Development Approach to Learning
At Gateway, we firmly believe in the concept of neuroplasticity. With the appropriate interventions, all students can learn, and there is no ceiling or plateau to their learning capacity. Given this belief, we select activities that are developmentally appropriate. We draw from developmental theorists such as Piaget and Vygotsky, to structure learning activities that are appropriate for a child’s age and abilities. The circles in the diagram refer to how we view learning. These circles are not mutually exclusive, but rather interconnected. Each helps facilitate the other, and for learning to take place, all the areas need to be addressed. Learning at Gateway begins with the body. Children first need to understand themselves, their bodies, and regulate themselves in order to learn. This is sensory-motor development. On this sensory-motor foundation, is built social-emotional, cognitive and language development. Executive function is the control system of the brain - it helps the child navigate through the different skills in their repertoire and determine what to employ and when. It helps one organize, plan, identify what to focus on, what cognitive strategies to use, and guides how to respond in different situations. Finally, learning is dependent on mindset - If I believe I can learn, I will. Is my mindset one that values the process of learning, or only the outcome? At Gateway, we encourage our children to focus on process-learning, highlighting that success comes from trying, rather than from getting something right.
Observation- and Data-Based Teaching
Data-driven decision-making forms the basis of teaching at Gateway and guides all instructional practices. At Gateway, we do not have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model. But rather, we document our observations of what a child is doing, to better interpret how they learn, and tailor our educational practices accordingly. What a child does gives insight into how they are thinking and learning, and we let these actions, rather than our assumptions, guide us on how to work effectively with a child. Teachers at Gateway work hard to be both, observers and teachers, making detailed notes of what they see, and reflect on how to best support the child
Being a school for children with difficulties, it is easy to only see what needs to be "fixed" in a child. Many of our students who have joined us when they are older, cite their difficulties and areas in which they have experienced failure. We firmly believe at Gateway, that each individual comes to the table with strengths and it is these strengths that can be harnessed to help a child work on their difficulties. At Gateway, we encourage children to reflect on what they are good at, to see the strengths in other children, and brainstorm how they can use their strengths to support an area of need.
Students at Gateway often struggle with regulating physical and social behaviours, making connections from one experience to another, and using their past experiences to predict what will happen in a situation (i.e., transferring learning). Physical, social and academic structures at Gateway help scaffold learning for students, allowing them to feel safe in their environment and take risks. Structures at Gateway explicitly teach students to be "just right" before a class begins, or outline for students the expected behaviours when conversing with their peers. In academics, structures guide students in how to plan, organize and check their work.
Learning in a Group
At Gateway, learning takes place in groups. Students learn from, and with, each other. Students who come to Gateway often struggle to work effectively with their peers and nurture and maintain meaningful relationships. Social skills are addressed explicitly, as well as brought into all classes, so students learn and practice them in context. Class groupings at Gateway are flexible and change based on the needs of the students. Students begin their day in their homerooms, which are mixed-ability groups with similarly aged peers. In homerooms, peers act as role models for each other, and support each other with different aspects of learning. Students also move to ability-matched groups for foundational skills such as language and math. Here, teachers get an opportunity to work explicitly on target skills in a group environment.
Our end goal at Gateway is for students to become effective problem-solvers, engaging in critical thinking and reflection. We build problem-solving into all activities throughout the day. The younger students first begin to problem-solve with their bodies, learning how to navigate themselves through space, manoeuvring through obstacle courses, or maintaining personal space in a line. Older students apply these same skills to more complex tasks - developing the executive function skills to ask and answer ‘why’ questions, reflecting at the end of a task about what worked and what they might need to change, and making note of other students’ strategies that have worked or not worked and why.