The English Department provides individualized instruction for students with learning disabilities in the core knowledge of literature, writing, and grammar. The curriculum seeks to provide students with the skills necessary to become independent readers, writers, and thinkers.
To prepare students in English, the English Department offers courses consistent with the Illinois State Standards in both content and processes, enabling students to understand and critically analyze what they read. Classes can be adapted from remedial to standard to meet the variety of needs of our students. Four years of English courses are required for graduation.
Sixth through eighth grade students are enrolled in Junior High Language Arts, focusing on reading, comprehension, writing skills, and vocabulary building. High school classes expose students to a variety of literary genres, giving them opportunities to explore character motivation, and author intent, make predictions and inferences, and make connections between what they’ve learned and what they already know. The writing classes focus intently on the writing process and the use of assistive technology to brainstorm, organize, present and reference information.
Teachers use various assessment methods for measuring progress and determining mastery of English concepts. Students in all classes are pre-tested in the beginning of the year to assess spelling, vocabulary, decoding, comprehension, and writing skills and to prepare for more individualized instruction. In remedial classes, weekly probes are administered to measure and map student skills and the effectiveness of the instruction. All English teachers administer frequent tests, quizzes, homework, and provide opportunities for students to peer edit each other’s written work. In the Creative Writing and Composition classes, the students also participate in one-on-one bi-monthly conferences with the teacher to discuss strengths and weaknesses in their written expression and how to use assistive technology more effectively. All students are given post-tests at the end of the year to assess growth in all skill areas and the overall effectiveness of instruction.
English teachers use a wide variety of instructional methods based on the individual needs of the students and the content being delivered. Lectures are enhanced with the use of visuals such as slide shows, pictures, demonstrations, and models. Class discussions help students relate their own background knowledge to the understanding of larger, more abstract concepts introduced in class. Small, cooperative group work gives students the opportunity to engage in shared responsibility and accountability for the mastery of literary elements.
Technology is a major component in all English instruction. Each student is provided with a laptop computer equipped with the following software applications: Pages, Kurzweil 3000, and Inspiration 9. All texts, novels, and short stories used in the English classes have been digitized and are accessible to students with documented dyslexia. Kurzweil 3000 software allows students to either read or listen to the text, highlight pertinent information, insert questions, and take notes from the reading. Inspiration 9 is used for brainstorming ideas, literary maps, and organizing information for outlines. Students use Pages to do all of their written assignments, such as summaries, essays and research papers. Throughout the course of the year, students will also be required to create slide shows, podcasts, movies, and interactive speeches using the software applications on their laptops.
All Brehm faculty are encouraged to collaborate to better understand their subject matter and strategies that will increase student ability to process and interact with the information presented in class. English teachers are provided with several opportunities to attend reading and/or writing conferences that deal with teaching students with learning issues. All teachers have had training in a variety of methodologies that stress using multi-sensory strategies when teaching reading decoding, comprehension, higher order thinking, and writing. Brehm also provides in-house opportunities for teachers to present information on their expertise, and brings in outside resources to educate all staff on the latest research concerning teaching students with learning disabilities.
The Brehm Department of Mathematics is focused upon meeting the diverse needs of students with learning disabilities. The core concern of Brehm’s mission revolves around empowerment. For many of our students, mathematics has been a source of anxiety, frustration and oftentimes, failure. Therefore, for students to develop an internal locus of control and to be empowered in this curriculum area we must often begin with developing the sense that mathematics is both a worthwhile endeavor and success is an attainable goal. On the other end of the spectrum, we also have many students who are very capable or even excellent math students who may need to be supported in other disability areas such as reading, writing, or executive functioning. Consequently, the math department designs, modifies and implements curriculum so that students can be best served given their individual math strengths and weaknesses. To accomplish this we must understand the students’ overall skill levels, and where they have their peaks, valleys or holes as well as how other areas may impact their math work (such as reading, writing, executive functioning or self management.) The whole child must always take center stage as we move forward through the curriculum to develop their potential be it at the remedial level, algebra 1, pre-calculus or beyond. Care is taken to teach for mastery and skill development while at the same time extending their boundaries to the higher ends of upper level math and its rigor. A balance must be struck as they progress forward while not repeating a similar pattern of anxiety, frustration or failure.
