Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Culinary Halloween Horror Stories

Yesterday, I found a great example of how we are blending Charlotte Mason and Relationship Development Intervention. The most challenging book Pamela is reading right now is The Brendan Voyage. Helen Keller's story inspires me to include books that are at the outermost limits of comprehension but worth trying. John Wright, one of her teachers at the Wright-Humason School, once wrote,
Often I found her, when she had a little leisure, sitting in her favourite corner, in a chair whose arms supported the big volume prepared for the blind, and passing her finger slowly over the lines of Moliere's Le Medecin Malgré Lui, chuckling to herself at the comical situations and humorous lines. At that time her actual working vocabulary in French was very small, but by using her judgment, as we laughingly called the mental process, she could guess at the meanings of the words and put the sense together much as a child puzzles out a sliced object. The result was that in a few weeks she and I spent a most hilarious hour one evening while she poured out to me the whole story, dwelling with great gusto on its humour and sparkling wit. It was not a lesson, but only one of her recreations.
What I hope for Pamela is to strike a balance between books in which she feels competent and confident and books in which she spends time guessing at the meaning of words, putting the sense together, and mentally processing. With The Brendan Voyage, she first reads two or three pages and orally narrates each paragraph, one by one. Then, I film her narrating what she finds worth retelling from the entire passage. After that, we take turns talking about what the passage reminds us of and this is where she forms personal connections to what she is reading, shares experiences with me, and fortifies episodic memory. We have wandered down many exciting rabbit trails because of this important step in the process. I want to share with you an actual example of this process:

The Original Passage:
I cooked the breakfast. Then George, who freely admitted to being the worlds' worst cook but is amoung its champion dishwashers, offered to do the dishes on my turn if I did his cooking for him. So I cooked lunch. . . Rolfe persevered until the box of matches ran out, and tha as everyon else was getting hungry, I cooked supper.

What She Narrated Orally:
George was the worst cook. Rolf was sad because the bad food was the worst.

What She Narrated in Writing:
They cooked some bad foods. They ate some bad foods. They felt bad.

How She Connected:

What I love most about this clip is how much Pamela enjoys this conversation in which we both add novel ideas. Pamela reminded me of the day I burned the French fries, while I told her two new stories from my childhood. We are equal partners in sharing new information. I can tell she is thinking about what I said because she guessed that it was a story from Sand Point, she asked what year something happened, and she anticipated that my cake burned, etc. I also love the way Pamela clearly enjoys our conversation through her reactions and facial expressions. She also feels comfortable being blunt about my awful cooking skills (and she is being completely truthful).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Thinking Out Loud with Tenses

In a comment to an earlier post, my friend Jennifer asked me what is after past tense. That is a good question. From this point on, the plans in the manual are not a well-laid as before because you tailor some of it to the needs of the student. One reader of my blog privately asked about my emphasis on grammar because it sounds like I am teaching Pamela these abstract concepts. Focusing on grammar helps me frame and understand the next step in the process. All Pamela sees are the new forms of syntax modeled and practiced. In my mind, it will be a long time before we address formal grammar ala parts of speech if ever.

Today, I sat down and roughly outlined the next couple of months:
  • Simple Past for one more week to let me determine what irregular verbs she has mastered
  • "Did" Questions for syntax she has already mastered
  • Simple Present (repeated actions such as hobbies, habits, routines, schedules, etc.) contrasted with Present Progressive (what is happening right now in the moment) => "I sew animals" versus "I am sewing a duck"
  • Simple Present (facts and generalizations) contrasted with Present Progressive (what is happening right now in the moment) => "Dogs bark" versus "My dog is barking"
  • Transition to stories in a paragraph format
  • Infinitives versus prepositional phrases with to => "I wanted to buy some bananas" versus "I went to the store"
  • Double prepositional phrases => "The dog is under the tree in the back yard"
  • Uncountable nouns => "some cheese" or "a slice of cheese" not "a cheese"
  • Past Tense stories
  • Transition words in Past Tense Stories => First, Then, Next, After
  • Past Tense stories based on a single picture (assumed information in past tense, action happening in the picture in the present tense)
  • Past Tense stories based on a series of pictures

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Abstract Thinking Cap

Both Pamela and David are concrete thinkers. That means they do much better with practical, specific things: what they can see or touch (or at least, imagine seeing or touching). When David was younger, I worried about how he would fare in high school, which requires more abstract thinking. I started breathing easier last year when the light bulb turned on, and David started getting easy A's on his Math-U-See Algebra I tests. He continues to do well in Geometry, even with the logical aspects of it. While his every day speaking and writing skills are fine, he struggled with grammar (parts of speech and their ilk) until this year! After a couple of choppy lessons to get his head into it, David is doing well with the exercises in Our Mother Tongue. But, that is not the most exciting thing!

