It may seem obvious but the first thing we do before establishing a learning program is to find out about our young people as learners. This is a crucial step as the quality and effectiveness of our program depends on how well it meets their experiences, current life circumstances and goals.
Rather than using a ‘deficit model’ of needs analysis, where the learner needs to be fixed, Holy Spirit College staff use a strength-based approach. The approach bases the learning program on the young person’s skills, experience and strengths; thus fostering a sense of ownership and engagement by the young person. Our approach is often contrasting to the young person’s previous experiences and interactions with other learning institutions and government bodies such as the youth Justice and child protection systems; which can leave young people feeling completely disempowered and without value to the community.
The following are examples of the types of strength based questions used to develop a young person’s Individual Education Plan. The exact questions asked depends on the experiences and context of the young person.
- What are you good at?
- What are you proud of?
- What do you enjoy doing now or did you enjoy in the past?
- What are your dreams for the future? (in five years, in ten years etc)
- What are the most important priorities for you right now?
- What would you like to know more about? • When do you work best?
- Do you like working with others or prefer working alone?
- Do you like working on a computer?
- When you learn something new do you prefer to read instructions, have someone tell you how to do it, have someone show you how to do it or another way?
The Individual Education Plan brings together the goals, challenges and needs of each young person and maps out their learning journey from first engagement to achievement. The IEPs define concrete targets and outcomes and allow the young person to ‘own’ their learning pathway. Also the process of developing an IEP is a meaningful focus for building a relationship between the young person, the mentor and other support people. The IEPs form the foundation of the program design for both the individual young person and the general cohort; it is truly reflective of the needs, abilities and context of the specific group of young people attending Holy Spirit College. The features of the IEPs are, they are:
- Collaborative: the young person is directly involved in creating the IEP and understands the purpose of the plan
- Holistic: the plan reflects the specific needs and support requirements of the young person and this information is shared with relevant support staff
- Active: the IEP is a working document and is regularly updated according to progress reviews and changes in circumstances
- Recognises previous experience: the plan takes account of previous experience and learning
- SMART goals: the plan includes the five elements of SMART goal setting
- Challenge: Learning targets and time frames are realistic but also challenge young people and keep them focused on achieving milestones
- Pathways: The plan maps the entire pathway from the starting point to the achievement of short and long term goals
- Scheduling: appropriate time is allocated to complete the plan
- Cross-referenced: the course plans and IEPs reflect each other
While the learning programs include a diverse range of skills such as art, music, cooking, textiles, outdoor education and integrated projects such as garden development, the dominant focus is on the foundations of language, literacy, numeracy, technology and life skills as these skills are particularly significant in promoting independence, empowerment and community connections.
Initially, foundation skills such as literacy and numeracy aren’t made explicit but rather are embedded within an 'interest' based topics. An example of this would be a cooking class which requires the learner to use weights and measures, set temperatures and times, take notes and possibly research further cooking ideas. The educators design the initial learning stages by “stealth”, with the young people’s interest at the forefront and the learning outcomes seemingly occurring by default.