The math curriculum is designed to meet the educational goals set by the State of Illinois which are also aligned with the goals set forth by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The core goals encompass:
- Trigonometry and other advanced math topics
- Statistics, data manipulation, and probability
Additionally, opportunities are provided for basic skill development or maintenance, graphing, measurement, and preparation and practice for standardized tests. These core goals are also expressed through applications, problem solving, written and verbal communication, use of technology, cooperative groups, and connections to other disciplines. Technology has always had an important role at Brehm. We have long used personal computers to explore mathematical relations and as an assistant in communication. Currently, each student and staff member has a personal laptop computer which is equipped with standard and scientific calculators as well as Geometers Sketchpad, Grapher, and Numbers all of which have direct mathematical applications. Additionally, Pages, Keynote, and Inspiration provide a variety of ways to manipulate and explore content and to communicate more effectively.
Given our small class size and aggressive technological foot print, individualization is a leitmotif throughout our classes. Students are exposed to whole class instruction and whole class objectives while at the same time are given opportunities to remediate deficit areas or supplemental work to extend upon the core of learning or to work at a higher Bloom’s level. In some cases, a “class within a class” may develop where a groups of students may be working at different levels or at different paces. Our emphasis on the needs of the individual student allows the student to work comfortably through Illinois and national standards as well as the Brehm competencies at a pace and manner suiting his or her needs. To assess this diversity we use frequent short homework sets, quizzes, tests, pre/post-testing, curriculum based assessments and observations. With this information we are able to reflect upon the student’s performance on the topics presented and to form (or reform) instructional arcs to move ahead in the curriculum as well as solidify previously learned skills.
The scope of our courses is consistent with a standard high school curriculum though material is modified in regards to reading levels, numbers of problems, breadth of topics, and the pace of presentation. Aside from the remedial classes, it is generally accepted that our students are capable of learning the standard material but not necessarily in the standard time frames or in the standard manner. Therefore, the textbooks that we do use oftentimes undergo modification through reduction, paring down, supplementation, and elaboration. Our classes draw from textbook publishers such as AGS and Key Curriculum Press to other standard publishers.
As previously mentioned, our instructional methods cover a range of strategies and modalities that vary with the specific content, students, or classroom makeup. The small class sizes make it easy to move from whole class teacher-centered instruction, to cooperative groups, and to individualized instruction. New concepts are often presented to the whole or cooperatively with follow up presented individually. All classes are equipped with a projection unit tied into the teacher’s laptop which allows for whole class presentation while other classes have document scanners and overhead projectors. Students are able to access primary class documents (handouts, copies of notes, scan of textbooks) as well as examples, videos, photos, and other supplemental material via the Public Documents folder through their laptops. Students also have ready access to calculators, graphing software as well as the iWorks suite of software which allows them to record or film lectures with Garage Band or iMovie, to take photos of the whiteboard with Photo Booth, etc. Additional classroom strategies include pre-teaching vocabulary and showing worked examples; providing mnemonics and utilizing varying modalities such as sight, touch, and sound. Hands-on activities involve use of manipulatives such as fraction blocks and cuisenaire rods for general math or algebra. Executive functioning approaches are used including advanced organizers, flow charts or outlines, chunking, task analysis, etc. The students work through instruction from concrete, to the semi-concrete, to the semi-abstract, to the abstract level of learning. Visualizing and Verbalizing is used to help the students work through word problems.
Collaboration between the instructors in the math department generally focuses in upon reviewing and discussing individual student strengths, weaknesses, and strategies that have worked for that student in the past or have been successful with similar students. The math faculty has attended local, regional, or national workshops. These include: Touch Math where each number value is represented by dots, as well as Making Math Real, a multi-sensory structured approach for cognitive development. Sharing and refining material between instructors is also very common since we tend to teach a variety of different courses from one year to the next.
In keeping with the Brehm school mission, it is the goal of the Brehm Social Studies Department to further empower students to become responsible citizens in an ever-growing and complex society. To become responsible citizens, students are taught using a holistic approach that focuses on teaching how everyone plays a vital role in society; addressing critical issues in the world; making decisions using democratic principles; and learning the skills that are necessary for civic participation.
As with all state and national standards pertaining to social studies, the goal is for students to become better informed citizens who can fully participate in our society. All of our classes are designed to help students use creativity, innovation, critical thinking, communication, and technology to further examine the broader world.
In teaching social studies the main issue instructors face is overcoming the question many students have: “What does this have to do with me?” To address this question, the Brehm Social Studies Department refocuses student attention from historical “celebrities,” events, and locations to stories of everyday citizens who lived in and shaped the past. Focus is directed to context and problems — beyond dates and locations — through considering bigger issues behind events and linking the past to the present by revealing how the same problems faced by earlier civilizations and people may exist today. To accomplish this, students are guided to comprehend, apply, analyze, and think creatively and critically. We strive to do this with instruction in vocabulary, group discussions, use of Bloom’s taxonomy, and teaching the main idea of social studies concepts through both modified and standard social studies classes.
