University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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Summer LEAP Clinic Hopes to Raise
Students' and Teachers' Expectations


 MAILED:  July 7, 2004

EAU CLAIRE - Sixty-seven Eau Claire area students are attending this year's Learning Enhancement and Progression Clinic, a collaborative program of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire special education department and the Eau Claire Area School District that has been running for more than 20 years.

The LEAP clinic provides instruction in reading, mathematics, written expression, spelling, study skills and social skills to K-12 students who need some extra assistance. The students meet from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday, and this year the six-week program runs June 22 through July 29 at Roosevelt Elementary School.

Special Education Professor Dr. Vicki Snider, who is co-directing the LEAP clinic with Laura O'Keefe, a special education lecturer, said that while one of their goals is to produce an immediate, noticeable increase in the reading level and overall academic achievement of the students attending the clinic, another one of their goals can have even more lasting, long-term consequences.

"We really want to increase everyone's expectations concerning what these students and their teachers can achieve," said Snider.

Snider believes that when students don't perform well in their traditional classrooms because of learning disabilities or other problems, the most problematic result can be the diminishing expectations of both the students and their teachers. In other words, success can breed more success, while failure tends to breed more failure.

Snider said she and her colleagues employ several techniques to help raise everyone's expectations in the six short weeks that the summer clinic operates.

First, the 25 UW-Eau Claire graduate and undergraduate students who are teaching at the clinic this year, all of whom are either majoring or minoring in special education, use an intense, research-based training technique known as Direct Instruction. Snider said that although DI is somewhat controversial among educators, she believes it has been shown to be a particularly successful technique when used with this population of students.

"In general, you have to work a little harder and have a more structured, consistently interactive strategy for attracting and maintaining the attention of most of these students," said Snider.

Second, Snider said the clinic stresses collaborative leadership, which is part of the conceptual framework for UW-Eau Claire's School of Education. One way they stress this concept is by employing alumni coaches - UW-Eau Claire graduates and area teachers who are proficient in the use of DI and can help the clinic's student teachers to learn the challenging technique more quickly and use it more consistently.

"The coaches model. They jump in when things aren't going well," Snider said. "They help manage behaviors. They help assess whether or not students are appropriately placed. They give advice on how to get kids to do their best."

After three days of the clinic, Snider said, she found that the groups who had coaches with them every day feel more positive, the kids are more successful, and the clinic teachers feel more successful too.

Aimee Hintz, a graduate student from Custer, agrees that the coaches are extremely helpful.

"They are constantly providing us with little hints for making our lessons run smoothly," Hintz said.

This is the first year Snider has asked the coaches to commit to staying with the clinic for three of the six weeks. She tries to move the seven coaches around so that all of the dozen or so instructional groups can have coaches at some time during the summer.

A second way the clinic stresses collaborative leadership is by encouraging teachers to work together in ways that are uncommon during the regular school year. Snider said the teachers are in teams for many of the classes, with graduate students typically taking the lead. Teachers in the special education graduate program are required to keep a journal documenting their leadership activities, so this program helps them meet their degree requirements. The teachers also collaborate to write a progress summary that goes home to parents at the end of the summer, and since LEAP students may have three different teachers each morning, accurate and timely communication between colleagues is important.

"We've learned how to collaborate with other professionals, reflect on our teaching practices and develop academic motivational plans," said Hintz. "I've learned a great deal over the past five days and can only imagine all that I will learn in the five remaining weeks."

Snider noted that this year's program attracted more older students than usual, with approximately 15 students between the 5th and 9th grades. The children are grouped according to abilities, rather than grade levels. Hintz said she thought that might be a problem, but she's found that the children really do not see the difference because they come from different schools and know few other students at the clinic.

"Overall, I feel the LEAP clinic is a wonderful learning experience for both the teachers and the students," Hintz said.

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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 201
(715) 836-4741
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Updated: July 6, 2004