Ignite Achievement Academy provides a rigorous and accredited academic program that is aligned with state and national standards. We follow a measurable, four-step process to ensure we deliver to each student the instruction he or she needs.
- Determine the student’s current achievement abilities in various areas.
- Determine the core reason(s) for the student’s skill delays, if any.
- Develop, then deliver, the student’s customized instructional plan.
- Measure and report progress, and adjust the plan as needed.
Students in our elementary and middle school receive a combination of: skill-building instruction; coursework in science, social studies, English and math; coaching in organizational skills; and classes in physical education, art and applied learning. Students work one-to-one with teachers and teaching assistants, in groups of one to two other students and with their entire class of six students.
High school students complete the standard courses in English, science, social studies and math and receive coaching in time management, organizational and study skills. We also create certain skill-building courses for students to take as electives, when needed.
Our Student Population
At Ignite Achievement Academy, we work with students in kindergarten through grade twelve. Most of our students have academic barriers that prevent them from succeeding in a regular education program.
Some students have learning barriers that interfere with their ability to read, write, spell or calculate. Other students have barriers that interfere with their ability to control their attention or emotions. Many of our students experience not one barrier, but several. This compounded difficulty makes them vulnerable in regular education environments.
Our average enrollment is approximately sixty students. Each classroomconsists of six students, a teacher and, for part of the day, a teacher’s assistant, who works individually with students in the clasroom and in separate rooms. Some students, however, attend our school in a one-to-one setting and see tutors individually for three or more hours a day. Some students work with both their home-school parents and one of our tutors. Other students work on their on-line courses at home and on other accredited coursework with a tutor at our school.
After 12th grade graduation, our students continue their education at four-year universities,attend community colleges, or complete specialized training to enter the workforce. Still, other students receive services offered by Vocational Rehabilitation, a government-sponsored organization that helps people receive training then placement in jobs best suited for them.
Assessments and Results
During the school year, students complete informal curriculum-based assessments to help us determine the degree to which they have learned the skills up to that point in the curricula. For example, a student following our curriculum for word recognition, reading fluency and spelling takes an assessment at the end of each lesson. The student’s performance on this assessment indicates if he or she has achieved fluency in the skills covered in that lesson. If the student meets the criteria for fluency, or mastery, the teacher and student proceed to the next lesson. If the student does not, the teacher analyzes the student’s errors and develops additional practice where needed. The student continues practicing the specific skills until he or she performs them fluently.
The criteria for mastery are set by by the school, and are individualized, as needed, for students.
In the spring of each year, we also administer standardized achievement tests to students in grades three, six, nine and eleven, and to students whose families receive educational grants. These assessments help us track how the students are progressing as compared to other students at their age and/or grade level.
On the informal curriculum-based assessments, virtually all students meet the criteria we set. If they don’t, we change certain parts of the instructional plan so they can learn the skills. Most students also show steady growth on the standardized achievement tests as the skills these tests cover are closely aligned with our curricula.
On average, students show between six months and two or more years of progress in each of the fifteen plus subtests we administer in reading, written expression and math. Some students show even greater progress.
Some Observations from Testing and Teaching
Although our students have diverse educational needs and progress at different rates, we have observed, over time, various patterns in their academic growth. Here are some patterns we see:
There is an apparent correlation between the degree of the student’s neuro-developmental strengths and weaknesses and the degree to which he or she progresses in those skills that tap directly into these strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, let’s say three students receive psycho-educational evaluations. Test results for the first student indicate mild deficits in phonemic awareness, paired-associate memory (phonics) and rapid naming, the three main neuro-developmental functions necessary to read fluently. Test results for the second student indicate moderate deficits in these same functions and test results for the third student indicate severe deficits.
We can predict that the first student with mild deficits will respond readily to our reading and spelling instruction. With targeted instruction and a moderate amount of practice trials, he or she will make significant progress with reasonable effort.
We can predict that the second student, the one with moderate deficits, will respond moderately well to our reading and spelling instruction. He or she will need more practice exercises to master the same skills that the first student learned; however, he or she will master them in time.
The third student with severe deficits will usually have other neuro-developmental barriers, such as attentional difficulties, working memory deficits and slow processing speed. To overcome these barriers, the student will require highly customized instruction over an extended period for him or her to make moderate progress. Furthermore, he or she will need additional coaching to learn how to apply these skills to daily living.
