Oakstone’s initial goals was to not just create a school but methods and tools for any parent or teacher to use. Parents from the Palm Beach area approached Dr. Rebecca Morrison, the school’s founder, about creating their own Social Immersion school in their community.
On our 5th and 6th episodes we will be playing an interview we did a few months back with staff and student leaders from the Oakstone Academy at Palm Beach.
Our third episode is an interview with Sean Pruitt, family counselor and a member of the psychology services team at Oakstone Academy.
We will be discussing his journey, his work at the school, and his work with parents who have found successes through Oakstone’s Academic and Social Immersion Model which puts students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in typical classrooms with typically developing peers.
Our second episode is part 2 of an interview with Dr. Rebecca Morrison, the founder of Oakstone Academy in Westerville, OH.
We will be discussing how the school started, its mission, and exploring their one of a kind “social immersion model” that puts students on the Autism spectrum in typical classrooms with typically developing peers.
Oakstone Academy and The Children’s Center for Developmental Enrichment (CCDE) offers a service delivery model that is unique in this inclusive school designed for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their peers. Speech and Occupational Therapies are offered as classroom-based (push-in) and direct/private (pull-out). These types of service delivery models have been in existence in the schools, and though no single model is appropriate for all students, the ultimate goal is ensuring that the student’s needs are met in a variety of settings. Service delivery models in the schools should be dynamic and fluid, allowing the Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) to support the student by providing effective intervention in order to generalize skills.
Classroom-based service delivery allows the SLP to perform a variety of roles including working with the student individually, circulating around the room, or with small groups during an activity. The natural environment provides an authentic setting tailored to the student’s needs. The classroom SLP can also provide “consultation” to the teachers in the use of strategies in the context of reading, writing, and speaking activities. At Oakstone, the classroom SLP develops and writes measurable goals for the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). He/She may also administer testing to assess the student’s performance and/or skills for the Evaluation Team Report (ETR) to determine the student’s eligibility for special education services. The SLP and classroom teacher work closely with the team (i.e., Occupational Therapist, Psych Services, administration) to create social narratives and visual supports and how to frame instruction for children with language impairments and provide positive behavioral support. This partnership is critical to the classroom teacher and SLP as the student’s progress and changing needs evolve throughout the school year.
Direct/Private therapy or pull-out service delivery is provided in a separate room, which allows for individualized time with the student. This type of intervention removes the child from the classroom curriculum for a specific amount of time. Direct therapies are used for testing or screening; it may also be beneficial if the student has challenging behaviors and require a more restricted or quiet environment for learning or acquisition of skills. SLP’s in this capacity determine each student’s goals and create treatment plans to target these goal areas. Often, therapists work closely with families by developing specific functional goals such as skills for daily living, self-help skills, or a visual schedule for routines at home. While the classroom-based SLP provide support and strategies in the classroom, direct/private SLPs provide structured opportunities for increasing a particular skill or for teaching new behaviors. With fewer or less distractions, SLPs may take advantage of the space to create conversations and practice functional activities while working on specific language skills. Direct/private therapy is ideal for practice drills and 1:1 instruction not necessarily possible in classroom-based services. While schools around the nation offer both direct and classroom-based therapies, the resources to implement pull-out therapy are becoming limited due to high SLP caseload and workload. As a result, students who need the individualized and focused therapy receive less therapy time. Fortunately, Oakstone is able to provide and implement a combination of these models and the resources to sustain both therapies. Direct/Private therapy also allows for flexibility and creativity in creating small groups before/after school and during the school day (typically, at recess or lunch time). These groups are short, practical, and target specific goals for generalization. The benefit of direct/private therapy gives the parents or caregivers convenience in having the therapy before/after school or during the school day instead of traveling to another facility or private clinic for similar services. Although some students receive additional therapies, this convenience is an attractive benefit to many families at Oakstone.
Collaboration, by definition, refers to working together to create a shared goal. This unique alliance that happens between direct/private (pull-out) and classroom based (push-in) therapy not only benefits the student but ensures that his/her needs are met. Combining these service delivery modes allows for a closer look on the educational relevance of Speech-Language services and the efficacy of treatment services in both the therapy room and the classroom. Both capacities allow for expanded roles to address the needs of the student while affecting the student’s educational performance. Oakstone offers both types of therapies by fulfilling various roles to adopt a more comprehensive picture of speech services. The weaving together of knowledge, expertise, experience, and passion of the SLPs and OTs at Oakstone can add power to the educational growth of the each student.