The Social Studies Department uses a variety of methods to determine the effectiveness of instruction. At the beginning and end of the school year pre- and post-testing is conducted. National and State Constitution Tests are administered to eighth and twelfth graders. Throughout the year comprehension and vocabulary quizzes and tests are given which include multiple choice, true/false, and or matching questions based on student performance levels. Students are also assessed through writing assignments (i.e. a semester long research project on student-chosen topic, small projects, and supplemental activities. Weekly current events article assignments allow students to critically examine national and world events and link them historically or personally to their lives.
Social studies material is presented to the students through a variety of methods. Standard classes are divided into three 15-minute time periods each utilizing a different teaching strategy. Those strategies include teacher-driven discussions, student-led discussions, Keynote presentations, guided note taking, independent student work, movie presentations, supplemental activities, readings of historical novels and primary sources, and writing opinions of historical ideas.
The Science Department believes that a foundation in scientific questioning and investigation is the platform from which all effective learning takes place. An understanding of the scientific method as it pertains to science concepts can then be generalized into other disciplines such as history and literature. These same skills are the cornerstone of problem solving throughout a student’s daily life.
The Science Department provides students with core knowledge in the basic science disciplines. Earth Science and Physical Science are offered interchangeably for middle school students. Environmental Science, Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Physics, Forensics, and Chemistry are offered for high school students. According to the Illinois School Code and Brehm, three credits in science are required for high school graduation, yet a high percentage of Brehm students take science courses all four years.
The Science Department has general objectives it strives to achieve for students through the science curriculum. First, teachers provide direct instruction of concepts to help students develop an understanding and an appreciation of the surrounding world as scientifically literate people. Varied teaching techniques are used to try to ensure that each student possesses the necessary knowledge to make sound critical decisions individually and as group members in society as it relates to scientific matters as consumers. At the same time, the curriculum fulfills college admission requirements and prepares students to meet college expectations competently.
Brehm’s overall mission drives the Science Department’s goal to give students the tools they need to be able to question the world around them and find solutions to daily and scientific problems. In order to do this, the department offers standard and modified courses to meet individual student needs and abilities. In standard courses, curriculum is aligned with Illinois State Standards and follows our scope and sequence with use of textbooks, technology, and approved accommodations to enhance content. Standard courses move at an average pace dependent on individual student’s ability. Differentiated instruction is used to accommodate all learners, and students are expected to execute work independently or with limited prompts. In modified courses, curriculum follows similar guidelines, but with a slower pace and a smaller class size when compared to our standard classes. Additional guided practice is offered in the modified program with the intent of moving the students to more independence.
Students are exposed to a variety of instructional methods throughout the department. All courses incorporate a mixture of lecture, discussion, cooperative group learning, small group demonstration, lab activities, note taking, assistive technology, visualization, experimentation, and written expression. All science teachers incorporate different ways of assessing Brehm students such as: pre- and post-testing, frequent tests, quizzes, homework, projects, and board work. A variety of product guides are provided to help guide students in completing classwork/projects and assist their exploration of deeper interests. Templates are given to students to help guide them through lab report writing and longer pieces of written expression. Every teacher of science attempts to meet the needs of students with different learning styles by providing an appropriate balance between an investigative approach and a true theoretical knowledge of the topic. A variety of textbooks at grade level, age appropriate text book and materials are used as resources for these classes. All science teachers offer extra help outside of regular class time, especially after school or during lunch time.
Students carry Apple laptop computers as they progress from class to class throughout the school day. As the students are exposed to a variety of instructional methods, technology applications are utilized by all levels providing the students with multiple ways to comprehend and represent their work. In addition to doing traditional word processing, students can show what they have learned by making movies on iMovie, music in Garageband, books on iPhoto, and visual and oral presentations using Keynote. They can take notes using programs such as Kurzweil, DragonSpeech, and Inspiration.
The Science Department faculty collaborates informally to share successful activities and discuss different teaching approaches to reach and motivate our students. Staff attend many conferences throughout the year on topics ranging from science to reading, writing, and technology. The science faculty also serves in different teaming groups of students to help direct not only academic strategies and goals but also social and emotional goals and strategies. This holistic approach, including academic, social, and emotional threads, helps all faculty to most effectively guide the students in multiple aspects of learning. We strongly believe our students benefit from motivated, well-informed, and expertly trained teachers.
