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Engaging All Georgia’s Readers


Teachers of young children at Marietta City Schools are finding that the instructional model designed for children with autism is having great results with all children. Social Emotional Engagement—Knowledge and Skills (SEE-KS) is a framework built around neuroscience-based instructional strategies that are improving student engagement. Partners from the Get Georgia Reading Campaign recently visited Marietta to meet the framework’s authors and to see the strategies in action.

Emily Rubin, director of the Educational Outreach Program for the Marcus Autism Center, co-developed SEE-KS with Jennifer Townsend, an educational consultant with expertise in social-emotional learning differences, including autism spectrum disorders. SEE-KS was initially envisioned as a tool for better serving the growing population of children with autism in general education classrooms. Since 2000, the rate of autism diagnoses has increased from one in every 150 children to one in every 68 children with one out of every 43 boys being diagnosed as on the autism spectrum.

Rubin, who is working with the Infant Toddler Community Outreach Program at the Marcus Autism Center and the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) to develop a SEE-KS implementation manual, introduced Campaign partners to the model. The Campaign partners also observed a SEE-KS coaching session between educators and school leaders from Cobb County Head Start, Marietta City Schools, and Cobb County Schools.

Rubin and her colleagues studied neuroscience and explored how children with autism learn with the goal of identifying strategies that educators could use to increase the social-emotional engagement of autistic children, but they quickly realized that these strategies were relevant for all children. As a result, SEE-KS embraces a universal design approach that helps educators embed social-emotional engagement strategies into the lesson plans they are already teaching.

“When we first started working with Emily Rubin, her work was focused on children with autism,” explained Marietta City Schools Superintendent Emily Lembeck. “But what we learned and what our schools, teachers, school board, and parents have embraced is that we are working with the Marcus Autism Center, but this work is about the needs of all children. We want to provide better learning environments for all our children, and that happens when we change the behaviors of the adults working with those children.”

SEE-KS tailors engagement strategies to the developmental stages of children who are not yet verbal, children who are beginning to use language, and children who have reached a conversational stage of discourse.

“Reading is a form of social communication that is high level,” said Rubin. “We read in order to hear what others have to say. We write as a way of sharing our thoughts with others. It’s all about social interaction. If we fuel children’s love of people and social engagement, we will fuel their interest in learning.”

Campaign partners watched videos of classroom activities to observe the teacher. Then coaches modeled an appreciative inquiry approach. They discussed the teacher’s goals for the activity, the effective instructional elements they saw, and possible next steps for continuing to increase the levels of student engagement.

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Educators participate in a SEE-KS coaching session in Marietta.

The appreciative inquiry approach focuses on what’s working in the classroom and what comes next. In this way, SEE-KS addresses what research shows about how adults best learn—through doing, coaching, mentoring, and staying focused on what’s possible rather than what’s wrong.

“There has been so much focus on academic measures that we sometimes forget about the social piece and the need for children to be excited about learning,” said Jeannie Watson, supervisor of preschool programs in Cobb County. “SEE-KS focuses on fueling that excitement for learning and it gets teachers excited about learning, too.”

In standard practice, SEE-KS uses web-based technology to enable teachers and school leaders to deliver this coaching across districts and across regions, forming a community of practice and making the program affordable and sustainable. SEE-KS is being promoted in 18 Georgia school districts. With Department of Public Health and Department of Early Care and Learning support, Babies Can’t Wait providers and childcare settings are also being trained in this approach to ensure that infants and toddlers receive the fuel of social engagement during the first years of life.

“We are in our second year with this project and we are very excited about it,” said Debbie Reagin, an education program specialist with GaDOE. “The universal design for learning approach helps every child, every teacher, and every climate. We have seen an amazing transition take place as a result of this work.”

Learn more about SEE-KS, and complement this information with Emily Rubin’s lightning talk from the 2015 Get Georgia Reading Community Action Summit. SEE-KS also complements PBIS. Read about a Georgia PBIS project currently underway.