Morningside Academy In-Depth
The Foundation and Middle Schools
Morningside Academy's school helps elementary and middle school students to catch up and get ahead. Most of its students did not perform to their potential in their previous schools. Entering students typically score in the first and second quartiles on standardized achievement tests in reading, language and mathematics. Some have diagnosed learning disabilities (LD); others are labeled as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some lag behind their peer group for no "diagnosed" reason. Students' IQs range from low average to well above average. A small percentage of students have poor relations with family members and friends but most do not. Morningside is not a school for children with behavior problems.
Morningside Academy's elementary-aged students enroll in the Foundations Program, for one to three years or more, to catch-up to grade level. The Foundations program offers a full day of foundation skills: reading, writing, math, plus thinking, reasoning & problem solving skills. Many middle school-aged students also enroll in the Foundations program. These middle school students need a full day of foundation skills to make a year's progress in school. Many Foundations students who catch up to grade level extend their stay to achieve beyond their grade level. Students enrolled in the Middle School program typically enroll for all of middle school. Their program consists of foundation skills as well as how to succeed in content courses and project based learning.
Morningside Academy offers a money-back guarantee for progressing 2 years in 1 in the skill of greatest deficit. In twenty-five years, Morningside Academy has returned less than one percent of school-year tuition.
The models of education for children with learning disabilities and ADHD offered in most "mild special education" programs focus upon teaching children to employ compensatory strategies to sidestep their "disabilities." Morningside addresses these problems by constructing behavioral repertoires to eliminate (a) deficient basic academic skills, such as reading, writing, and mathematics; (b) deficient learning skills, such as goal setting, listening, noticing, reasoning, thinking, studying, and organizing; and (c) deficient performance skills; that is, skills in performing tasks in a timely, accurate and organized manner, without disrupting others or causing oneself undue grief. Morningside's program focuses upon these key academic, learning and performance skills, and its accommodations for disabilities increase the intensity and explicitness of instruction.
The Foundations academic program focuses upon the three main foundation skills--reading, writing, and mathematics--including their, language, facts, skills, concepts, principles, problem solving, and organizational aspects. Literature, social studies, and science are the grist for teaching these foundations. Each student participates in extensive entry assessments of academic, learning, and performance skills. Students with similar needs and goals are grouped together for instruction. Groupings change repeatedly throughout the day as students move from reading to writing to mathematics. Groupings also change continuously throughout the school year as students make more or less progress than students in their current group.
The comprehensive reading program includes basic prerequisites such as print awareness, phonemic awareness through auditory blending and segmenting, and the alphabetic principle. Basic foundations in decoding are emphasized, including sound-symbol correspondence, textual blending and segmenting strategies, and reading fluency. Comprehension is a major focus. We teach students to retell stories and passages and chapters that they read, emphasizing main points and proper sequence, first orally and then in written form. Students also learn background information and vocabulary related to reading selections, which are organized according to universal life themes and research themes to provide solid springboards for later inquiry and research. Both basal reading programs and authentic literature are incorporated. Students also learn over 20 key comprehension skills such as recalling text in sequence, comparing and contrasting, and making inferences. Students learn to "read strategically" by asking questions, making connections with what they already know, making and confirming predictions, applying the comprehension skills they have learned, and so forth. They learn strategies for organizing and communicating their ongoing thoughts during discussion.
The comprehensive writing program includes mastery of rubrics for many different genres, including various descriptive, narrative, explanatory and persuasive writing styles. Students master key component skills in handwriting, keyboarding, word processing, transcription, dictation, spelling, grammar, and mechanics; as well as organizational strategies such as selecting a topic, brainstorming details, and logical sequencing of details, sentences, paragraphs, essays, and reports.
The comprehensive mathematics program includes mastery of counting and the numerical system; math facts and calculation skills; math concepts; math vocabulary and the language of speaking and writing about math, using the retelling methods we employ when teaching reading; and math thinking, reasoning, and problem solving skills.
During the implementation of our programs, we measure student performance on a daily basis. Teachers and students use these data to make decisions about what would be best for the learner to do next. Perhaps the learner needs more instruction in a skill, or maybe more practice. Or maybe a student can skip over some instruction or practice. In fact, learner outcomes making up as much as one-third of a course of instruction may emerge 'for free' along the way, as the component skills that make up an emerging skill are mastered. The specific sequences of skills, and the focus upon teaching each skill as a general case make Morningside programs generative in design. Generative Instruction is instruction that is carefully designed to produce skills that are not directly taught.
