Saturday, August 29, 2009

Our First Week--In Review

Pamela is clearly in a search for meaning. The other day, we were reading the introduction to Augustus Caesar's World, which began with the myth of Janus and Rome's city gates. The story shifted to Octavius, who was attending college in Apollonia. Pamela wrote on her graphic organizer, "Octavius, 18 years old." I told the year was 44 B.C. Then she asked me, "What is B.C.?"

I didn't know whether to praise God or Snoopy dance, but ecstatic does not begin to describe my emotions. Not only is Pamela thinking and trying to make connections, she is able to ask me for more information! She could not do this two years ago!

I drew a hasty timeline and wrote "Creation" at the beginning and Pamela said, "Just like Old Testament." Then, I wrote "Jesus as a Boy" with a the number zero below and asked where the New Testament would go. Pamela pointed in the right place. When I wrote "Today" at the end, she said, "21st Century." I finally explained that A.D. is Anno Domini, Latin for "Year of the Lord", while B.C. is English for Before Christ.

Full of inspiration from my friends at ChildLight USA, I matched our first week with the recommendation of Charlotte Mason very closely. The highlight for Pamela was poetry, especially reading Walter de la Mare's Tired Tim in the mopiest, boredest voice and the pouchiest lip! Imagine! A person with a history of severe language delays loving the pictures and images painted by words.

The keys to helping her love poetry are context and meaning. While Pamela had no problem with Tired Tim and The Horseman, the other three poems were tough. Pamela has no idea why a butcher shop would disgust the poet, so, before the reading, we talked about things we thought that were ugly. I explained to her that our meat is wrapped us nicely in packages we buy at the store. In those days, people might see dead animals at the butcher shop. As I read I Can't Abear, Pamela's facial expression showed me she understood the poem. Before reading Mrs. Earth, we cleaned a silver spoon with a white cloth so Pamela could see the black tarnish and we studied two cans of paint, one rusted and one shiny. I thought the hardest poem would be Up and Down because I had trouble following it. Then, I found a map of Dicken's London and printed it out for Pamela. Before the reading, Pamela colored all the places mentioned in the poem with a yellow crayon. While I read it to her aloud, Pamela astonished me with her auditory processing skills and pointed out things like Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, and Temple Bar on the map. She sure has come a long way!

The following is a list of what we accomplished this week, according to plan. The keys are to have short lessons and to keep in mind what is really important (context, meaning, process, ideas). We are not at full schedule yet, but we managed to pull this off in less than 3 hours and 15 minutes a day. I do not have as much literature as other Charlotte Mason educators due to Pamela's severe language delays.

We did three short lessons, totaling an hour a day, on geometry, number theory, and algebra/arithmetic. In geometry, Pamela measured the length and width of small and large rectangular objects, learned what a square inch is, and discovered how to find the area of rectangle by counting square inches or multiplying length times width. She measured the base and height of right triangles and discovered how to find their area. In number theory, Pamela played various games that preview the concept of negative. Her B.C. question inspired me to invent a time travel game, too. She now understands how to add two negative numbers and how to add a positive and a negative, except when it crosses zero. Even though we said things like "going north/south" or "going back/ahead in time" rather than negative or positive, Pamela was practicing how to handle negative numbers. In algebra/arithmetic, we reviewed fractions and covered whole, equal parts versus unequal parts, fraction, numerator and denominator, the syntax of saying fractions, and equivalent fractions. I cleared up some gaps in her understanding and found out where she needs work.

We worked out of five books for our two threads of ancient history, and Pamela added pages to the book of centuries we started last year. For the most ancient of history, Pamela read and wrote a narration of Cain and Abel (Chapter 4 of Adam and His Kin and Genesis 4:1-15 from an illustrated version of Genesis). For the era leading to the birth of Jesus, she just started Augustus Caesar's World and typed narrations for 44 B.C.. She recorded some sidebars from The Amazing Expedition Bible and the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary at about 3-6 B.C. (Luke 1:39-56 of an illustrated version of The New Testament). I plan to blog her book of centuries down the road.

