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After my first book on micro-schools was published, I knew I wanted to spend some time testing concepts and assumptions I had about educating twice-exceptional children without the pressure of running an entire program. At the time, I was curious about how one might meld the best of one-on-one learning with whole group instruction. A number of my students attended one-on-one programs like Fusion Academy, a pricey, chain private school that pairs students with a teacher for one-on-one private education. However, I also knew from experience that what my students craved most was the relational environment of a classroom along with a highly individualized curriculum.
I began working one-on-one as an education coach in Oakland, CA, for a handful of students in 2016. I have a particular style when working one-on-one that’s based in partnership. This is distinct from the “I do, We do, You do” instructional method, in which I might show a child how I add two numbers, then work in partnership with the student to perform the same function, and end the lesson with the student performing the task on their own. This method of teaching has its merits, but falls down quite often when working with twice-exceptional children.
Rather, the entire session is “We do,” so as to eliminate immediate reliance on working memory and decrease performance anxiety in favor of skill acquisition. This style of working one-on-one was a hit! I saw increased self-efficacy when it came to learning math and watched my students become proficient at skills they’d previously written off as useless.
At the same time, I began leading small group, hands-on STEAM classes once a week with elementary-aged children. (STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math; it’s a highly hands-on educational approach that fosters creativity, critical thinking, and skill acquisition.)
My idea was to set up a class series that operated a lot like a discovery children’s museum might, with a central theme and loosely defined experiments, crafts, and personal game creations that demonstrated that theme. The structure of these classes was very much based on my Montessori training for lower elementary-aged children. We investigated everything from surface tension in water—by holding contests to see who could add the most drops of water to the head of a penny—to playing deduction games about place value.
More than anything, I wanted these classes to be a successful group learning experience, something many of my students had never experienced due to their cognitive profiles and the social and emotional challenges those created in the conventional classroom. These classes were private, but at an accessible price with very little barrier for participation.
The experience of planning and executing these opportunities inspired most of what Sunnyside Micro-School, the last micro-school I designed and launched, would be for that community.
Previously, I’ve written about “designing from the margins,” a design ethic that includes designing with and for people that are most severely impacted by an issue or societal flaw. This includes twice-exceptional children, as they are dialectical—they present as a contradiction—with advanced skills and abilities in some realms while lagging in others when compared to other children their same chronological age. This is not meant as a pejorative, though. All of life exists is dialectical; it’s part of what makes life beautiful and fascinating. But it does make traditional schooling—or schooling that is not designed from the margins—exceptionally challenging for twice-exceptional students.
In my last post, I asked, “How might we let the experience of these unique students inform how we design educational experiences and learning environments?” Sunnyside was my answer to that question.
If you’d like to learn more about Sunnyside’s foundational values, culture, and intricacies, subscribe to the paid tier of this substack. You’ll have access to more information about the nuts and bolts of micro-school design, paid subscriber chats, and more.
Thanks so much for explaining the design process of Sunnyside in more detail. You are so right, the one to one model works but only to a point and then the missing social piece becomes an issue. I love hearing about how you put it all together!