Engelmann's Direct Instruction method is initially used to teach basic academic skills. In Direct Instruction, teachers present scripted lessons to children, who answer teacher-questions in unison. Teacher and students volley many times a minute with their questions and answers. Teachers praise and correct student responses until all children are accurate. The explicitness and careful progression of Direct Instruction lessons assures that students develop flawless skills very quickly. Many Direct Instruction programs are currently published. For students with more learning skills, other materials may be prescribed. Markle's instructional design principles are used to create additional lessons and programs where none are commercially available.
Following successfully completed lessons; students practice their freshly learned skills until they become fluent or automatic, using Lindsley's Precision Teaching method. Having fluent prerequisite skills makes learning subsequent, related skills faster and more successful. Students usually practice building skills to fluency in pairs, although sometimes they practice alone or in threes. During practice, students time themselves on specially designed fluency materials until they can perform a certain amount-accurately, smoothly, and without hesitation-in a certain amount of time. Timings are usually 1 minute, but range from 10 seconds to 10 minutes. Students record their timed performance on specially designed charts, called Standard Celeration Charts. A specific minimum rate of improvement is indicated on these charts. As students practice, they plot their own improvements and compare their progress to the minimum rate lines. Their comparisons tell them whether they are making sufficient progress, or whether they need to call the teacher or another student for help. Practice is spaced and cumulative in order to maximize its effectiveness. These practice sessions blend the timing, charting, fluency-building, and celeration-building aspects of Precision Teaching, and the cooperative learning and peer coaching features of the Personalized System of Instruction. Such a mix assures that students permanently retain the skills they are taught; can perform them for extended periods; and can easily apply them, both to new learning requirements, and in the course of living life.
With Precision Teaching, students learn important goal setting, self-monitoring, self-management, organizational, and cooperative learning skills. Students also learn self-management and self-determination through freedom to take their own performance breaks and still meet their expected goals, skip lessons when they can demonstrate mastery, move through the curriculum at their own pace, select their own arrangement of tasks to accomplish in a class period, choose their own free time activities, and give themselves report card points, among other opportunities.
After instruction and practice, students apply the skills they have learned in the context of compound-composite task such as games, simulations, and real-world applications.
Application activities may involve explicit, direct instruction in the necessary recombination of skills they have learned. Most classroom schedules today are driven by activities, not instruction. The activities are made up of challenging compound skills to stimulate creative principle application and problem solving. Project-based learning is currently in vogue from late elementary school through college. It assumes that students can perform all the component skills and that the larger, compound activity requires. Most project-based learning arrangements are an "upside down" approach to curriculum planning: the compound comes first, out of which both compound and elemental skill learning are expected. Some educators think projects are inherently interesting and stimulating and believe these anticipated motivational features outweigh component skill weaknesses. The assumption is that, if the task is sufficiently interesting, learners will employ a battery of skills to figure it out. In the end, some learners do, and some learners don't. While we agree that meaningful projects are important educational endeavors, we design Dewey's progressive, real-world applications by introducing compounds later in a "right side up" sequence of instruction that teaches from elements to compounds.
We design at least two kinds of application activities. The first kind requires the student to engage in a previously learned performance in a new context. A student may read a newspaper and discuss the articles with their peers, after reading essays in their controlled reading program and engaging in teacher-directed discussions. A student may also write a letter to the editor of the newspaper about a particular article after learning and practicing the basic rubrics of writing a persuasive essay.
An important reading application activity in our curriculum involves strategically applying comprehension skills during reading. The context includes a group of students who are taking turns reading a selection aloud. At certain points a teacher stops the reading and engages in "think aloud" monologues that model applications of comprehension skills that the students have previously been taught. The teacher may pause the group reading at various points to make a prediction about what will happen next or what a character will do, or she may make a connection between the plot or a character and her own life experience. After two or three think-alouds, the teacher uses a delayed prompting method to assess and prompt student application of skills. First she calls on a student at certain points during the group reading to make a prediction or connection that will help to make sense of the reading or help the student relate more closely to it. If the student doesn't respond competently, the teacher provides a prompt to adduce the application. If the student's application still does not meet criterion, the teacher may provide more intensive prompts and finally a full model of the application before the student's application is successful. Thus the student stays engaged with the teacher until he is successful, no matter how many volleys occur between them. The teacher provides increasing support until the student is successful. The relevant data to collect is the number and kind of teacher prompts that were provided, not the accuracy of the student's response, since all students stay engaged with the teacher until they are successful.