Since David is highly random, I did not do much with outlining until this year. David is reading Part I of How to Read a Book this year and will finish it up by twelfth grade. Since this book requires slow reading and abstract thinking, I decided to slow him down by having him outline his readings, instead of doing a typical narration. We used the examples of both topical and sentence outlines described in Handbook of Grammar and Composition. I envisioned major conflicts over having to do a task requiring so much logical and sequential thinking. By week four, David started getting ahead of schedule. He outlines quite methodically, so I have complimented him on his work. This week, I told him to stop when he gets to the end of Part I and he said, "You mean we're not going to finish the book? I like outlining." Well, knock me over with a feather!

Pamela is making strides in sharing what she thinks. Last month, she told me how she broke her arm ten years ago (trying to "skate" on the wet bathroom floor). She also told me that David was the real cheese thief six years ago. Earlier today, she looked at me and said, "I'll be right back!" when she left the kitchen. She did not have to tell me that nor did she do it in stim mode.

Yesterday, while we were baking a dump cake for a BBQ party, Pamela was very natural in sharing her observations. "It's stuck" when she could not open cans with tabs and "It's ready" after the stove beeped to tell us that the temperature was right. At one point, she got giggly and I asked her, "What's so funny?" She said, "I'm thinking about You-Tube" (her favorite clips are about broken video tapes, VCRs, and DVD players). When she was retrieving melted butter in a hot measuring cup from the microwave, I offered to get it for her. She told me very firmly, "No, I'll do it!" (the same thing she said the other day when I offered to help her open a new bottle of catsup). The wonderful thing about all of these statements is that she is willingly sharing what she thinks, which is something she did not do much six months ago.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Past Times

Pamela has been practicing past tense all week, and I am thrilled with how many irregular past tense verbs she knows without being explicitly taught! Today, I made a list of 131 irregular past tense verbs. During the next two weeks, I plan to type up sentences with the verb missing and instruct her to fill in the blank with the past tense form of the irregular verb given. Before we move to past tense questions, I want to know what irregular verbs trouble her so that I can work them into our daily association method efforts. If she were struggling, I would linger on past tense. She is not! She already knows so many irregular verbs that she is ready to move on once I catalog them.

Most readers have no idea how huge this is for Pamela. For the past three years, we have been working very hard on syntax and I was dreading past tense verbs because so many of them are irregular. I had worried that we would be doing them for months because children with aphasia are notoriously poor guessers when it comes to recalling the quirks of language. This tells me she has managed to pick up irregular verbs all on her own without any help!

YIPPEE!!! Major Snoopy Dancing here in Carolina!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dialogues with Children

Today, I will wrap up my thoughts about Chapter 1 of Awakening Children's Minds. Laura Berk concludes this introduction with an explanation of sociocultural theory, originated by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky who conducted his research in the 1920s and 1930s. Again, Charlotte Mason anticipated this theory, which Laura explains in the following quote from page 31:
According to sociocultural theory, cooperative dialogues between children and more knowledgeable members of their society are necessary for children to acquire the ways of thinking and behaving that make up a community's culture. These dialogues occur frequently and spontaneously as adults and children spend time together--in everyday situations such as household chores, mealtimes, play, storybook reading, outings in the community, and children's efforts to acquire all sorts of skills. Although interactions that arise between adults and children may seem mundane and inconsequential at first glance, sociocultural theory emphasizes that they are powerful sources of children's learning.

Here is what Charlotte wrote in explaining the atmosphere of education:
We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby's needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges (page 96).
The purpose of these dialogues is not to shape behavior but to guide the thinking behind the behavior. Laura explains, "The sociocultural vision is very different from behaviorism, which views development as directly imposed, or shaped, by external forces. Instead, children are active agents, contributing to the creation of their own thought processes by collaborating with more experienced cultural members in meaningful activities." My favorite series for illustrating the collaboration between children and parents in meaningful activities are the Little House and Little Britches series! Charlotte formed habits in non-behavioristic ways, too, "'Sow an act,' we are told, 'reap a habit.' 'Sow a habit, reap a character.' But we must go a step further back, we must sow the idea or notion which makes the act worth while (page 102)." Her way of sowing ideas were through living books, meaningful activities, and dialogues. Here is a short list of situations in which she illustrated this process:

She chided mothers for sending children outside when they should take them out (pages 43-44).

She illustrated seeing with a dialogue about daisies (page 46).

She illustrated habit formation with two different collaborations: lacing boots (page 120) and shutting doors (pages 122-123).

She recommended The Purple Jar for the habit of attention (page 148).

Her book The Formation of Character is full of collaboration!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Past at Last!

I just have to share this raspberry dessert before I get to the meat of this post. One reason why I videotape some of our interactions is because of things I miss. I did not catch Pamela's raspberry until I reviewed the clip! Her expressiveness here is just wonderful!

