Prospect Academy's Approach to Labels
Labels only tell us part of a learner's story. Our goal is to meet our students where they are, regardless of diagnosis or label, and build a toolbox to allow them to achieve what is possible for them.
Labels have long been used to identify and sort different types of learners and their ascribed attributes. Labels can be a diagnosis, a learning style, or self-identification. While labels can be a useful shorthand to begin to understand a student, at Prospect Academy, we do not use any label to exclusively inform us on how we approach a child or their programming. We recognize the rich complexity of our students and seek to gain a deeper understanding of each student and their goals, far deeper than a label can provide.
Language is important
We want to help students develop the tools to self-advocate and also the tools to know that they can learn and develop the areas that they would like to with the right kind of practice and support.
First, we know how important language is for everything. We want to help students develop positive terminology and a growth mindset around their skills. We don’t want a label or diagnosis to become a limiting factor for them just based on the language that surrounds it. Perhaps language they’ve heard used in other contexts - “well, they have dyslexia so they’ll always have trouble with reading”, or “children with autism might not develop close friendships”. These are ways that language with a label can limit students and their families. We want to help students develop the tools to self-advocate and also the tools to know that they can learn and develop the areas that they would like to with the right kind of practice and support. We use academic and social-emotional skill work to overcome this issue with the language of diagnosis.
Labels do not tell us your child's full story
We want to really get to know our students and understand their strengths and areas of growth in context.
Second, we don’t adhere strictly to labels is because we do not want to treat or
or be prescriptive based on the label with a canned set of accommodations or instructional techniques. Rather, we want to really get to know our students and understand their strengths and areas of growth in context. To do this, we use detailed evidence-based assessments. We also observe students during everyday interactions and use both evidence-based assessments and observations to zero-in on exactly what skills students have and what skills they need to learn. We use a framework that breaks down skills into their different layers, and we peel back the layers for our students until we uncover the deepest layer that needs to become fluent. We then work with students to help them strengthen that deep layer (the most foundational layer). Strengthening this foundational layer then has a domino effect on other, more complex skills that depend on it.
As a simple example, we wouldn’t expect a child to be able to throw a baseball if they didn’t have the strength to lift their arm or the range of motion to throw. So first we would work on increasing arm strength and range of motion before we work on throwing a baseball. AND not all children who can’t yet throw a baseball have the same underlying skill acquisition needs! So the same prescriptive curriculum or instructional techniques don’t work for all. Often, what happens for our students is that grade level standards force schools and teachers to have kids “throw the baseball” even if they need to strengthen some underlying skills, and so kids are given accommodations and modifications to help them “throw the ball”. As a public school, Prospect Academy is subject to those same standards, however, we have fluency-based practice to help strengthen the foundational skills as quickly as possible, and we will continue to help kids get exposure to and practice the more complex skills like throwing the baseball, while they are working on strengthening the underlying skills. We want them to face any challenges up front and work on overcoming them, instead of going around them forever.
Our goal is to work with students and families to empower them to become observers, analyzers, and believers in their own skills. We partner with our students so they can take this growth mindset and analyzation to any context and apply it to new situations. Our goal is to meet our students where they are, regardless of diagnosis or label, and build a toolbox to allow them to achieve what is possible for them. And we find, more often than not, that what is possible is bigger and richer than any label can hold.