While formal geography was not on the schedule, we located Fleet Street, London and found Apollonia on a map of ancient Rome. I pointed out Sicily to Pamela and told her that her grandparents lived there for many years. Literature, history, and family reminiscing provide many opportunities to study maps!

Language Arts
Pamela did studied dictation of a one page story about Pandora and needed no special lessons. She started memorizing The Horseman for recitation and practiced her articulation in reciting, reading aloud poems, and singing songs. She typed narrations of Watership Down and her history readings. Pamela copied a poem she selected called "A Morning in Fall" by Reeve Lindbergh and part of a story she picked called Who Took the Farmer's Hat? into her copy journal for penmanship. Pamela completed Lesson 1 of Writing Strands Level 2 (emphasizing adjectives and commas). She took a picture and typed a story about her rabbit. Pamela learned syntax for saying fractions correctly by comparing the denominator to how we say singular versus plural nouns. She wrote out many of her answers in math in complete sentences. Pamela orally narrated her readings and two paintings by Monet.

Pamela read five poems by Walter de la Mare and one chapter of Watership Down.

Life Skills
Pamela helped me deliver hot lunches to eighteen elderly people through the Meals on Wheels program. She learned to rename and color-code tabs of Excel worksheets as well as add, move, and delete worksheets. She is creating a workbook with the calendar information she loves to track. She decided which way to turn while we were walking the dog, taking a different path every day. We talked about people we saw while we worked up a sweat (the neighbor's son getting off the bus and Opa driving to Sumter). She spent a little bit of time with her cousins who are visiting from Virginia.

We exercised by walking the dog and took one nature walk sans pooch. Pamela painted a leaf in her nature journal and nearly has the melody for Blessed Assurance and Land of the Silver Birch. What astounds me is how expressively Pamela sings: when she sang in the choir a few years back, I could hardly get her to articulate and now she sings with gusto! We listened to Mozart in the car (Pamela nearly always puts on classical music in the car anyway) and did two picture studies on Monet: The Picnic and Camille Embroidering.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Rabbit:

My furry, white rabbit with long, white ears, furry white hands, short, white feet, small, white tail, short pink bag and long, orange carrot was sitting on the grass. It slept.

Picture and Text by Pamela Glaser after her first lesson Writing Strands Level 2.

Unedited by Tammy Glaser, who is thinking her decision to go without the association method for language arts might be justified.

Geometry, Charlotte Mason Style

Have you ever looked on the Internet for original ideas in math? You can find tons of supposedly "fun" worksheets or kill and drill computer programs that focus on procedure or facts, not knowledge.

We covered area in our first week of 20-minute geometry lessons, Charlotte Mason style. She suggested giving a child "such problems as he can work, but yet which are difficult enough to cause him some little mental effort" (Volume 1, page 255). In other words, tedious long division problems or cutesy little worksheets are pointless. If a math lesson does not spark an original thought, then it is a waste of time!

Rather than make children memorize, Charlotte recommended making math so clear and understandable that any other way of learning a fact or doing a procedure would seem absurd.
"We remember how instructive and impressive Ruskin is on the thesis that 'two and two make four' and cannot by any possibility that the universe affords be made to make five or three. From this point of view, of immutable law, children should approach Mathematics; they should see how impressive is Euclid’s 'Which is absurd,' just as absurd as would be the statements of a man who said that his apples always fell upwards, and for the same reason. The behaviour of figures and lines is like the fall of an apple, fixed by immutable laws, and it is a great thing to begin to see these laws even in their lowliest application." (Volume 6, page 152)

How does this look in real life? My plan for this week was to introduce the concept of area and work through the area of various shapes. Most curriculum hand down the magical formula from on high that some smart dead guy figured out a long time ago. I wanted Pamela to discover it for herself.

Day One
I gathered a bunch of flat, rectangular objects (refrigerator magnet, sticky note, Netflix envelope, etc.) for Pamela to measure. First, I grabbed two items and asked her which one was bigger. She had no problems understanding this preview of area. I had a 7" x 10" grid (an Excel spreadsheet) that represented 70 square-inch blocks. I gave Pamela a piece of paper with columns for the object, length, width, square inches, and shape. We measured length and width with a ruler and outlined the object on the grid. Then, I introduced the idea of a square-inch and measured the sides of one. We counted up the number of square-inch blocks in the first item, and then Pamela recorded her observations for the first object. We continued the process until we hit the fourth object when she figured out the pattern: length times width yields the square inches.