I have not blogged about the association method much lately. Pamela continues to work through the steps nearly every school day. Today, she started past tense verbs, and I am so excited! She has already developed an ear for irregular past tense verbs, which means she will require less repetition. The big thing will be recognizing did in a question means past tense while do and does mean present tense. She gets the concept of past, present, and future thanks to Dicken's A Christmas Carol. The other good news is that Pamela no longer says "The dog is bark" or "the dog barking"--I decided to borrow one of Charlotte's recommendation to replace one habit with another. In this case, we dropped all efforts to correct present progressive and worked on practicing present tense ("the dog barks"). She is working through the blue books (Level 2) and is half-way through the third (of ten) primers at this level.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nature versus Nurture Debate

I am still working my way through Chapter 1 of Awakening Children's Minds, comparing the known (Charlotte Mason's philosophy) to the unknown (Laura Berk's ideas). They both see the influence of heredity and environment upon one another. Laura sees the two as inseparable: "The roles of heredity and environment, of the child and important people in his or her life, so closely interconnected that, according to some experts, their influence is inseparable" (page 23). While Charlotte does not state this explicitly, I can see the seeds of it in her analogies for heredity, or nature:
'Habit is TEN natures!' If I could but make others see with my eyes how much this saying should mean to the educator! How habit, in the hands of the mother, is as his wheel to the potter, his knife to the carver––the instrument by means of which she turns out the design she has already conceived in her brain. Observe, the material is there to begin with; his wheel will not enable the potter to produce a porcelain cup out of coarse clay; but the instrument is as necessary as the material or the design (page 97).
Nature then, strong as she is, is not invincible; and, at her best, Nature is not to be permitted to ride rampant. Bit and bridle, hand and voice, will get the utmost of endeavour out of her if her training be taken in hand in time; but let Nature run wild, like the forest ponies, and not spur nor whip will break her in(page 104).
Laura Berk illustrates the intertwined roles of nature and nurture with studies on temperament, which encompasses activity level, attentiveness, and regulation of emotions in a dynamic setting. Research shows that forty percent of babies enjoy new experiences, while twenty percent show fear and physiological responses to novelty. Shy babies show more interest in new toys when parents encourage them with excitement, warmth, encouragement, and guidance. When parents behave in the same way for outgoing babies, they discourage exploration of new toys. Thus, parents must base the way they nurture upon the nature of the child, which is why understanding learning styles taught me how to bring out the best on my two polar opposite kids. She concludes, "The substantial malleability of temperament in infancy and early childhood is explained, in a large measure, by the fact that many parents and other adults are sucessful in guiding children with maladaptive tendencies toward more effective functioning" (page 29).

Charlotte Mason also understood the need to tailor one's approach to the temperament of the child. She did not recommend throwing too heavy a burden on easily distracted Kitty, while Guy's father gave explosive Guy the responsibility of chasing away his anger by racing Mr. Cross-man. She recommended showing the sullen young ladies, Agnes and Dorothy, the hatefulness of her sullen moods in a direct, but gentle manner, while confronting Kitty with her faults was a heavy, weary weight. She saw how the older, more resilient forgetful Fred could face his faults head-on with some pointers from his parents, but the younger, more timid fibbing Fanny needed her parents to help her love the truth rather than see her fault.

On one thing, both Laura and Charlotte agree--parents can make a tremendous difference in guiding children. Laura concluded, "Downplaying the role of parents--suggesting that they are relatively unimportant in socialization--does both families and society a disservice" (page 30). While Charlotte disagreed with the educational philosophy of Rousseau, she credits him for awakening parents to the most important job of their life:
He was one of the few educationalists who made his appeal to the parental instincts. He did not say, 'We have no hope of the parents, let us work for the children!' Such are the faint-hearted and pessimistic things we say today. What he said was, in effect, "Fathers and mothers, this is your work, and you only can do it. It rests with you, parents of young children, to be the saviours of society unto a thousand generations. Nothing else matters. The avocations about which people weary themselves are as foolish child's play compared with this one serious business of bringing up our children in advance of ourselves (pages 2 and 3).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Unifying Principle of Education

You may be wondering why I am bent on comparing a modern book on child development (Awakening Children's Minds) with books written by Charlotte Mason around hundred years ago. The reason why is that I am trying to transfer this new knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory by blogging. At the Second Annual Charlotte Mason Conference in June 2006, Dr. Carroll Smith discussed how the brain stores memory. His actual words are available in an audio recording called "What is Good Instruction" and what I remember follows. Learning must occur in context, must have meaning, and must tie to previous information. Trying to tie this new material into ideas that are already stored in my memory will help me learn it. The mind also requires two steps in the learning cycle: taking information and reproducing it in a unique way. Blogging is my way of reproducing what I am learning.

I am finding the parallels between the two books fascinating. Both Awakening Children's Minds and Home Education focus on about the same time of life: birth to nine years of age. Both Laura Berk and Charlotte Mason realize the deficiencies of two extremes in child training and education: adult supremacy versus child supremacy. Both present an extensive review of the history of childhood education (Charlotte outlines this in Towards a Philosophy of Education). Both seek a unified vision and scientific research to back it up!

