The Diener Pyramid of Learning for the Whole Child is a comprehensive structure of learning that is the foundation of The Diener School and its success.

The 11 components of the pyramid are:

Focus & Foster a Whole Child with a Healthy Self Esteem Pyramid

Responsible Community Members

The Diener School emphasizes responsibility and community. Our first month at Diener is dedicated to learning how to be active, responsible Diener citizens. This culture permeates our community both within the school and outside of the school. In the past Diener students have visited nursing homes, sent packages abroad to soldiers, cleaned parks on Earth Day, collected and distributed food for a Manna food drive, written letters of gratitude to fire fighters and made snacks for dogs at the dog pound.

Responsibility is one of the many virtues we instill at Diener. We also focus on perseverance, diligence, creativity, kindness, humility, generosity and gratitude. Our students are well versed in these virtues and their meanings. Through games and activities, and of course through our social thinking curriculum, we instill in our students an awareness of virtues. We feel it is not only important for the Diener child to gain an understanding of the many gifts s/he has but to also find these virtues in others. Walking down the hall, visitors will often hear a Diener student saying, “Good job, thanks for being so cooperative,” and down another see a student congratulating another on hard work or diligence.

As part of our virtues curriculum, each year our older students spend the night at Camp Calleva. Upon his return, one student reported that he had to “detach” as he had never been away from his parents. Another said he used the “courage” virtue to push himself to try things that he had once been afraid to do. Finally, another reported that she used the “friendship” virtue to help support other students when they felt fearful.

Confident, Able Learners

No matter where a Diener student falls academically, we want our students to be confident, able learners. We want the Diener child to think meta-cognitively and build a sense of independence. The Diener teachers and staff want students to understand how they learn, adopt tools to help them learn efficiently, learn how to purposefully move their bodies, how to participate in the community and how to be social. We want them to feel “whole.” We want them to like who they are. Through our virtues and social thinking program, our sensory and movement modifications and resets and our small multi-sensory academic blocks, students are able to thoroughly understand and digest their learning. They feel great about their accomplishments. They feel socially connected. They feel smart and they like who they are.

Logical Reasoning and Problem Solving

Our students often struggle with solving problems. Therefore, at The Diener School we have implemented a variety of ways to integrate problem solving and reasoning. Our older students participate in a “how to” class. The class helps them learn new skills while encouraging them to figure out how to do things on their own, such as “how to” do laundry, set the table, do needle-point, set up a home-based workstation for homework efficiency. Teachers may also create a “how to surprise” giving students the ingredients to make “something” while leaving it up to each to student to figure what to make and how to make it. Once a student has learned “how to,” we ask them to teach the rest of the class.

We also work with students on community integration projects that involve organization, reasoning and problem solving. Students participate in visits to restaurants where they order, calculate the bill and add tax and tip. We also visit the grocery store and make purchases from lists they’ve created. Students navigate the store, shop and pay with the expectation that they will employ social skills taught at The Diener School. For those students who need extra help, tasks are broken down into small steps with visuals.

In addition students at Diener work collaboratively to promote brainstorming, cooperation and good decision-making. Diener’s Dear Miss Abbe’s Class weekly news column was a collaborative project and also a great success. Students throughout the school submitted to Miss Abbe’s Class information about problems they were having, both big and small. One child, for example, explained he was upset because his bedtime was too early. Another said she didn’t know what to do because she felt lazy and needed energy. Miss Abbe’s Class read the submissions, collaboratively discussed solutions and presented the solutions on a community board for all to read. The answers were well thought out: For the boy with bedtime issues, “editors” of the news column suggested the student talk to his parents and list reasons why his bedtime should be later. For the student who felt lazy, to boost energy editors suggested better nutrition and physical activities after school. This activity not only encouraged collaboration but also promoted problem solving and logical reasoning.

Strong Social Skills Component Inside & Outside of the Classroom

Social thinking is a key construct of The Diener School. Many of our students struggle socially and require direct social instruction and facilitation. Through fun activities such as creating friendship action plans, friendship pizzas and our buddy program with The Bullis School fifth grade, Diener provides students the opportunity to think and practice social skills.

