The Learning Cognition Department is comprised of all members of the faculty and SLPs who are assigned as advisors to a small group of students. During a period of advisement each day, students are presented with a curriculum that teaches them how the brain works and how its functioning impacts all areas of their personal, academic, and professional lives. Students are guided to gain insight into the impacts of their learning differences, to implement executive functioning strategies to lessen the adverse effects and to reach into their strengths to build upon their successes.
Through the learning cognition and executive functioning advisement curriculum, students are delivered 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. To do this, students practice skills that directly relate to their specific learning disabilities and their ability to focus, plan, organize, study, initiate tasks, schedule, set goals, and monitor progress. Differentiated instruction is used to accommodate all learners, to move students from wherever they may be on the continuum of guided strategy use 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. Advisors pull from the curriculum which lessons and activities work best for each student and collaborate to add to that curriculum to address needs as they arise.
LEARNING DISABILTY PROGRAM
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.
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.