy, his self-esteem has improved, along with his ability to understand and learn.
“It’s coping and acceptance. You learn coping skills – you’re never over a learning disorder.”