We repeated this process for all seven objects so that Pamela could know through her own reason that the area of a rectangle is the length times width. Anything else would seem absurd to her. Imagine I said to ADD the dimensions. She would know that made no sense because she figured out the pattern for herself!

Day Two
This lesson took much longer because I wanted her to apply the same thinking to larger rectangular objects. At first, we covered the objects with the grids. You can see how we covered the top of the toaster with grids.

When the objects were too large, Pamela calculated the square inches for herself. She worked hard until she finished the fourth object and realized she was not even half of the way done. Measuring large objects with a ruler required her to skip count and do mental math in her head. She became tired and disheartened with five objects left. I checked the stopwatch and realized she had only four minutes left, so I showed it to her and said, "We only have enough time for one more problem!" Pamela's face brightened and she eagerly went back to work. Charlotte knew the value of short lessons: "Give him short sums, in words rather than in figures, and excite him in the enthusiasm which produces concentrated attention and rapid work" (Volume 1, page 261).

Day Three
Rather than jump to the formula right away, we worked on word problems today in which Pamela drew the items (and even colored them) and figured out the answers. Since we dropped the association method, I even encouraged her to write the answer in complete sentences. Often we jump so quickly to new symbols and formulas that meaning disappears. "I recommend strongly that no new symbol should ever be introduced before it is necessary to use it in practical work. A new labour-saving symbol is like a new machine, extremely interesting when you realize its usefulness, merely strange when you see it lying idle" (Parent's Review Article).

Day Four
Pamela discovered how to find the area of a triangle. I spotlighted the difference between the area of a rectangle and triangle with similar dimensions by having Pamela doing them together and filling out this chart.

To figure out the area of a triangle, we identified and counted the whole blocks first. Then, I cut out the partial blocks and Pamela matched them. We counted the matched partials and added it to the whole blocks to get the number of square inches.

We found an alternate and easier way to do this with a square!

As you can see on the video, Pamela did well. She caught onto the pattern by the third and fourth set.


Day Five Plan
We continued to work on triangles, which are tricky because of the concept of base and height, which I plan to flesh out next week. We had a wonderful week and Pamela's opinion of geometry is that, "Great! Fun! I measured." Now, that is what I call an accurate gestalt of our week.

Let his arithmetic lesson be to the child a daily exercise in clear thinking and rapid, careful execution, and his mental growth will be as obvious as the sprouting of seedlings in the spring. (Volume 1, page 261)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Original Thinking about Geometry

Warning: You are about to enter the Land of Original Thinking. If you like the security of following exactly what a text book says and marking your own trail makes you feel dizzy, find another math guide!

Last June, I presented the topic of how Charlotte Mason taught math. Inspired by the soundness of her ideas, I will attempt to implement them this year with Pamela, who is taking Pre-Algebra. Judging by the reaction of people in my audience, the most controversial recommendation was the following:
Pronounce a sum wrong, or right––it cannot be something between the two. That which is wrong must remain wrong: the child must not be let run away with the notion that wrong can be mended into right. (Volume 1, Pages 260-261)

What! No partial credit? But . . . but . . . but . . .

I know!

I even admitted to my class I had never really attempted this. Someone suggested a brilliant way to do it, so I went home and immediately adopted her idea with David, who was working his way through the final third of MUS Algebra II. We loved it!

What she suggested is to assign only half of the problems and mark what is right right and what is wrong wrong. Then, assign an extra problem for each wrong one, keeping in mind Charlotte's admonition that "he may get the next sum right, and the wise teacher will make it her business to see that he does" (Volume 1, page 261). How? Assess what went wrong and resolve this issue before trying more problems, whether it be careless execution, misunderstanding one little thing, or completely missing the boat.

Charlotte believed that arithmetic trained children to be accurate and clear-thinking. We foster slipshod habits of mind by "the copying, prompting, telling, helping over difficulties, working with an eye to the answer which he knows" Volume 1, page 260.