Employing a variety of creative strategies, students are pushed out of their comfort zones and apply learned social thinking strategies. Students may role model or use puppetry and doll-like statues of themselves to express different emotions and practice “expected behaviors.” Additionally, our SLP creates weekly lessons for our students that encourage them to think and practice social skills. Skills taught include eye contact, self-regulation, dialogue, perspective-taking, empathy, building and maintaining friendships.

Finally, our SLP and Behaviorist work collaboratively with staff to help teachers infuse social themes into daily class instruction. Teachers will often meet with SLP to discuss issues such as team building to help the SLP determine goals and upcoming lessons.

Creative Expression, Arts Movement

At Diener we don’t have to teach our students to be creative, they are busting at the seams with creativity! All we do is provide the venue and let their creative juices flow! Students participate in weekly art, music and drama classes. In addition, students have the opportunity during Language Arts, theme-based social studies activities and “how to” classes to “let their light shine” through public speaking, special projects, puppetry and plays that are incorporated into their weekly lessons.

Opportunities for creativity and movement help students reset neurologically. Once reset, The Diener School students are able to sustain and be available for learning in academic and social situations. In addition, students have opportunities to participate in after school in art, cooking, science, sports and our young inventors club.

As explained in “Strong Sensory Based Program: Movement,” at Diener we believe strongly in the connection between movement and learning. Therefore, we provide our students with daily movement activities, including weekly Fitness for Health classes. During these classes which are filled with creative and fun activities, instructors from the Bethesda based pediatric therapeutic fitness center, emphasize skills such as bilateral coordination, motor planning, sensory activities and hand-eye coordination.

Movement throughout the day allows our students a variety of multi-sensory opportunities. The Diener School movement program includes:

  • Daily Brain Gym
  • Weekly Sensory-motor and Gross-motor activities with our Occupational Therapist
  • Weekly Fitness for Health Session
  • Weekly Sports Skills including basketball, kickball, soccer, and volleyball
  • Weekly Yoga
  • Weekly Dance/Hip hop

Cognitive Functioning Abilities through a Neurodevelopmental Approach

All of our students are layered with special talents but also cognitive delays. We use psycho-educational and neuro-psychological evaluations to better understand the strengths and challenges of each child. To improve and strengthen the neural circuitry of our students, we apply the latest neuroscience research conducted by Harvard University’s Mind Brain Education Institute as well as findings by the LDA (Learning Disabilities Association). Through their work, these institutions, along with the research conducted by the country’s top growth-minded neuroscience educators, have developed sensory exercises, memory techniques, organizational strategies and other cutting-edge, innovative techniques to help improve synaptic connections and build important neural pathways. The Diener School uses these methods to help our students improve connections and develop and strengthen neural conduits. They are, we have found time and again, the keys to learning!

But we don’t stop there. We actively seek to dissect cognitive and academic issues that challenge our students by consulting with psychologists and neuroscience educators to constantly improve strategies for instruction. This process provides our staff with the most efficient and up-to-date tools for optimal learning opportunities, engagement and availability. Staff use critical sensory, movement and memory exercises to support and integrate vocabulary and phonemic codes, numeracy, language, social, and motor to improve cognitive capacity and development.

Strong Sensory Based Program

Our strong sensory program includes fine motor and visual motor development, purposeful sensory opportunities and lots of movement. Throughout the day, our Occupational Therapist infuses her discipline into each classroom. Students are provided with the appropriate sensory tools, opportunities for thoughtful and purposeful movement and just the right exercises to activate and/or soothe their sensory systems. Basing our sensory-based program on cutting-edge research, Diener believes that through these sensory accommodations and movement, students are able to obtain an optimal level of arousal, in turn, affording them greater social and academic opportunities and growth.