This third student’s instructional plan, therefore, needs to include: a) training in how to compensate for learning challenges that linger past the remedial instruction; and b) self-advocacy so he or she can carve out a successful niche in school and in life.
For students with mild to moderate learning barriers, there is a strong correlation between the number of practice exercises they complete in given skills and their degree of achievement.
In other words, if a student’s barriers are well managed with accommodations and the road is clear for learning, the student will make more progress with more practice and less progress with less practice. The adage “practice makes perfect” (or in this case, “the right practice makes perfect”) is true.
With these students, it makes sense to provide intensive and aggressive remediation so they can achieve enough skill to close the gap between their current skill level and actual grade level.
There are certain neuro-developmental functions that, if weak, respond more readily to intervention, as a rule, than other weak functions.
Research also shows what we and many other special educators see every day. Most of us will agree, for instance, that training a student to sound out and decode words is much easier than training him or her to read passages fluently, even passages that contain nothing but the words the students can fluently decode. This is because certain neuro-developmental functions, such as rapid naming, word retrieval and orthographic processing, heavily influence reading fluency but not so much decoding words in lists.
Another example is the tendency of our students with reading and spelling difficulties to make at least twice the progress in reading as they do in spelling. This is understandable considering the neuro-developmental functions involved in each. Reading decoding requires orthographic recognition(recognition of distinctive letter patterns and letter-sound associations). This function has historically lent itself well to remediation. Spelling, however, requires orthographic recall (ability to mentally see word spellings upon hearing, saying or thinking them). Mentally re-imaging word spellings is harder than recognizing them on paper.
Our standardized testing and regular, informal testing have yielded many more insights into those neuro-developmental functions that respond well to instruction and those that are more resistant. They involve such functions as working memory, long-term retrieval of information, processing speed, focal and performance control, concept understanding and reasoning
When we notice these patterns, we study the research on them to see if our observations coincide with the research findings. If so, we study the phenomenon further and investigate ways to effectively intervene. When we catch on to an effective intervention, we test it further in-house. If the intervention stands the test of time, we integrate it into our curricula and teaching approaches. This is one reason our curricula are in a continuous state of development.
Our Key Elements of Success
Over the years, we have studied, developed and tested numerous strategies to help students learn well. Our teaching strategies are based on decades of educational research, which we have adapted and refined to suit our students and setting. The environmental strategies we use to foster a sense of well-being, however, were discovered as we worked with different students.
Out of the hundreds of strategies we use throughout the day, several of them have consistently yielded strong benefits. Here is a description of four that have yielded great dividends.
A School Environment That Fosters Resilience
Over the past several decades, there has been a growing body of research on what makes some students resilient, despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers they face. The findings indicate that resilient students have certain perceptions about themselves and the world that help them to persevere. Here are some of the key perceptions correlated with resiliency:
- Resilient students have a sense that their problems do not pervade their whole lives. Despite their challenges, they are still good at some things. They have “islands of competence,” which they develop over time.
- Resilient students have some degree of self-awareness. They understand their strengths and liabilities. They accept their liabilities and manage them relatively well.
- Resilient students have a sense that their difficulties will not last forever. Life will not always be so hard.
- Resilient students understand that not every problem is their fault. Some problems are caused by neurological, environmental or family factors that are beyond their control.
- Resilient students understand that how they respond to problems is more important than the problems themselves.
- Resilient students have at least one person in the world who believes in and supports their self-worth.
- At Ignite Achievement Academy, we use these research findings to create a school environment that fosters resiliency so our students can develop those perceptions that help them flourish despite the obstacles they face.
Strategies we use include: one-to-one instruction, small-class size, small-school size, ready access to a staff member who can help students work through problems that may seem overwhelming, close supervision, frequent prompts and encouragement and strategies to facilitate learning so learning feels good. Most importantly, we maintain a school atmosphere where everyone supports each other and not only accepts but appreciates individual differences.
The IAA Academic Process
To ensure that we deliver to each student the right instruction, delivered in the right environment and at the right intensity, we follow the Ignite Achievement Academy Academic Process described in the next section. This process allows us to see if the student is responding to each part of his or her instructional program to a satisfactory degree and, if not, the factors that interfere with his or her success and what we need to do about it.