While Charlotte Mason's books do not go into great detail on math, clues are scattered online. The latest complete PNEU schedule for the highest form available online is for 1922: Charlotte Mason broke math up into three short lessons (Arithmetic, Geometry, and Algebra), using different books for each. I modeled our plan around this idea and spread Math-U-See's thirty-lesson schedule for Pre-Algebra over 36 weeks. The following is my plan for Geometry (roughly one-third of the book) in 20 minutes every school day, five times a week:

Week 1 - Assess and fill in gaps for the area of a square/rectangle/triangle/circle.
Week 2 - Introduce surface area of cubes, rectangular solids, and rectangular and triangular pyramids by using concrete objects. Transition to pictures of them by making shapes from paper and unfolding them to figure out surface area.
Week 3 - Transition from unfolded shapes to labeled pictures to drawing surface area for word problems.
Week 4 - Do selected surface area problems from Lesson 15 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 5 - Introduce the volume of rectangular solids by slicing up blocks of cheese or using building blocks. Transition from blocks to slices and transition to labeled pictures.
Week 6 - Transition from drawing pictures for rectangular solid volume to word problems and working through the equations.
Week 7 - Introduce Pythagorean theorem by measuring by hand, squaring each side, and looking for a pattern. Transition to figuring it out from a labeled picture.
Week 8 - Transition from solving the Pythagorean theorem for labeled pictures to drawing right triangles for word problems.
Week 9 - Do selected Pythagorean problems from Lesson 10 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 10 - Introduce volume of cylinders by finding the volume of stacks of coasters, pineapple, etc. Transition to labeled pictures.
Week 11 - Transition from labeled pictures to drawing cylinders for word problems.
Week 12 - Do selected volume of a cylinder problems from Lesson 24 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 13 - Introduce volume of pyramids with a square base and cones by filling different-sized objects of these shapes with rice and pouring them into rectangular solids and cylinders with the same dimensions. The goal is demonstrate that one is one-third of the other. Transition to labeled pictures.
Week 14 - Transition from labeled pictures to drawing pyramids and cones for word problems.
Week 15 - Do selected volume of a pyramid and cone problems from Lesson 27 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 16 - Assess memory of ratios and proportions. Using concrete activities like cooking and whole/part pictures and thinking to reintroduce ratios and proportions.
Week 17 - Transition from whole/part pictures to drawing them for word problems.
Week 18 - Do selected ratio and proportion problems from Lesson 19 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 19 - Measure the sides of similar polygons (while practicing knowing their names) and look for a pattern. Transition to doing the same for labeled pictures.
Week 20 - Transition from labeled pictures to similar polygon word problems.
Week 21 - Do selected similar polygon problems from Lesson 20 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 22 - Practice carrying and borrowing in inches, feet, and yards using strips representing each. Transition to labeled pictures, drawing, and equations.
Week 23 - Transition to labeled pictures, drawing, and equations. Then, try it with adding and subtracting time.
Week 24 - Do selected adding and subtracting time problems from Lesson 26 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 25 - Read temperatures of various liquids in Fahrenheit and Celsius. Measure freezing and boiling temperatures of water too. Show the logic of how the conversions are made using two strips of paper with these two temperatures in both units.
Week 26 - Transition to drawing and equations.
Week 27 - Do selected Celsius to Fahrenheit problems from Lesson 16 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 28 - Show the logic of how the conversions are made using two strips of paper with these two temperatures in both units. Transition to drawing and equations.
Week 29 - Do selected Celsius to Fahrenheit problems from Lesson 17 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 30 - Show the same civilian time and military time until she sees the pattern. Develop a formula for converting time.
Week 31 - Try adding and subtracting multary time as was done with measurements and civilian time previously.
Week 32 - Do selected adding and subtracting military time problems from Lesson 28 of MUS Pre-Algebra.
Week 33 - Add and subtract measurements through concrete activities: feet and inches, yards and feet, pounds and ounces.
Week 34 - Add and subtract measurements through pictures: feet and inches, yards and feet, pounds and ounces.
Week 35 - Add and subtract measurements by drawing for word problems: feet and inches, yards and feet, pounds and ounces.
Week 36 - Do selected adding and subtracting measurement problems from Lesson 29 of MUS Pre-Algebra.