Fine Motor/Visual Motor

Our Occupational Therapist and Classroom Teachers work in collaboration to promote strong fine motor and visual motor skills. Whether students are participating in fine motor circuits, large or small group handwriting instruction, or writing their names on their desks in pudding, they are having fun! Fine motor skills, just like all other disciplines and academic areas, are individualized for our many different learners. While some of our students are working on developing basic foundational skills, others may be improving handwriting legibility, advancing to cursive or even taking on the challenge of beginning keyboarding.

Movement

As explained in “Creative Expression, Arts & Movement,” at Diener we believe strongly in the connection between movement and learning. Therefore, we provide our students with daily movement activities. During these classes which are filled with creative and fun activities, instructors from the Bethesda based pediatric therapeutic fitness center, emphasize skills such as bilateral coordination, motor planning, sensory activities and hand-eye coordination.

Movement throughout the day allows our students a variety of multi-sensory opportunities. The Diener School movement program includes:

  • Daily Brain Gym
  • Weekly Sensory-motor and Gross-motor activities with our Occupational Therapist
  • Weekly Sports Skills including basketball, kickball, soccer, and volleyball
  • Weekly Yoga
  • Learning Style

Our Occupational Therapist also works with our older students to help them identify their individual learning styles. First, the class participates in a questionnaire in order to gain a better understanding of each student’s learning style. As part of this process, students answer nine questions about how they believe they best learn. Second, they review their answers as a group so each can hear about and recognize their individual classmate’s learning styles.

Behavioral Management and Daily Reinforcement System

Comprehensive behavioral supports are a primary backdrop in each Diener classroom. Classroom environmental accommodations and modifications are designed to create an atmosphere of student individualization. Therefore, classrooms are equipped with visual cues (schedules, rules, signs), timers, behavior contracts and a school-wide token economy used to reinforce and/or motivate student’s behavior and engagement. To support this focus, throughout the school year Diener staff receive on-going behavioral training and clinical support from the Behavior Specialist.

Strong & Flexible Academic Curriculum with Experiential & Multisensory Approach

Language Arts Blocks

The Diener School Language Arts block occurs daily. During this 55-minute multi-sensory block, students read with their instructor while at the same time learning decoding and comprehension strategies with an emphasis on vocabulary and reading fluency. Students participate in a multitude of Language Arts activities including book walks, word webs, spelling and vocabulary games and activities. Additionally, students use centers and Ipad applications to support and review reading, grammar and writing skills. During Language Arts, students are immersed in thematic studies based on social studies and science themes. They will are provided opportunities to explore various genres including fiction, historical fiction, folktales, fables, play, biographies and autobiographies. Diener’s Language Arts teachers are trained in a variety of reading program styles, including phono-graphix.

Math Blocks

The Diener School uses both Singapore and Calvert math programs. We will continue with our small, homogenously grouped math blocks while at the same time integrating these two math programs which offer students a well sequenced, spiral curriculum. Our math program affords students the opportunity for hands-on learning with repetition while at the same time educational variety. Additionally, homework and daily morning interactive math meetings support supplement learning. Groups are fluid and teachers periodically assess math skills throughout the year.

Field Trips

The Diener School believes in learning inside as well as outside the classroom. To that end, we have bi-weekly, curriculum-correlated field trips. Past journeys have included visits to The Baltimore Science Museum, The National History Museum, The Capitol, The White House, the local library, Croydon Creek Park, The Montgomery County Recycling Center, Calleva, Sheridan Mountain Campus, Meadowside Gardens, The Washington Monument, Robeks and more. Diener also schedules character development-based field trips. As such, our students visit the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington each year and sing to the residents. We have visited the personal pony farm where we learn to care for farm animals. We visit parks, such as Hadley’s Park, on Earth Day to help clean and preserve our Earth.

Rich Language and Communication Based Environment

Infusion of language is ongoing throughout the year and a critical component of The Diener School education and a major factor that contributes to the success of our students. Our Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) spends three to four hours per week infusing language into each individual classroom. In addition, our (SLP) meets with teachers monthly to discuss each student’s language goals. In addition to classroom language instruction, our SLP provides teachers with activities and ideas to help support student language development. This additional resource allows our teachers to consistently infuse language education throughout the day.