The Instructional Technology Department strives to integrate technology with existing Brehm curricula whenever possible to enhance the learning of students with learning disabilities. Through using multiple modalities, programs, and strategies it is possible to create a unique learning plan and allow classroom teachers to better differentiate instruction for their students. This department’s duties can be discussed in three components: student support, staff support, and administrative duties.
The majority of the instructional technologist’s time is spent in direct contact with students. Every student is pre- and post-tested individually at the beginning of the school year allowing assessment of strengths and weaknesses. All students are also required to attend a small group training session with the instructional technologist during the second week of classes. This takes place during English classes. Approximately 120 minutes of direct instruction takes place on various programs and resources available to the students. These include but are not limited to Kurzweil, Inspiration, Pages, and Keynote as well as universal access and text-to-speech features on their computers to enhance understanding of teacher driven content and written expression. Students who have been identified as still needing further assistance by teachers, dorm parents, pre-testing, or student work samples will then meet with the instructional technologist one-on-one or in small groups to address deficits and create goals. Typically students meet with the instructional technologist once a week for 45 minutes for at least nine weeks. In these meetings software or hardware is utilized to compensate for gaps or issues with fine motor skills, written expression, organizational skills, note taking, reading comprehension, decoding, and study skills.
The instructional technologist is also responsible for helping train teachers on the various learning software they will use in classrooms to enhance learning and develop 21st century thinkers/citizens. The instructional technologist is the person whom teachers can ask specific questions of about software and technology. While the Information Systems and Technology department is in charge of fixing and maintaining staff computers, the Instructional Technology Department offers assistance on how to best use these resources to student advantage. When needed or requested, the instructional technologist will co-teach with a content teacher. The content teacher will teach the curriculum and the instructional technologist will enhance the delivery method or show teachers and students new ways to create products. Student products using instructional technology can showcase their full potential and knowledge in a way that better utilizes a multi-modal approach.
Lastly, there are several administrative duties this department is responsible for enabling technology to be utilized more smoothly. The instructional technologist serves as a bridge between the teachers and the Information Systems & Technology department in a bi-monthly meeting. This allows technology staff to maintain their existing services and look for ways to better improve their services. The instructional technologist is also the administrator in charge of Brehm’s account at Bookshare.org. The instructional technologist is responsible for gathering data from all teachers on which software the high school seniors utilize in order to make recommendations for post-secondary programs.
Brehm strives to provide a comprehensive curriculum for all students. It is not easy to fit special subjects into schedules already packed with core classes, remedial course work, and pull-outs for speech-language, assistive technology, transition planning, counseling, and medical appointments. This demand is offset by offering seven class periods a day. Brehm staff believe that special subjects are crucial for our students to develop strengths which may not lie in traditional academics. The following special courses allow students to express their talents and explore interests which may serve them later in life as occupations or vocations. Brehm students are usually able to take at least one special subject per school year. In addition, students may participate in recreational activities after school which develop their strengths and interests.
Fine Arts: The mission of the Fine Arts Department is to foster mastery of the basic art fundamentals, develop an appreciation for a variety of artists and art forms, strengthen problem solving skills, and facilitate use of art as a vehicle to express emotions and creativity. Our intent is to nurture and expand the inherent creativity of students whether art be a therapeutic outlet or lead to a vocational pursuit.
Brehm Preparatory School’s Fine Arts Department consists of course electives in Sculpture, General Art, and Photography, Art and Computer Technology (PACT). Students generally work on concepts covered in a high school arts curriculum which are consistent with the National Standards for Visual Arts Education in both content and processes.
Although the art forms may vary, the basic elements of art including composition, color, line, texture, form and design are integral components of the PACT, Sculpture, and General Art classes. Students are not separated into sections based on their developmental level, artistic abilities, or year in school. Therefore, a wide range of skill levels is often the norm in any given class.
The Fine Arts Department often collaborates on a number of school projects such as the Lights Fantastic Parade float, theatre set design, Prom decorations, and yearbook production. For example, the sculpture classes design and construct the float for the annual Carbondale holiday parade. The art classes are involved in making costumes and painting props for the float while the PACT classes document the process through photography and film. Instructors from each course meet on a monthly basis to discuss individual students, plan campus-wide art happenings, and schedule visits to local art galleries.
Teachers use various assessment methods for measuring progress and determining mastery of techniques. Each instructor employs rubrics for several classroom assignments. Portfolios, group critiques, checklists and self-assessments are other forms used in evaluating work. A select number of students must also meet the criteria for entering pieces in the annual regional high school art competition. Helping students to evaluate their work through questioning is done on a daily basis.