In the following posts, I will include my plans for Algebra and Number Theory and what we covered in our first week of each.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sailing through the First Day of School

Because we spend three weeks ramping up to a full blown schedule, Pamela breezed through her first day of school today! Attending ChildLight USA's annual conference last June renewed my enthusiasm about applying Charlotte Mason's methods even more thoughtfully than I had before. I have changed some aspects of our homeschooling program:

So, how did our three-hour-and-fifteen-minute day look?

  • Covered columns/letters, rows/numbers, and cells and renaming and color-coding the tabs of worksheets in Excel to make a calendar spreadsheet for 20 minutes.
  • Copied part of a story that she choose in her copy journal for 5 minutes.
  • Measured length and width of seven flat, rectangular objects and used a grid of square-inch blocks to figure out the area for 20 minutes--she figured out how to calculate the area halfway through the activity!
  • Reviewed whole numbers versus fractions and the need for pieces to be the same size using the concrete idea of pizza, pie, and cookies for 20 minutes.
  • Played the map game and recorded her movements north and south to introduce the idea of negative numbers for 20 minutes.
  • Typed a narration of Chapter 11 of Watership Down for 10 minutes and read a page and a half from Chapter 12 for 15 minutes.
  • Typed a narration of Cain and Abel based on a storyboard from last June for 10 minutes.
  • Wrote three sentences from a story about Pandora for studied dictation with no mistakes for 10 minutes.
  • Read half a page from Adam and His Kin plus Genesis 4:25-5:4 for 10 minutes and started a new storyboard about Seth's family for 5 minutes.
  • Sang three verses of Blessed Assurance for 5 minutes.
  • Read aloud Walter de la Mare's poem The Horseman for 10 minutes.
  • Use the poem as a springboard for understanding adjectives and doing the first day of Lesson 1 in Writing Strands Level 2 for 15 minutes.

  • Walked the Arwenator (our hyperactive dog) for 30 minutes.
  • Listened to Mozart for 10 minutes while running errands.
I was especially pleased with Pamela's very succinct narration of Cain and Abel:
Adam and Eve had two babies called Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel was burning some animals. Cain Fought Abel. Abel was dead. Abel went to Heaven. Cain was homeless.

She also wrote a neat sentence for Writing Strands 2 with very little guidance from me:
This is a pink hat with moon, stars, and patches.

We will be phasing in literature, chores, science, geography, and the new history material in the next three weeks, so stay tuned!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monitoring May Be Too Much of a Good Thing

We spent many hours in the car on Saturday, and I was able to take three terrific shots that spotlight some interesting things about Pamela's development. Pamela took sign language homeschool co-operative classes for about three years (ages 9-11 and age 14). She struggled with the same issues in sign language that she struggled with autism: problems reading and using facial expressions, word order and syntax, and intricate details in gestures. Now that she is more adept in nonverbal communication, Pamela is starting to recall her favorite signs and is becoming creative! A few weeks ago, she invented her own sign for "old woman": instead of signing woman and then old. She made the wrinkled face pictured on the left and signed "woman"! Pretty clever, huh?
One thing that struck me about Pamela on this trip was how well she connected to her brother and her cousin. She always looked the person in the face, turning her face to them, whenever they were talking. At one point, she played a game with them. Jose whispered something to Pamela, and then she whispered something to David. Then, David whispered to Pamela and she turned around and whispered to Jose. She enjoyed playing these silly games with her brother and cousin.
Two years ago, Jose's younger brother Antonio stayed with us for about two weeks when Pamela was only six months into our RDI journey. She was not able to interact with him in the rich manner she interacts now. Jose told me that this is the first time he has ever been able to make connections with her. He finds it novel interacting with her like this for the first time in twenty years, so he plays along well: he knows that she likes to "cure" people with her magic finger, so he coughs and she zaps him and says, "Hocus pocus!" Jose has already figured out her favorite songs and tries to encourage Pamela to sing along with him. Sometimes, she joins him and, at other times, she makes a raspberry. He gets a kick out of her desire to interact, and he will say, "Pamela, give me five" or "Pamela, can I see the old woman face?"

