School explores new way of getting students extra help

Photos by Kayla Renie/The Herald
Ireland Elementary Learning Lab teacher Lisa Mann goes over the alphabet with kindergarten students today at the school. The Learning Lab is a half-hour, small group instruction period where students work on skills that are coming up in the regular classroom lessons.


IRELAND — Walking through the halls of Ireland Elementary, you’ll no longer see students in the hallways receiving additional instruction from the school’s instructional assistants. Now, there’s a classroom dedicated to helping students get a leg up.

Dubbed Learning Lab, the room houses a new intervention program of the same name that focuses on front-loading, or teaching lessons to children who struggle before the same lessons come up in class.
“It is a time when we pre-teach skills the teacher will teach in the classrooms,” Principal Shannon Bauer said. “It’s a flip of remediation.”

The school modeled the Learning Lab off a similar program at Brownsburg Community Schools in Brownsburg and launched it this year. It works like this: When a class gets ready to begin learning a new skill, the teacher administers an assessment test. That test determines which students may need a little extra help, and those students attend Learning Lab. In Learning Lab, instructional assistants work with students on lesson plans prepared by the teachers to provide an introduction to the lessons. First through fifth grades each have a half hour for math and a half hour for language arts daily, and kindergarten has a single half hour.

The classes are fluid, so students who attend Learning Lab for math may not for language arts, and if a classroom teacher determines a student is doing well in the classroom, the student may stop attending Learning Lab for the time being. Likewise, if students start struggling with a concept, they can begin attending Learning Lab.

Instructional assistants Lisa Mann, Jill Peter, Sandy Ruckriegel and Shanelle Best run the Learning Lab, and they love it.

Ireland Elementary Learning Lab teacher Sandy Ruckriegel goes over reading exercises with her first-grade students today at the school. The Learning Lab is a half-hour, small group instruction period where kids work on skills that are coming up in the regular classroom lessons.

“We now have a home,” Peter said, referencing the classroom.

Having a room dedicated to their work is a huge improvement over having to meet with struggling students in the hallway, they explained. In the hallways, students can feel like they’re on display as their peers walk past, and there are a lot more distractions.

Another improvement is the increased collaboration between the instructional assistants and teachers. In the past, the assistants worked on classroom work with the students, but they didn’t have the teacher’s lesson plans or meet regularly with teachers. Under the Learning Lab model, the teachers and instructional assistants meet often to discuss students’ progress and the upcoming lessons. With the Learning Lab, they explained, the system is more consistent and more intentional.

Although students have always received extra help when they needed it, the Learning Lab is a new model of getting students help, and it seems to be making a big difference for the students.

“They can raise their hands in class and say, ‘We heard this,’” Mann said.

Learning Lab gives students the confidence to participate in class, and encourages them, meeting them where they are and helping them learn in a way they understand.

“We’re always encouraging,” Peters said. “Every child learns at a different pace and differently. We stress to them that it’s not a bad thing to be coming to the Learning Lab. It’s a good thing.”

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