We are fortunate at Brehm to have a variety of technology applications which are utilized by all art classes and provide students with tools that allow them to explore, visualize, and represent concepts. Computer and photo technology in Photoshop, InDesign, Digital Imaging and Illustrator are core components of the PACT classes, as is proficiency in the use of digital cameras, scanners, and green screens. In the sculpture classes, safety and skill in using the lathe, bandsaw, kiln, soldering gun, blacksmithing equipment, and various power tools are crucial. The general art classes become familiarized with silkscreen equipment, heat waxing for Batik, furniture restoration tools, and overhead projectors for image enlargement. The student laptops aid in accessing information on artists and images of their work, as well as movie-making, tutorials, I-photo and architecture design programs.
A variety of instructional methods is employed in the arts program — mixing required assignments, group projects, and independent work. Assignments are modified, if needed, to meet the needs of students. Individualized instruction is a core component in the Brehm arts program due to the wide range of skill levels within any given class. Advanced students have the opportunity to plan independent projects, arrange extra studio time, and have ongoing dialogue and feedback with instructors. A Brehm blog designed for students, a scrap metal environmental sculpture, and refurbished chairs for a senior’s apartment are just a few examples of recent independent work. Students who perform at a less independent level are also afforded the opportunity to explore personal interests through their art. A young man who loves drawing animals was given the time and support to create an animal alphabet set of playing cards. He learned to scan his drawings, manipulate size, and experiment with fonts to create a product meaningful to him. It is our belief that the opportunity to help students uncover and explore their personal interests is equally as important as simply mastering art techniques.
Drama: Brehm students put on a fantastic play each year with the help of our talented directors. Students discover new talents, sharpen their existing talents, and learn to work well as a team. The school play is just one more example of how Brehm is the place for students to shine.
In most schools, students with learning disabilities can’t find the courage to try out for a play, or they don’t believe they have a chance at getting cast. At Brehm, where students feel comfortable around other students with similar issues, the extraordinary happens regularly.
Students with dyslexia, for example, develop great confidence, wonderful stage presence, and the ability to wow an audience. Students who like to be on stage can focus on character development and story, while those who prefer to be back stage can help with the creation of sets and other aspects of the production. Sets are created with the assistance of art classes and wood shop, and the plays showcase drama, dance, singing, and many other types of artistic expression.
Past plays have included Wishful Thinking, Pirates of the Great Lakes, An Actor’s Nightmare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and A Saturday Night Live Review. It’s a powerful thing to watch students work so hard and receive so much positive attention for their efforts. Bravo! Working together and supporting each other is the key to pulling off a great Brehm event every year.
Physical Education: In our perpetual search to meet the individual needs of our students, Brehm staff recognize the importance of health and physical fitness. Improved personal fitness can make one be healthier, and feel better about oneself. Physical Education and Health classes are designed to help students make wise choices regarding exercise, diet, nutrition, hygiene, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sexual activity. By promoting a healthy lifestyle through encouraging, modeling, and educating, we hope to help our students become physically fit and avoid future fitness problems.
Consistent participation in a regularly scheduled Physical Education and Health class is the primary goal of the Physical Education Department. All students whose schedules permit are scheduled for a PE class which meets each day for 48 minutes. Student fitness levels are assessed using observation, data from student files, anecdotal information from parents, student self-reporting, and testing developed by the teacher. The smaller class size allows the teacher to constantly monitor, encourage, redirect, and guide students to design a workout program, set goals, and have fun. Frequent informal discussion with each student allows the teacher to fine tune a plan for optimum personal fitness. The strengths, weaknesses, and interests of the students give valuable information for planning activities. Specific concepts in physical education are explained, modeled, and used as student readiness allows.
Student vocabulary is enhanced with use of terminology such as muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, percentage of body fat, agility, balance, coordination, power, reaction time, speed, training effect, specificity, frequency, duration, and intensity.
Feedback shared from other areas of program is always appreciated. Administration, nursing, recreation, dorm staff, kitchen staff, and other athletics all provide useful information that can be beneficial to the students’ workout program.
Health: The Illinois State Board of Education requires all students to take a semester of Health before graduating. Brehm staff feels this is an extremely important class for high school students and attempts are made to schedule Health class into their freshman or sophomore year. The course requires certification in the area of health with which we comply. Students are assessed regularly on topics covered in class through visual media, hands-on projects, demonstrations, and class discussions. Major topics covered are wellness and total health, conflict resolution, preventing violence, nutrition, substance abuse, wellness and body systems, sexually transmitted diseases, and parenting skills. Health students can be seen carting around custom-designed “flour babies” near the end of each semester.