In a section bearing the subtitle, "Absence of a Unified Vision," Laura writes, "Parents trying to make their way through these opposing theories, and their attendant advice about child-rearing and educational practice, are likely to find themselves in a dim forest, without a discernible trail blazed before them" (page 15). Compare that to Charlotte's words,
The educational outlook is rather misty and depressing both at home and abroad. That science should be a staple of education, that the teaching of Latin, of modern languages, of mathematics, must be reformed, that nature and handicrafts should be pressed into service for the training of the eye and hand, that boys and girls must learn to write English and therefore must know something of history and literature; and, on the other hand, that education must be made more technical and utilitarian--these, and such as these, are the cries of expedience with which we take the field. But we have no unifying principle, no definite aim; in fact, no philosophy of education (page 1).
Laura based her unified vision in her book upon current scientific research, "Today, sound theories and educational strategies exist that are neither adult- nor child-centered but, instead, portray both as participating actively, jointly, and inseparably in the process of development" (page 18). Charlotte yearned for this kind of research and did the best she could with the experience she had in teaching young children,
Those of us, who have spent many years in pursuing the benign and elusive vision of Education, perceive her approaches are regulated by a law, and that this law has yet to be evoked. We can discern its outlines, but no more. We know that it is pervasive; there is no part of a child's home life or school work which the law does not penetrate. It is illuminating, too, showing the value, or lack of value, of a thousand systems and expedients. It is not only a light, but a measure, providing a standard whereby all things, small and great, belonging to educational work must be tested. (pages 1 and 2)
I will close with another point upon which everyone agrees: the early years are important, the question is how best to direct them.

Laura: "On only one point is the popular parenting literature unanimous: the vital importance of getting development off to a good start during the preschool years" (page 18).

Charlotte: "It is upon the mothers of the present that the future of the world depends, in even a greater degree than upon the fathers, because it is the mothers who have the sole direction of the children's early, most impressible years "(page 2).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A "New" View of Child Development

I just finished the first chapter of Awakening Children's Minds by Laura E. Berk, a book on RDI's hot list. The author starts off the chapter called "A New View of Child Development" by pointing out how changes in society and information overload have baffled and bewildered parents. One major problem is conflicting advice hashed out in the glut of books on the market to guide parents, alternating between adult supremacy and child supremacy. My favorite part of the chapter is when she juxtaposes the two polar opposite camps against one another so like Charlotte Mason, who wrote of eighteenth century parents, "They had clear oracles in their Locke and their Rousseau" (page 44).

In the section on adult supremacy, Laura Berk points out how John Locke's concept of tabular rasa (the child's mind as an empty slate) led to behaviorism, the belief that external stimuli shapes behavior and trumps other factors. She concludes that "regimented tutoring not adjusted to the child's interests and capabilities undermines rather than enhances learning, motivation, and self-control" (page 11) and "the behaviorist presumption that development can be mechanically engineered by social input, guaranteeing brighter, socially more mature children, is not born out by the evidence" (page 12). Charlotte Mason did not believe in using prizes, places, rewards, punishments, praise, blame, or other inducements to secure attention, which she found to be voluntary, immediate and surprisingly perfect (page 7).

Charlotte wrote about the tabula rasa dovetails nicely with Laura Berk stated:
We have perhaps got over the educational misconception of the tabula rasa. No one now looks on the child's white soul as a tablet prepared for the exercise of the educator's supreme art. But the conception which has succeeded this time-honoured heresy rests on the same false bases of the august office and the infallible wisdom of the educator (page 29).
In the section on child supremacy, Laura Berk shows how the ideas of Jean Jacque Rousseau surfaced in the work of Jean Piaget, who outlined four developmental stages and whose ideas "stressed the supremacy of children's engagement with their surroundings over adult teaching, parents' and teachers' contributions to development are severely reduced relative to the child's" (page 14).

Charlotte predates Piaget, and she held a dim view of Rousseau, too:
Jean Jacques Rousseau had not enough sterling character to warrant him to pose as an authority on any subject, least of all on that of education. He sets himself down a poor thing, and we see no cause to reject the evidence of his Confessions. We are not carried away by the charm of his style; his 'forcible feebleness' does not dazzle us. No man can say beyond that which he is, and there is a want of grit in his philosophic theories that removes most of them from the category of available thought (page 1).
Charlotte found herself in the same dilemma, stuck between two opposite theories, and quoted a Dr. Rein,
Shall the educator follow Rousseau and educate a man of nature in the midst of civilised men? In so doing, as Herbart has shown, we should simply repeat from the beginning the entire series of evils that have already been surmounted. Or shall we turn to Locke and prepare the pupil for the world which is customarily in league with worldlings?(page 97).
Reading this book reminds me of how far ahead of her time Charlotte Mason was—-so far ahead, typical educators of today do not know her work. I checked the index of this book and saw no hint of Charlotte Mason even though their ideas run along parallel lines, separated by a century.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Learning Styles Pages

Just a quick note! I finally updated my original learning styles page and added a new one! The new page is a literary look at learning styles, based upon a presentation I gave at the 2006 Charlotte Mason Conference. My next goal is to convert my notes on narration into a web page, so stay tuned.

