How Franklin Capstone Takes a Holistic Approach to Prepare Students for Success

In a recent New York Times op ed, Temple Grandin discussed different kinds of thinkers from her perspective as someone with autism. (Temple Grandin is an author, scientist, and professor.)

That premise — that we all learn and think differently — sounds basic. Most of us know information is received and interpreted differently. 

Think about how many times at work you change how you explain a concept based on who is in the room. If you’re a parent of multiple children, how many times do you reposition something (like failing to clean your room) depending on which child you’re talking to? Do you take away privileges, break down the tasks, turn on their favorite music? What will help them reach the goal? 

It all depends.

So if we know that our brains are wired differently, then why (asks Grandin) do we have schools that “force students into a one-size-fits-all curriculum” and a “workplace that relies too much on résumés and G.P.A.s to assess candidates’ worth”?

Put a Pebble in the Bucket

At Franklin Capstone, our adult program for students from ages 18 to 28, we don’t expect students to fit into a mold. We start by meeting students where they are — as students who think differently, who generally don’t do well sitting in a class for hours at a time listening to a teacher. We offer a wide variety of classes and options in our course catalog and we deliver our courses differently depending on who is in the classroom.

Whether it’s cooking, woodworking, life skills, volunteering, or communications, “we take one learning objective and use all of the student’s muscles to demonstrate a mastery of that objective,” as program director Mike Faeth describes it.

Even in a more academic class, such as consumer math, Capstone doesn’t use the “call and response” method of teaching. When it comes to lesson planning, the teacher’s goal is that each person has to “put a pebble in the bucket,” meaning, each student has to participate in some way. 

That participatory goal challenges each teacher to draw out each student. “This is about students not feeling they have something to say,” said Faeth. “We as staff work to connect with them to encourage their contribution. We make it clear that we’re going to work together. That’s our goal for each class.” 

Designed with the End in Mind

Why is it important to draw out each student? Doesn’t that create disruption? “Engagement creates the opportunity for active learning,” said Faeth. “The process of reciprocity paves the way for the relationship. And with a relationship we can get to know them as a person to find their strengths and their areas for growth.” That knowledge of each student allows the staff to guide them toward success. 

Given the Capstone goal of living independently with confidence, life skills are a core part of the curriculum. While reading Shakespeare can be an incredible experience, it’s arguably less applicable to daily life than knowledge like cleaning your apartment or navigating social situations. Yet how many young adults are prepared to do those basic life functions — with confidence? It’s that kind of hands-on, practical learning that teaches “everything you wish you learned in school but didn’t,” according to Capstone student Sarah Frisk.

Diversity benefits everyone

While Grandin’s piece focuses on visual thinkers versus “word” thinkers, her overall point is about the benefits of broadening how we view people’s abilities. It’s now well-documented that diverse teams outperform teams where everyone thinks alike. Franklin Capstone students deal with diversity every day. “It’s not just us teaching them,” says Faeth. “It’s us facilitating them building the skills they need for life success. And a big part of that is getting along with people who don’t think like you. Our students live that reality every day.” 

Check out Capstone’s new College Flex program for those who want to improve executive functioning and social skills while attending college.