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Support Struggling Learners- Schools Attuned in NYC

The five-year plan of the Schools Attuned® Program, introduced by the NYC Department of Education as a measure for NCLB (No Child Left Behind), will come to its end shortly. The 35-hour workshop for teachers, however, will continue to be provided by Instructional Support specialists in New York. It enjoys a good reputation for a number of reasons: 1) It can be applied not only in special education, but also in general areas; 2) It is not a method, but a philosophy; and 3) It is based on neurological research data.

I have made three visits to New York from Tokyo to learn more about the Schools Attuned program. I offer private instruction for students struggling with school learning. I often wondered if it was just because of their own problems that my students couldn't succeed in school or if it was also partly because of the teachers. And if so, shouldn't teaching methods be modified? It was the School Attuned program that answered my questions.

The teachers participating in the Schools Attuned learn a lot from it. They learn how to discover the Strengths and Weaknesses of each student through lectures on video, various activities and discussion based on Neurodevelopmental Constructs. They learn to analyze each student's learning profile, help the student to find appropriate study methods for themselves, and consider what kind of Intervention and Accommodation are necessary for the students. "Attune" here refers to fitting the lessons and the learning environment to the students, and helping the struggling students to learn better.

Then, how do the teachers participating in this training attune the school and classroom to students in actual situations? I visited two schools in Queens, NYC. Both schools actively integrate the philosophy of Schools Attuned under the initiative of the principal.

This year, all of the teachers of P.S. (public school) 166 have finished the Schools Attuned training. The philosophy of Schools Attuned as it has been applied so far has had a great influence on the way teachers teach and the way students learn. Now, rather than just "teaching subjects," teachers always teach the students how to learn. Also, they convey the philosophy that there is not only one way to learn, and that the most important thing is for students to learn in the way that is most suitable for them. Meanwhile, the students learn actively by adopting strategies that make full use of their Strength and compensate for their Weaknesses. For example, one student prepared special notes to write down new words, and another pasted small cards with arithmetic steps on her desk as a reminder while solving arithmetic problems.

Janet Farrell, the principal says, "Even if education managers lay down the law on teachers to make them change their teaching style, it never works. But participating in the Schools Attuned, teachers become aware of their teaching style and transform it for the better themselves." She says that since the school introduced School Attuned four years ago, the rate of students going into special education has decreased by 60%. As its reputation has spread, the number of students who come to the school from other school districts has been increasing year by year.
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The teachers of another school P.S.88 have also actively adopted the Schools Attuned program. In the K class, after the teacher read a story, the children drew pictures to depict the Strengths and Weaknesses of the main character, so they could think about their own Weakness. In the first grade class, children played a memory game in which they remember the seven objects a teacher put in the paper bag. In this way, students become aware of their learning style and strategies that will offset their weaknesses, thereby increasing their thinking about the learning experience. Of course, there are still students who can't keep up with school work. In that case, the teacher gathers information from the student's parents and other teachers, analyses the learning profile and discusses what strategy to use with the student. This is the process of how to "attune" students. If the situation still does not change, the issue is discussed in a PPT (Pupil Personal Team). Principal Linda China says, "A psychologist makes the decision to declare a student LD after teachers have done everything they can. It is the last resort. We rack our brains trying to figure out how we can guide students to learn and avoid categorizing them into special education." I was impressed with the way her words sum up the "Philosophy of Schools Attuned."


  • Articles that describe Schools Attuned and P.S166 and P.S.8 are posted on the CRN Japanese website.

  • For the more detailed information on the Schools Attuned Program, please refer to the website of the NPO, All Kinds of Minds® to provide this program: http://www.allkindsofminds.org/
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