Speaking of learning styles. . . Pamela is visual, like many people with autism. For her, a picture speaks a thousand words. In this case, Pamela did not want to believe me when I told her in my most declarative voice, "Your sweater is dirty" with a scrunched-up face. Pamela could not see the stain from her angle, so she proceeded to argue and throw a fit. I had the camera nearby, took a picture, and showed it to her. End of argument. She whipped off her sweater immediately without another huff or puff.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Secret Window

Pamela and I have thoroughly enjoyed the free toys at The Toymaker. First, we made a fairy wand. Now, Pamela is one horse short of a menagerie. She recently received a postcard in the mail from her Oma (across the street) and little gifts from one of Steve's co-workers (Michelle). I thought making a secret window might be a great way to make a thank-you card, work on cutting skills, and cover episodic memory. We spent the week cutting out the secret window, decorating it with memorable pictures, and gluing the box. Her drawings all reflect gifts given to her by Oma and Michelle.

One of my goals is to talk less (pausing to give Pamela greater opportunity to speak), talk more declaratively, and spotlight my emotions and her emotions. I can see lots of improvement on this front from the video clips from earlier in the month.

Positives: Pamela references me during the conversation and speaks up more than she usually does without me having to prod her. In fact, our exchanges were even in quantity, and we did maintain an 80-20 declarative to imperative ratio. She talked about the attributes of her boxes and gifts, predicted how Oma and Michelle would react, responded to my comments, etc. She expressed joy by clapping!

Challenges: A siren went off about halfway through, but Pamela continued her focus.

Tips: I need to gasp even less when she shows interest. I need to replace the raised voice prompting with declarative sentences.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Pamela's Poem Marathon

I thought I was too tired to blog today, but then Pamela goes and ruins it for me by doing something wonderful. She was upstairs and I called her to come down, so we could finish reading. She sneaked off to the porch very mysteriously while I got out the books. I walked over to her, sitting in a rocking chair, writing intently. Without my asking a thing, Pamela looks up and announces, "I'm doing a poem marathon." I had no idea what a poem marathon was. After she finished, I learned that a poem marathon is copying all the poems you learned last year on one sheet of paper. She had gone through the trouble of going through her language art's folder from 2006-2007 to find all of her copywork sheets! She wrote the following ten poems for her celebration:

"Growing Up" by A. A. Milne
"Daffodowndilly" by A. A. Milne
"The End" by A. A. Milne
"Cradle Song" by Alfred Lord Tennyson
"Pirate Story" by Robert Louis Stevenson
City by Langston Hughes
"Big" by Dorothy Aldis
"Two Friends" by Nikki Giovanni
Psalm 117

By the way, we started The Story of the Trapp Family Singers today, and Pamela is thrilled for she adores The Sound of Music. We came across an interesting word combination that reminds me of how the brain learns. At the 2006 ChildLightUSA Conference, Dr. Carroll Smith said something that has stuck with me. For knowledge to be stored into long-term memory, the child must connect it to previously learned knowledge. Clearly, Pamela will be connecting new knowledge about Maria von Trapp to what she knows from the musical. While whistling and running up the stairs were familiar troublesome behaviors, Pamela narrated that Maria slid down the stairs [bannister] and jumped over chimneys on the roof! Near the end of the passage, Maria talked about carrying a guitar and leather satchel. Up until a month ago, the words leather and satchel meant very little to Pamela. We have learned a great deal about the making and uses of leather from The Brendan Voyage and the meaning of satchel because of a chapter by that name in The Winged Watchman. To take the whole thing full circle back to the poem marathon, we came across the word afloat when Tim got his leather boat, The Brendan, afloat for the first time and both of our minds leaped to "The Pirate Story." This is why we have not done formal vocabulary lessons.

For a better view of the poem marathon, click the pictures.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First Book Report in Her Own Words and Syntax!

For all of you Charlotte Mason kindred spirits, ChildLightUSA just posted the Fall 2007 journal. Click here and click journal to retrieve it.

This week we finished reading The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum, a book with a wonderful message about forgiveness and self-sacrificial love. Because Amazon does not have text statistics for this book, my second trick to determine grade level is to go to the official Frustrated Reader site. While Renaissance Learning does not offer official quizzes for this book, I searched online to see at what grade level most schools place the book--half-way through the sixth grade in terms of reading comprehension. I majored in statistics for my master's degree and I just cannot help but pore over statistics!