Real World Prep (RWP): The Illinois State Board of Education requires all students to take a quarter of consumer education. Brehm offers a RWP class that covers consumer education the first semester and career exploration and independent living skills the second semester. The consumer education portion of the course is designed to enable students to recognize the role they play as consumers in our economy and to develop personal economic decision making competencies. The students are taught about good management of personal business affairs. Topics include consumer law, banking services, credit loans, credit card fraud, installment buying, budgeting, housing, informed and skillful buying, consumer protection agencies, and the role of business and government in our economy.
The focus second semester is on career exploration and independent living skills. Students take interest inventories to determine what their likes and dislikes are related to career skills. They then select a career area to research and design a presentation for the other class members. Independent living skills are achieved through units on cooking. This takes students through planning, preparation, budgeting, time management, and sampling the end product.
Speech Class: Speech class covers many aspects of communication and public speaking. Students learn about the basics of communication, including nonverbal signals, how impressions are created, and the criteria for competent public speaking. The class uses modern technology to help students engage in learning the concepts. Students develop speeches using outlining rubrics and technology they have learned in other classes, and practice them with the built-in video cameras and Photobooth software on their Macbooks. Assessments are conducted through traditional quizzes and tests over content, as well as video clips and several presentations to the class.
Foreign Language: Many four-year colleges require two years of foreign language credit and some will not permit waivers for students with learning disabilities. Due to the small student census at Brehm, we have the capacity to offer just one foreign language. Brehm offers Spanish One and Two as electives. The ability to read, speak, and write Spanish is taught along with understanding the culture. While a foreign language is not always easily grasped by students with language-based learning disabilities, some students excel when provided multi-sensory teaching techniques. The Spanish courses use a variety of teaching strategies including constant review, slower presentation, peer tutoring, and cooperative group work. These strategies can be paired with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic methodologies as fits the student profiles. Ongoing assessments help the instructor individualize instruction as needed.
Driver’s Education: Obtaining a driver’s license is a mark of accomplishment for most teenagers. Brehm feels that it is important to provide students with as many opportunities as possible that will help students be independent and mainstreamed into society. Being able to transport oneself to work and recreational activities is a life skill that we want our students to acquire.
The Driver’s Education course is taught by a certified driver’s education teacher. The course focuses on the fundamental concepts of rules of the road, car control, and defensive driving skills. Students first participate in classroom hours that teach the rules of the road through readings, classroom discussion, and homework in preparation for taking the Illinois state driver’s permit test. If they pass, they are able to begin logging driving hours behind the wheel of the driver’s education car with the instructor. Students get additional practice using a simulator, and driving hours must be logged with parents over breaks and the summer. Brehm follows Illinois state requirements regarding class hours and on-the-road driving.
Because Brehm’s mission is to empower students with learning disabilities, the entire program is designed to provide instruction and supports that attend to their multifarious needs. All components of program discussed in other sections have been developed to accomplish the Brehm mission through holistic synergy with one another. However in addition to the traditional skeletal structure of a school, Brehm has an overlay of courses, processes, supports, and services that have emerged and are constantly morphing to meet the diverse needs of each student. These unique supports function in the Brehm program as tendons and muscles do in a body: they connect the skeletal components of our school and make them work for our students. They help students move beyond their disabilities to successfully navigate the world by applying their strengths in a way that will minimize their weaknesses. That is the intent of this richly dense overlay of finely-tailored, continually evolving supports which we believe is unique to Brehm.
Learning Cognition: The Learning Cognition Department’s goal is to provide students with a knowledge of how the brain works and how its many functions impact all areas of their personal, academic, and professional lives. Students are guided to gain insight into brain function, how their disabilities impact their learning, and then to acquire strategies to succeed despite these obstacles. The classes offered within the department provide the structure and scaffolding needed to help students throughout their secondary and post-secondary education. Students work on these skills throughout their high school experience. Reinforcement of skills is provided within the curriculum of their core academic subjects and within the residential component of the school.