The academic process includes routine data collection, monitoring and regular communication among our students, teachers, administrators, parents and program developer. This tight monitoring of each student’s response to his or her educational plan and the adjustments that follow are essential factors in a student’s success.
For a curriculum to be effective, its instruction and practice must be exactly what the student needs to achieve the curriculum’s objectives. The curriculum must include strategies that facilitate learning, minimize the barriers that hinder success and be highly structured and easy to implement so teachers, tutors and substitute teachers can deliver it correctly.
A curriculum must also be delivered at the right intensity and frequency so the student receives enough practice to make steady growth. It should be easy to modify and adapt to each student’s specific needs.
To determine if the curriculum leads to skill achievement, our teachers and students collect data. Specifically, they chart the number of practice exercises, lessons or chapters the student completes and note those objectives the student mastered because of this practice. The teacher then decides if the student’s growth is satisfactory. If not, the teacher and other members of the student’s teaching team determine the reasons then adjust the instructional plan as needed.
Finally, considering that educational research has provided a wealth of information on how to teach effectively, particularly students with learning barriers, a curriculum needs to be based on the principles and strategies of effective instruction yielded by the research.
The set of curriculums we use at Ignite Achievement Academy is another essential factor in our students’ skill achievement. It targets the skills directly and leads to full student participation, high degrees of interaction between teachers and students and the students’ completing many practice exercises, both verbal and written.
Many of the curriculums we use have been developed and tested over decades by Rosanne Manus, the school’s founder. These curriculums are based on a large body of educational research that indicates the best ways to teach students, particularly those with academic barriers. Imbedded in the curriculums are strategies well-known to facilitate learning and minimize the impact of various neuro-developmental barriers. The curriculums are highly structured, comprehensive and data driven. They include teacher-training courses so all instructors learn to use and adjust them as prescribed.
One-to-one instruction delivered in a quiet environment has numerous benefits. The teacher can adjust instruction on the spot, as needed, and establish a close and trusting relationship with the student. The student can also more easily control attention and increase productivity and skill achievement.
A testament to the power of one-to-one instruction is the rapid growth our students make when initial needs necessitate one-to-one instruction for the entire school day. Most students respond quickly to this kind of instruction and are ready to join our small classrooms for part or the whole day within six to ten months.
Because one-to-one instruction anchors students and expedites their progress so well, we use this strategy and variations of it as much as we possibly can. For instance, students complete most of their remedial work in a one-to-one setting. They receive math instruction in groups as small as two and usually no larger than four, which helps the students maintain the high degree of attentional control required to learn math.
The Academic Process
The Academic Process is a teaching process and set of curricula for delivering customized instruction to students with learning barriers. It is grounded in the belief that all students can improve their ability to learn given the right instructional program, delivered in the right environment, and at the right intensity. The program consists of four steps that guarantee improvement in each student’s ability to learn. The premise for making this guarantee is simple. If the plan does not work, we identify the reasons for the break-down in learning then fix the plan so it does work.
The steps of the processare repeatable, measurable, and backed by decades of international research on how to teach students with academic delays. The process used at Ignite Achievement Academy, developed by Rosanne Manus, M.A., continues to be subjected to rigorous, in-house testing at IAAand updated accordingly.
The academic process consists of a teacher-training program and, for each academic skill covered by the school, student practice packs, homework packs, and teachers’ guides.
Step 1: Determine the student’s skill achievement.
Step 1 walks the examiner through the process of administering placement tests in reading, writing, math and/or other skills. In step 1, examiners: a) identify the skills the student can perform fluently; b) identify the point at which his or her learning starts to break down; and c) note this information on the learning objectives checklist for the targeted skill. The learning objectives checklist serves as the teacher’s working copy of the student’s ongoing achievement in that skill.
Step 2: Determine the reasons for the student’s skill delays.
Step 2 walks teachers and administrators through the process of identifying the root causes of the student’s skill delays or gaps. This information is essential. To facilitate learning, teachers need to effectively manage the learning barriers that hinder learning.
Step 3: Develop, then deliver, a customized instructional plan.