And, here is Pamela's first book report in her own words and syntax! I followed the process we always do for guided written narrations. First, I recorded her oral narration of the entire book. Then, I made the sentence strips and worked them. We broke up the book report into four writing blocks, which she did one after another: Title/Author/Character/Setting, Beginning, Middle, End. Except for the title and author, she wrote the rest of the report without assistance. A major praise report follows the pictures of her first book report, so read on!

I am very excited for Pamela for the following reasons:

Positive Trend - I posted the first four narrations Pamela did at her page. Using Word, I did a spell check, which reported these narrations to be at a grade level of 2.7. I typed up Pamela's book report, which was measured at a grade level 4.0. Obviously, I will have a better handle on trends by the end of the year, but she increased the grade level of her writing.

Independent Writing - I left Pamela alone while she was working. She wrote everything, with no access to other material, from her memory! This illustrates the importance of narration: We Narrate and Then We Know.

Cursive - I did not tell Pamela how to write the report; I just said that it was a very important report and she could type it if she wanted. She opted to write it on the porch. Based upon that information, she chose cursive.

Because - I have not officially taught Pamela how to use the word because. But, whenever I make sentence strips, I add because to a few sentences. She used that word appropriately in several instances.

Thinking - I originally snapped the following picture of the report's first page. Notice that, after writing the middle and the end, Pamela had thought about what she had already written and added more names to her character list.

She has plenty of room for improvement in her style, which comes across as stilted. Keep in mind we reached present tense verbs in June. We have not done past or future tense yet, much less helping verbs. She used several syntax units I have not formally taught.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dynamic Puzzle Building and Another Praise Report

Every Tuesday morning, we attend our youth group's prayer breakfast at Hardee's. This morning, Pamela did something completely new! Usually, she just has a meaty breakfast and, if she wants carbs or fruit, she will eat them at home. Today, she heated some pancakes we made last Saturday and packed a Styrofoam plate, fork, pancakes, maple syrup, and gf/cf margarine in a plastic shopping bag. My brain can barely make it to the car before seven in the morning!

Pamela does not usually interact much in a large group. When it was time to go, Pamela turned away from the table, getting ready to leave, too. The pastor leaned over and said, "Bye, Pamela!" Pamela turned to her, waved to her, and said, "Good-bye!" This was a striking enough difference that the paster looked at me and said, "Wow!"

My parent goal for myself is to try to be more clear in my signals that we are finished so that Pamela does not bolt. The other one is to foster more declarative comments, especially ones focused on emotion, but keep them short with plenty of pauses for Pamela to add her comment.

I have been thinking our puzzle-building has gotten a little static, and today we had a great time. My role is to hold the box and lift it up so that she picks a random piece (simply because it affords more opportunity for productive uncertainty and for her to read my face for information). The puzzle-making was more lively because we were making declarative comments while building the puzzle. At one point, she tried peeking in the box, so I began to shake it, saying "Earthquake!" She laughed and thought it was hilarious (unknown to me, we have been working on flexible thinking for years and she likes unexpected things most of the time). Then I had a tidal wave, bumper cars, and bunny hop with the puzzle box. I tried to only spill out a couple of pieces at a time. She laughed and thought it was funny. I did not do this all the time because it would get stale. But, I did it enough that there was some anticipation of fun every time she had to pick a piece.

My father is really helpful, too, because he is so random (which he passed onto David). My dad is working on our front porch and heads to the back yard from time to time for wood or some other supplies. He knows that Pamela loves watching people with broken VCRs and DVD players on You-Tube. She stims on one in particular in which a teen-aged boy breaks a video tape by slamming into his head. Juvenile, but Pamela thinks it is funny. She is too smart to do it herself, except for the time she drew a picture of a videotape, cut it out, and imitated the clip.

My dad has picked up on that, so today he walks to the sidewalk, picks up a flower pot, and says, "Hey, Pamela, I'm going to break this flower pot on my head." She yells out, "No! Don't do that! You're joking!" She was smiling, so I could tell that she knew Opa was playing a joke on her.

Monday, October 08, 2007

And Now, for Something Completely Different!

I love the Jane Austen novels, which I did NOT read until six years ago, well into my marriage. Don't you think Steve and I are well-matched? Although, I do take issue with the calm life! Can life be calm with a teen with autism and another teen with a concrete-random kinesthetic learning style? I think not!

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

You scored as Edward Ferrars, Your husband is like Edward Ferrars of Sense & Sensibility. He is quietly impulsive, with an understated hint of romance. But once you get to know him, he's very affectionate, caring, and faithful. The two of you enjoy a calm, joyful life.

Who is Your Jane Austen Husband?
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Sunday, October 07, 2007

More on the Video and a Praise Report!