The Learning Cognition Department offers a progression of classes that build upon one another. Students are usually scheduled to take these courses in the order established by Brehm, though students who enter in later years can start at any level based on individual needs. Review within each class can give them a foundation on which to build. Middle school students are offered Learning Cognition Art which lays a foundation of personal exploration into likes and dislikes; strengths and weaknesses. As students enter high school, they have the opportunity to take Learning Cognition, Executive Functioning, College Strategies/College Study Strategies, and Real World Prep. Brehm graduation requirements include at least one credit from the Learning Cognition curricula. Student course selection is determined by each student’s academic, cognitive, and personal profile and individualized educational plan in conjunction with transcript reviews as they relate to the Illinois State Standards. However, due to the nature of our students and their disabilities, students are encouraged to take the full progression of Learning Cognition to best support them and their learning needs.
The Learning Cognition Department has general objectives which faculty strive to provide for students with the Learning Cognition curricula. First, teachers provide direct instruction in the area of brain function and development so that students can link this information to their own brains. Second, teachers use varied techniques to encourage students to view their own learning disabilities in terms of traditional brain development and how their own brains connect information. Both of these points are addressed in the LC-Art and Learning Cognition curricula. Discussion of rights of students with learning disabilities is also addressed in these classes. Students then move into Executive Functioning coursework which focuses on practical strategy assimilation as it relates to their current daily life skills and academic performance. Focus is on planning, organization, task initiation/time management, response inhibition/flexibility/emotional regulation, working memory, goal-directed persistence, and metacognition strategies. As students learn these strategies, additional practice and further strategy development is taught as it pertains to college and adult life experience in College Strategies/Study Strategies and Real World Prep.
Brehm’s mission drives the Learning Cognition Department’s goal to give students a process-driven curriculum to aid them throughout their lives. A direct emphasis is placed on students‘ abilities to identify problems, brainstorm possible solutions, and make sound decisions based on what they have researched. In order to do this, students practice skills that directly relate to their specific learning disabilities and to their ability to focus, plan, organize, study, initiate tasks, schedule, set goals, and monitor progress. Differentiated instruction is used to accommodate all learners, with the goal of moving students from wherever they may be on the continuum of guided strategy usage to independence. Progress is related to Bloom’s taxonomy levels. Because this department focuses on problem solving and strategy implementation, students spend the most time working at critical thinking and application levels, though all levels are addressed.
Due to the process component of the department’s coursework, students are exposed to a variety of instructional methods with an emphasis placed on experiential learning. Courses incorporate a mixture of lecture, discussion, cooperative group learning, small group and individual brainstorming, note taking, assistive technology, visualization, strategy experimentation, and written expression. All teachers incorporate homework, projects, and board work. Tests and quizzes are also a component, but most assessment is based on observation and generalization of strategy usage within the class and across the rest of their academic and residential settings. A variety of product guides are given to students to help guide them in completion of projects and walk them through the use of specific strategies. Modeling is a particular emphasis as most of our students learn best when taught from multiple modalities. Every teacher of Learning Cognition attempts to meet the needs of students with different learning styles by providing instruction through aural means, visual examples, modeling, and kinesthetic practice.
The Learning Cognition Department faculty collaborates with each other, other academic departments, and residential departments to promote the generalization, use, and practice of skills across all areas. This use of taught strategies promotes imprinting for each student so that they can take these strategies with them after graduation. Staff attend many conferences throughout the year on various topic areas from traditional reading and writing instruction to study skill method delivery and technology. The Learning Cognition faculty also serves in different teaming groups of students to help direct not only academic strategies and goals but also social and emotional goals and strategies. Faculty members have developed the curricula for this department through their own research and experience with students with learning disabilities and their needs. The Executive Functioning curriculum, in particular, has been entirely developed by Brehm faculty members to meet the needs of students with deficits in this area. Within the context of the curriculum, instruction is differentiated to the needs of each student.
Advisement: Advisors understand they have a duty in realizing a holistic program that addresses student needs in a family model. They can rarely say, “It’s not my job,” for their role extends from the big picture to the fine details — from hosting birthday parties to presenting at due process hearings. The job of advisement at Brehm responds to the unique needs of the student and family, but always includes these three components: supporting the student, communicating with family and staff about the student, and maintaining IEP documentation. From the student perspective, the advisor acts as a parent on the academic side of program — providing daily oversight and nurturance — helping them feel comfortable enough to take on personal challenges, meet Brehm expectations, and ultimately become empowered.
An advisor is a faculty member who has been assigned three to five students as advisees each year. Advisement takes place during established and unestablished times. The student academic schedule includes advisement for seven minutes every morning and 15 minutes at the close of the school day. Every other week, advisement is an entire 48-minute class period. However, given the multiple outlined and inferred responsibilities, advisor activities often stretch beyond the time frames given into plan periods, lunch, and after school.