The second kind of application activity we design requires new combinations of previously learned elements. More advanced operations in arithmetic, such as long multiplication or division of numbers, are recombinations of previously taught addition, subtraction, and multiplication elements. More advanced forms of sentences and compositions are recombinations of elements learned separately during previous writing instruction. More advanced field sports are recombinations of many previously learned motor activities and chains. The compound called debating combines elements such as argumentation rules, oratory style, Robert's Rules of Order, and quick refutation. The elements in all of these activities can be separately taught; the compound can be taught as an application activity that can recruit the necessary elements. In both cases application does not describe the opportunity; rather it describes successful extensions and recombinations to fit the requirements of the new situation.
Students also learn how to think, reason, and problem solve by talking their way through new problems in reading comprehension, mathematics, social studies and science, using Whimbey's Think-Aloud Problem-Solving (TAPS) method. This method is the core learning-to-learn technology used in our program. In TAPS, teachers model and coach students to think out loud, through talking, writing, diagraming and other supplemental activities which support thinking, using specially designed protocols that represent effective ways to work through problems. Students are taught five key repertoires that are required for effective reasoning and problem solving. Then they coach each other to "get fluent" in using the TAPS protocols and these key repertoires to solve a range of problems. Once TAPS fluent, they will coach each other's use of TAPS to master content and skills across a typical school curriculum, such as social studies, science and math. They also use a version of TAPS to edit and improve their writing skills.
Morningside Academy's teachers coach students to perform their best. Teachers coach performance with clearly defined rules and expectations for performance and productivity, explicit modeling of high performance skills, and moment-to-moment monitoring and feedback. Students carry Johnson's daily report card throughout the day. Points are earned and recorded for meeting specific academic, learning skills and citizenship aims that the teacher specifies before each class period. Students share their report cards with their families each day. Many students earn home-based rewards such as extra television, computer or telephone time for meeting their aims. In addition, classroom wall charts display the points that each student earns.
More About the Middle School
In the middle school, students learn advanced foundation skills in reading, writing and math. They also learn how to study and perform successfully in content classes in the social and natural sciences and the humanities. Subjects include world history, civics, general science, geography & culture, and human relations and communication. The program explicitly teaches everything from textbook reading and studying and lecture note taking and studying, to participation in class discussions, test taking, and essay and report writing. As students study, they use Layng and Robbin's Fluent Thinking Skills method. This method teaches students a specific question-generating and answer-predicting method that points out discrepancies between what they already know and any new learning that they need to do, greatly reducing their study time.
Students practice content facts and concepts using Lindsley's flash card fluency method known as SAFMEDS (Say All Fast, Minute Each Day, Shuffled). Cooperative learning techniques such as Slavin's Student Teams Achievement Division (STAD) also motivate student practice to fluency. In STAD, students practice in small groups, earning points, grades or privileges for the group by improving their individual performances.
Middle school students also apply TAPS to cases of practical deliberation taken from daily life. John Dewey described the importance of this work in his book, "How We Think." Teachers apply TAPS to situations such as the best way among several alternatives to reach a destination within a given time frame. Students select situations from their own lives to TAPS. Students also apply TAPS as they reflect upon things they observe, such as how a back porch they see on the way to school was probably built. In the gradual shift from teacher-directed to student-directed learning, students master learning skills using Think Aloud Problem-Solving, which weans them from teacher dependency to independent learning.
When middle school students demonstrate all the competencies necessary to perform successfully in content classes, they then learn the inquiry, research, and cooperative learning skills necessary for project-based learning. Next year (2005-2006) we will have our first group of students who will be ready for project-based learning. As students master facts and concepts in content courses, they will learn to identify their own curiosities and areas of interest. Students with common interests will learn to define a collective research project, and inquire and research together in small groups. They will learn to work collaboratively and cooperatively toward common goals. In the process they will learn essential human relations skills.