The praise is first! Our church has a pad that we pass around and sign to help them figure out attendance. Pamela signed her name in cursive very neatly. The lady sitting next to her is a schoolteacher, and she marveled at how beautiful Pamela's handwriting looked. Her mouth dropped when I told her that, when Pamela was seven, she screamed when I handed her a pencil! The teacher smiled and said, "You would never know by the way she writes now!"

I have been getting some helpful feedback from friends, so I thought I would share for those of you lone rangers like me! First, I need to think about balance in terms of the amount, length, and pace of my speech. When I make one comment, I need to give Pamela plenty of time to make one comment. By doing so I allow her to be competent in the conversation and hold up her end of the conversation at a pace that makes her comfortable. Nonverbal statements like a head shake or nod count as a comment. That may mean that I have to pause and wait patiently.

Second, I need to make sure to say how I was feeling when I am sharing my perspective to foster episodic memory. The emotional aspect of episodic memory is the area of greatest challenge for many people with autism.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Follow-Up on Videos

I have been more careful to focus mainly on one objective and set up situations to film it. The issue is to be more clear about my signals that I am finished talking so that Pamela does not bolt too soon. I brainstormed this with the help of friends and realized that, when we are seated, Pamela usually does not bolt. If it is almost time for something scheduled or the activity is over, she will suddenly bold.

The plan is to spotlight the end of conversation. For example, I could make a big done gesture and give a breathy sigh. If that is not obvious, I could give a verbal hint paired with the gesture and/or sign. I can learn to watch for her signals of getting ready to bolt and be ready to block her by gently holding her hands. This reminds me of being in musicals in college: I need to practice in front of a mirror and block my part!

On Thursday, David filmed five different segments of Pamela and I talking what a chapter from a book reminds us of. She did extremely well: she referenced me beautifully, made comments, and repeated some of my words as if to help them register better. Sometimes, she reacted with emotion or changed the topic to something related. She tried to bolt a few times, but I let her know I was not finished with me and she stayed with me. I was not as clear as I could have been, so I have objectives for myself, too. I found that asking her a question about the next event worked well, but I need to be less obvious as she improves.

Here is the review I wrote about how these five segments went.

Segment One:
Activity: Talking about The Brendan Voyage Objective: Attention, S1A

Pluses: Pamela makes a reasonable connection between sewing leather and her candlewicking animals. She stayed in control when she was upset.

Issues: Pamela thought I was pressuring her for more communication when I was only telling her more about my memory. She regulated by saying, “Cut it out!”

Tips: I need to introduce the topic with different phrasing when we talk about books. I need to wait a little longer to let her process.

Segment Two:
Activity: Talking about The Winged Watchman Objective: Attention, S1A

Pluses: Pamela makes a reasonable connection between the flood in the story and boats in Sand Point. She smiled, responded with emotion, and showed a strong interest in my narration of the May 1995 flood in Destrehan.

Issues: Pamela stayed focused in spite of the barking dogs and my distracting response to them.

Tips: I need to introduce the topic with different phrasing when we talk about books. I need to wait a little longer to let her process.

Segment Three:
Activity: Talking about The Cones Objectives: Attention, S1A

Pluses: Pamela has an excellent memory. She remembers a Hawaiian ice shaver my sister gave to us when we lived in West Newton. We did make snow cones a couple of times and I am surprised at how much she remembered. She stayed focused on my face even while rocking in the rocking chair. Then we talked about stores that carried gf/cf diet sorbet and soy ice cream. She was ready to end the conversation and stayed with me when I transitioned to another story in her primer book.

Segment Four:
Activity: Talking about The Endless Steppe Objectives: Attention, S1A

Pluses: Pamela makes a reasonable connection between Esther’s days in school and her school and co-op days. Then she went from the bug class in Minnesota to a dead butterfly we found in a parking lot. She was ready to stop, but I continued talking to her about movies because the story mentioned a movie. I told her my favorite movie Chronicles of Narnia and, after much processing time, she told me hers, Amazing Grace. That bowled me over because I thought that movie was stunning and fantastic, but over her head.

Issues: She tried to stim on “Airhawks” but was able to get back on track.

Segment Five:
Activity: Talking about a chapter on Alexander Objective: Attention, S1A

Pluses: Pamela maintains her focus in spite of the hyper-active dog. She makes a reasonable connection between Alexander’s horse Bucephalus and her horse in hippotherapy back in 1995. Then we both thought of Peter Pan after talking about the horse being afraid of its shadow. Pamela remembers reading Peter Pan in Sand Point. Then we transitioned to Wendy and a girl named Wendy, who was a guest at Pamela’s fourteenth birthday party. We talked about her birthday party, too, and the “no puffin” sticker at the Harbor CafĂ©.