Teachers use the information gained from completing steps 1 and 2 to develop the customized instructional plan. The plan contains four elements essential for effective instruction. These elements are:
- the learning objectives
- the teaching approach and curriculum
- the intensity at which the student learns and practices the skill
- the accommodations
Each of these elements must be correct. If even one element is off, the student may not be able to respond well to the plan. Here is a brief explanation of each element and its important place in an instructional plan:
- Learning objectives – After completing Step 1 (administrating a placement test or, if desired, a standardized achievement test), teachers note the level of skill at which the student can perform fluently and that level at which the student’s performance begins to break down. The beginning of the skill breakdown is where teachers start instruction, which they note on the learning objectives checklist that covers the skill they are teaching.
- Curriculum – The Manus curriculums for the various English, reading, writing and math skills consist of a series of teacher’s guides with answer keys, student practice packs and homework packs. The pieces of each curriculum incorporate research-based strategies, including the sequence for teacher-directed instruction. The practice and homework exercises are directly aligned with the learning objectives so all interactions between the teachers, students and curriculum lead to skill achievement. The instruction is explicit, systematic, multi-sensory, cumulative and based on skill mastery and generalization.
- Intensity – Learning barriers cause students to learn inefficiently and fall behind their peers. To learn efficiently, they first need a customized instructional plan that enables them to benefit from practice. Then they need intensive practice. If all other elements in the instructional plan are correct, the more correct practice exercises a student completes, the faster he or she learns the skills; therefore, teachers set high yet realistic goals for the number of practice exercises the student is to complete each day. Students with mild or no skill delays, who simply need to maintain the same rate of progress, usually benefit from light to moderate practice in the targeted skills. Students with severe skill delays usually need extensive practice each day. For instance, a student with severe delays in word recognition, reading fluency and spelling will need upwards of 12,000 or more exercises per month in word recognition and reading fluency and 1,200 or more exercises in spelling. They will likely also need intensive practice in the skills that support reading and spelling instruction, such as grammar, usage, phrasing, vocabulary, reading comprehension and written expression. A student with significant delays in math will typically need upwards of 2,000 or more exercises per month in math facts, 400 to 600 exercises in computation, 30 to 50 word problems and additional applied math practice in such activities as those found in shop class, arts, crafts and cooking.
- Accommodations – Some students have severe and pervasive academic barriers that make your efforts to teach and the students’ effort to learn very challenging. Barriers that have long-reaching effects include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, generalized anxiety, depression, behavioral problems or various sensory problems that leave the student too unsettled to focus. In developing a customized instructional plan, teachers select accommodations that significantly improve a student’s ability to learn by minimizing the otherwise impairing effects of his or her learning barriers. Many accommodations are built into the Manus Curriculums teaching approach and practice exercises; however, teachers sometimes need to add more accommodations, particularly for students whose barriers prevent them from attending to instruction.
Step 4: Monitor and report progress and adjust the plan, as needed.
When working with students with learning barriers, teachers do not want to leave their instruction and the student’s learning to chance. Step 4 walks teachers through the process of counting and recording the number of practice exercises the student completes each day (a measurement of intensity), recording the objectives the student learned because of the practice and deciding if his or her skill achievement is satisfactory.
If teachers are satisfied with the student’s progress, and data supports the child is learning, the teacher will continue to utilize and follow the same plan. If the student’s progress is not satisfactory, teachers return to steps 2 and 3 to examine those factors that hinder success and adjust one or more elements of the instructional plan.
As teachers monitor the student’s skill achievement over time, they also note the factors that facilitate learning, the barriers that continue to hinder learning and the degree to which they interfere. This information is important as it eventually gives teachers and future instructors insight into those conditions under which the student learns best.
Note: Teachers communicate the students’ progress and other pertinent information with parents through weekly progress reports, phone conversations, face-to-face meetings each quarter and additional meetings as needed.
The Benefits of Following the IAA Academic Plan
This plan works because it helps teachers, who are the most important element of a student’s instructional plan, make decisions that directly improve a student’s ability to learn. In following the process, teachers eliminate distractions and focus only on those elements that lead directly to skill achievement. This allows teachers to select the right goals and objectives to teach, develop the most appropriate instructional plan, and deliver instruction at the right intensity and in the right environment. In working with students with skill delays, there is no spinning one’s wheels trying different strategies and hoping they will work. Because we follow a specified process, our students find themselves most often “in the flow” of learning.