Middle school students will use several cooperative learning technologies during project-based learning, including Slavin's Jigsaw II, and a general group investigation strategy. Group goals will be set and rewarded when achieved, helping to create team spirit and encourage students to help each other. Students will also be individually accountable for completing their share of the effort.
Using Jigsaw II, students will become experts on subsections of a topic and teach that subsection to others. In the process, they will gather information, meet to compare notes and refine presentations, teach their topic to other team members, and take quizzes on all topics taught. Jigsaw II will be used when team members' goals include mastery of organized bodies of information. In the general group investigation procedure, students will use the scientific method in small groups.
As students collaborate during project-based learning, they will apply a scientific method of inquiry to real-world areas of interest. They will define research goals and possible courses of action to achieve them. They will learn observation and other data gathering methods. They will learn a recursive cycle in which they actively question their process, develop ideas or conjectures, revise ideas, and embark upon new avenues of research and exploration as they proceed. They will also learn methods of analyzing data and making generalizations.
As students research their problems and interests, they will make contact with books, periodicals, video, lectures, the Internet, libraries, and community workplaces and events. Students will also learn communication and outreach skills--they will invite community members to their forums, make multi-media presentations, develop oratory style, and write pamphlets, handouts and reports. The inquiry, research, collaborative learning, and presentation skills that the students learn from completing projects will provide a framework for life-long learning, stemming from their own needs and interests into the systematized knowledge of the adult world.
Our project-based learning methods emphasize natural influences over learning, taken from the student's current activity, goals, and values systems, rather than arbitrary, compartmentalized subject matter teaching, teacher initiated research and teacher initiated project assignments. These skills are usually neglected until later high school and college. By then it is hard for students to break away from the simple read-and-report methods of research and exploration that most students devise to please their teachers or earn a grade.
This year, middle school teachers will employ Ozer's methodology for impacting student motivation, specifically responsibility and productivity. In Ozer's method, students are taught and receive feedback for the degree of responsibility they take for maintaining an inquiry dialogue with their teachers and peers. Five categories of maintaining a dialogue are included: answering questions, asking questions, listening to others speak, telling information, and proposing solutions. Teachers randomly select individual students to evaluate as they interact with another student or teacher. They rate each category of responsibility, and students receive feedback immediately following the dialogue. For example, teachers rate "degree of responsibility for asking questions" from 0 - 4, with 0 for silence; 1 for non-specific feedback such as "I don't know," or "I don't understand," 2 for feedback as a question but still non-specific, such as "Help me," 3 for a specific question asked, such as "Please show me how to do x," or "Please tell me how x works," and 4 for verifying what was heard before asking a question. Teachers also teach self-management of productivity. Students and teachers keep track of commitments and follow-through in weekly logs; students receive weekly feedback.
Morningside Academy also offers a 4-week summer school program that provides morning and afternoon programs in reading, language, writing, and mathematics. Some of our students attend school year round, focusing on their skill of greatest deficit. Many other students who do not have learning or attention problems and who are not behind in school attend Morningside to sharpen their basic skills and develop the necessary foundations for becoming high performers in school. Students typically gain a grade level in the skill area they study. The summer school program offers a money-back guarantee for progressing 1 year in the skill of greatest deficit. Morningside Academy has returned less than two percent of summer school tuition.
The popularity of Morningside Academy's summer school program with children and youth who are at or above grade level attests to the dearth of good instruction in foundations skills in typical public and private schools. All students can benefit from part or all of Morningside's programs. The difference between upper and lower percentile students is the amount of time they need to spend in the Morningside programs. In fact, part of every school day at Skinner, a school for gifted children in Chicago, is devoted to Morningside's reading and math fluency programs.
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- Association for Behavior Analysis
- Standard Celeration Society Organization of standard celeration charters
- AimChart Online Celeration Charting
- Art Whimbey and Myra Linden TAPS,TRAC Institute
- Association for Direct Instruction
Other Partner Organizations
- Xavier University's Project SOAR Shared Curriculum
- Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies
- Fluency Factory
- Headsprout Beginning Reading program
- Joe Parsons Celeration Technology
- Chinese Wushu & Tai Chi Academy Chinese Wushu and Taichi Academy
- Yin Yang Arts Center
- International Society for Performance Improvement
- Sapphire Road Primary, South Africa
- Cebelihle Primary, South Africa