Issues: The cameraman was bored and rotated the camera at an awkward angle.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Last Night's RDI Webinar

I attended my first RDI webinar last night and found it very helpful, especially as a lone-ranger RDI parent. Dr. Steve Gutstein holds a free webinar for parents every Tuesday night at 9:00 PM EST. The "room" capacity is 50, but I had no problems getting in last night after showing up a few minutes late. If you have problems signing in, you can do so as a guest. I do not see next week listed, and I hope last night was not the last one! If you are shut out, you can chat with Dr. Rachelle Sheeley, which I have found very enlightening in the past.

I picked up some very helpful tidbits. First, we should try to focus on only one or two habits at a time--very reminiscent of Charlotte Mason. Then, we should consider all the things we do during the day in light of how to address the objective of interest. I have been doing well with this in my interaction style, trying to figure out how to be more RDI friendly during speech therapy, reading, language arts, errands, household tasks, little moments, etc.

He also suggested breaking up an objective into little steps and turning over responsibility to the child as competence emerges. We need to figure out any obstacles and find ways to remove them. We need to think about what we do and change how we interact to further mastery of the objective. What is mastery? It is when the child uses the skill consistently because it is internalized in the way they think.

So, this morning, I picked one goal in stage one and thought carefully about it: orienting for communication. When I speak with her while she is doing a task that is not completely distracting, Pamela consistently shifts her gaze to me. She still responds to verbal cues (saying her name) more often than non-verbal ones (touching her shoulder). She does orient to me when I indicate a desire to speak. She has greatly improved in sustaining her attention while I speak. Sometimes, she even repeats the last word of each sentence as if hanging onto every word. She does this the most when I tell her stories about myself, my family, her childhood, etc. She gives the greatest attention when I am working on episodic memory. However, she has one glitch preventing me from signing off on this objective: she has a tendency to bolt before closure. My thought is that I need to be more deliberate in using a variety of signs (verbal and non-verbal) to indicate the end of the interaction.

Dr. Gutstein inspired me with his discussion of videos. Videos are our primary tool for critiquing OUR performance (not the child's). We can pick up so much more by watching a video of an interaction and can pick up on little nuances missed real-time. Even though I do not submit mine to a consultant, I had gotten out of the habit of studying videos to see what really happened and what I could be doing better. Videos are most helpful when we catch on film the good, the bad, and the ugly to help us figure out more effective ways of parenting.

Today, I filmed a thirty-minute segment in which I taught Pamela to play a solitaire game for two that my mother taught me (and her mother taught her). I even stopped procrastinating and figured out how to burn a DVD. Now, I can watch the DVD on our plasma television to help me catch the little details if I can stand seeing and hearing myself in living color. After I sign off, I plan to do my first analysis of how things to come up with a lessons learned.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Pamela's Latest Critter

Pamela just finished her first candlewicked dog. This project is a perfect example of how we weave Charlotte Mason and RDI together. Charlotte Mason believed the best handicrafts for children are those that are useful. Pamela's project is pretty enough to decorate any spot in our home. Charlotte also recommended handicrafts that developed fine motor skills. When Pamela was eight years old, she could hardly weave a shoestring through a lacing card. A decade later, she can sew beautiful artwork.

I try to working referencing, declarative language, and nonverbal communication when we make her projects. Today, for example, we shopped at the store around the corner to find the wooden acorn to hide the hoop screw. I pointed to things that would look silly (like doll hair or huge flowers) for fun. When we did the final touches, we each had roles: I held the ribbon, while she cut. I tied the ribbon, while she glued on the acorn.

Here are the steps we do as a team to make her candlewick critters.

* First, she draws an animal to fit the size of the hoop (five to six inches in diameter). Then, I trace it onto graph paper and make the dots. I bought a cutter used by quilters and a frame so that she can cut out a nine-inch-diameter circle. I transfer the dots to the muslin with a fine-tipped permanent marker.

* Then, she picks out the color of thread she plans to use for each part of the animal. We also pick out acrylic paint, ribbons, and decorative touches.

* Next, she makes French knots for all the dots. At first, we worked side by side until she got the hang of it. Now, she only comes to me when a knot went awry (which is not very often). In her first project (a red bird), I spaced the knots far apart. Now, they are closer together because she can take on more sewing per project.

* After three projects, I taught her the satin stitch, which she used for the collar and the nose of the dog. Whenever she learns a new stitch, we work side by side until she has mastered it. The next stitch she will learn is the running stitch. Very gradually, we will add more stitches and become more sophisticated.

* I use little tricks like masking tape. My mother taught me that the back of a needlework project ought to be as neat as the front. I achieve that by weaving threads into the back loops. To avoid getting them tangled while Pamela sews. I tape them to keep them out of her way.

* I do the detailed sewing (hemming the fabric and attaching the lace). I tried a hot glue gun with the first project and my thumbs got in the way and made a huge mess. It did not pass my mom's neatness test. I prefer spending the time sewing because it looks neater and allows you to wash the project more easily if it ever gets dirty.

* Pamela paints the outer piece of a very cheap wooden hoop. When completely dry, I attach the hoop, and we do the final decorative touches together.