The primary role of the advisor is to understand and support advisees from a holistic perspective, taking into account their academic, social, and emotional characteristics. The advisor becomes a specialist on them, knowing their history, diagnoses, disabilities, likes, dislikes, strengths, abilities, recommendations from other professionals, and so on. The advisor takes time to get to know the student beyond the testing and paperwork, and advocates for the student in various contexts. A detailed and deep knowledge of the advisee helps the entire program conduct behavior analysis-type problem solving; the advisor may be aware of antecedents causing issues for a student who may not yet be able to self advocate.
The advisor is challenged to keep up with numerous sources of information in order to maintain a complete picture about advisees that they in turn may need to communicate to students, parents, teachers, administration, and residential staff. Student documentation begins with neuropsychological testing and other file documents. Information accumulates as testing and observations occur. Behavior reports and processing sessions may take place daily with rapidly changing student status and development of interventions. Other information, such as medical, psychological, and psychiatric, may not be disseminated due to confidentiality issues.
The advisor, in tandem with Brehm staff , teaches the student things about him or herself, about life, and about Brehm which may fall outside regular curricular teachings. The advisor may be the first to explain to a student something as momentous as the exact nature of his or her disability and its accompanying difficulties, or something as mundane as how to apply deodorant — and why. Clarification of Brehm expectations and events is often up to the advisor. He or she may guide the student through various processes required for special accomplishments, such as improving tier levels through writing a proposal, or doing something outside the Brehm program.
Academic support is perhaps the most clearly delineated role of the advisor, including oversight of student homework; development, implementation, monitoring of academic goals; and participation in team meetings. In the morning, the advisor checks to see whether homework was done and brought to school. In afternoon advisement, each student’s “homework planner” is checked to determine if assignments are clearly written and understood, and whether priorities have been set. The advisor may connect with teachers for any missing pieces. When students are out of program for any length of time and homework must be sent, the advisor is the go-between.
Advisors help students track grade progress and homework completion through the VeraCross database system, and follow up at quarter’s end by stepping students through their grades and teacher comments. A portfolio containing work samples, goals, photographs, and other student-records is maintained in advisement. Advisors shepherd their advisees through various executive functioning, self management, and transition processes to help them navigate their days and lives. While students are often enrolled in an executive functioning class, advisors are well positioned with their twice-a-day contact to address and follow through on unique, real needs, and reinforce individual strategies. Functions include time management, planning, goal setting, emotional regulation, etc. In practical application, this can range from the basic homeroom question, “Do you have a pencil?” — or today’s vernacular — “Is your computer charged?” to, “You need to send your Mom a birthday card, how far in advance should you buy it?” Advisors are given the job of making sure students are using computers correctly, including a daily restart or shutdown. Use of time management and its infrastructure, such as reading a calendar, can occur in advisement. Advisors also track and help students maintain the organization system for homework and their backpacks. Advisors have often found themselves completing tasks related to a student’s post-high school transition — college or job placement — and assisting the family in the myriad steps of making that transition.
The advisor acts as the case manager for Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs). A Brehm IEP is created for those students not placed with a home district IEP. The Brehm IEP is captured in writing on a web-hosted database system called VeraCross. The advisor culls the student paper files for data within evaluation reports and the application; interviews student and parents; and enters information on the IEP form, which becomes accessible to all Brehm staff. For district-placed students, the advisor is integral in collecting and presenting information for their home district IEP meetings relative to academic goals and school performance. Depending on family course of action, the advisor may be asked to present information at a due process hearing.
Advisors act as liaisons between the student, the rest of Brehm, and the family. Communication with parents and guardians occurs at a time and manner preferred by parents, usually weekly through email or phone call. Parents are apprised of the student’s general academic and emotional status, current needs, changes, and the like. Advisors often fill parents in on Brehm processes, such as to whom to send travel information, and important events. Sometimes they help parents understand the nature of their child’s disability and suggest resources. For example, parents are referred to the appropriate components of program when medical, therapeutic, or behavior issues are in question.
Brehm values the importance of relationship building with students. Advisors exemplify this core principle. Beyond academic oversight, social and emotional support are provided by the advisor who may stock the student’s favorite juice; remember and acknowledge birthdays with a card and a big cookie; take the student out to lunch to celebrate successes; bring them a stuffed animal if sick in the infirmary, and generally be a consistent presence in their day. The student should come to see the advisor as an ally who understands, cares about, and advocates for him or her. After graduation of a son, one parent reflected that an advisor had been like a “co-parent” in the student’s four years at Brehm. In this way, the advisor fulfills an important role in the family model Brehm strives to follow.