Many of you familiar with the world of education or behavior management have heard the phrase “catch them being good” in some form or another. The philosophy behind this is simple. If you have behaviors, attitudes, or actions that you want to see more of in class, you identify and positively acknowledge them as you see them happening naturally in the daily life in your classroom. Research in Applied Behavior Analysis shows us that receiving positive reinforcement is the fastest way to promote and increase positive behavior. Receiving that reinforcement from a teacher will cement the skill in a student and encourage others to follow suit.
One of the strengths of the immersion program is the abundance of natural models of academic and social behaviors and skills available for students on the autism spectrum. In our immersion classrooms we often prompt students who ask for help with the phrase “Look at your friends” or with a gesture to their classmates. We may also choose to redirect 1-2 students who are off task by starting to praise or reward those who are on task. Students not receiving any type of reinforcement often will stop and look to see WHY their classmates are being singled out and then adjust their behavior to receive the same reinforcement.
Here are some tips for catching students being good in an immersion classroom
Be specific in your reinforcement. Do not simply tell some students “Good job”. In an immersion classroom, you want to make it clear what is being rewarded or reinforced. Phrases like “good looking-eyes” with younger students or “thank you for having your homework ready” with older students serves not only to reward one group, but to remind the students who are still working towards the goal about your expectation or direction.
Vary your students receiving reinforcement. If you are always praising the same student, other members of the class or group may believe that the PERSON and not the BEHAVIOR is what is being recognized.
Vary how many students you acknowledge. Ideally, you will want to reinforce the first few students to get everyone else moving towards compliance with the expectation or direction. You will not always be able to acknowledge every student who eventually shows the correct behavior, but you do want to make sure that your students who have a long road to go occasionally are being rewarded as well. Remember positive reinforcement builds positive skills, so make sure you are reinforcing those who are still developing the skills!
Use proximity. If you have one student in particular who is still developing a skill or behavior, praise and reinforce the students physically nearest that student who is still learning. That draws their attention more quickly.
Mix up your reinforcement. The preferred form reinforcement would be verbal praise or a positive gesture, as it is more natural. It is also easier to give, as you always have your smile and voice with you. That being said, don’t discount the power of the occasional sticker, stamp, or even a single M&M, Skittle, or cracker. In my experience, even high school students occasionally like a treat or sticker.
Do not engage with students who want to talk about your reinforcement. Many of our students on the autism spectrum love to argue, look for loopholes, and rationalize things. Don’t allow students to engage you in a debate of your reinforcement choices. Simply reply with something like “I was looking for a couple of people who had their work ready. Now we are moving on. Maybe next time.” This reinforces the direction you were giving, the behavior you wanted to see, and the end of the conversation.
Reward good character, not just good academic behavior. Remember teaching good character is the goal of any behavior system. We don’t just want kids to comply with rules, but demonstrate kindness, respect, trustworthiness, and responsibility. Pairing character words with your compliment helps students understand the meaning of these bigger ideas. If you see a student struggling to remain calm in a stressful situation, you can comment, “Nice keeping your hands to yourself” to prompt and reinforce their progress. IF you see a student helping someone else, you can comment what a great citizen that student is being.
Catching kids being good benefits adults as well. It feels better to have positive interactions with students. It is more pleasant to compliment, smile, and reward than to reprimand, punish, or take privileges. As someone who works with children who are still learning and developing, it is a joy to be their cheerleader and booster!
Complimenting children on any aspect of play with you, work they are doing, or interactions they engage in should be employed quite a bit. It is easy to fall into playing or doing various other activities with children and forgetting to talk. But at school, we should constantly find ways to give the children positive attention and compliments. Even engaging in some activities is in itself a reason for complimenting the child. These nice, positive interactions with adults are very important to our little learners as well as our oldest students. They sense we are happy. They feel pride in their abilities. They know what is rewarded and what to strive for. Overall, it engages the children in interactions where they get to feel good just by being there and that more than anything else promotes good behavior.