Today, Jose and I howled with laughter at something Pamela did at the Post Office. We were standing in line, and this little girl touched the fan. Not only did Pamela monitor what the four-year-old did, but she also scolded her in a gentle but serious tone, "Don't touch it . . . you be in big trouble . . . you're a naughty girl!" A year ago, Pamela would have been oblivious. Today, she noticed the action, she realized it could be harmful, and she took an appropriate step (appropriate being based on her level of social development, not her age).

Fortunately, the grandmother of the little girl took it well and the girl looked up at Pamela with wide eyes, unsure of what to do. I thank God the little one did not cry or get flustered!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Daddy's Girl

Pamela and Steve are sharing joint attention, a cognitive skill often lacking in autism, as they look at his Blackberry, while he checks his email. Joint attention, a triangulating relationship between two people and an external stimuli, is much more than a snapshot in time. By the age of twelve months, a baby desires "to broaden her own subjective impressions by learning those of her partners. She is borrowing the perspective of another person's mind to enhance her own ability to obtain meaning" (The RDI Book, page 120). We are using this ability to guide Pamela through three cool milestones right now, captured in a very brief conversation caught on video at Walmart the other day.

Pamela is more able to tolerate things that might be broken. I dropped the camera when I tried to turn it on. While I was picking it up, Pamela asked, "Is it broke?" A few years ago, such an incident would be cause for a meltdown. Instead of flipping out, she noticed that I was calm so she referenced my reaction and stayed calm, too.

For some reason, Pamela switched topics to Steve and his running schedule. Because Pamela did not like his unpredictable departure times for going to work she practically stalked him until he was out the door. Last January, as part of our whac-a-mole campaign, we started working on her anxieties and very slowly, but surely, she learned to embrace the idea that he leaves for work at a different time every day and some days he even works at home. Her final tactic was to talk Steve out of running because she observed a pattern between running and later departure times. We guided her out of pestering him about that too once he realized that his soft spot for Pamela allowed her to manipulate him, knowingly and deliberately.

Tuesday morning, Steve's touch pad on his work laptop died. Pamela walked into the room while he quietly tried to figure out the problem. She stayed calm as we searched the drawers for a wireless mouse, located batteries, and realized the mouse was no good. She asked, "Is it broke?" Steve calmly replied, "I am going to give it to the techie at work. He's really good. He can fix anything."
Pamela is also learning to monitor my movements. When we dropped David off at the dentist, she sprinted ahead of me into the waiting room and let the door close on me. Her cousin Jose and I stood outside the door, peering at her through the glass, waiting for her to realize what happened. On the way in to pick up David, Pamela showed much more caution. In the second and third clips, filmed the next day, we are going in and out of a new building and Pamela monitors me much more carefully this time.
Pamela shares a close bond with her cousin Jose, who is only six months older than her. She cracked up him up the other day when he was chatting with one of his friends via webcam on his laptop. Jose asked her to say hi to his friend. Feeling a bit jealous of competition, Pamela said, "P-U! You stink!" Then, she fired her magic finger (seen in the picture to the left) and said, "Shoot her!"

Monday, August 10, 2009

Chim, Chiminea . . .

Last Friday, we learned that we would be hosting our nephew from El Salvador for twelve days until his dormitory opens. We planned to meet up with his father and brothers on Saturday and take him home--a five-hour round trip. When I let Pamela know about her cousin's visit, she bolted and Snoopy danced her way through the house. Later, she came up to me and said, "Tomorrow's an exciting day!"

Yesterday morning, Steve was sitting in bed with his laptop, and I was just beginning to wake up at about seven. Pamela walked in the room, moved to Steve's side of the bed, looked at him, and said, "Good morning." Then, she walked around to my side of the bed and greeted me good morning, too!

These two stories illustrate a point: Pamela knows how to share sweet moments without having a hidden agenda. She did not share her excitement as means to worm her way into a trip to the mall or her favorite restaurant. In fact, they ended up shopping for golf clubs and eating at Outback, a restaurant we have never tried (yes, I know they feature a gluten-free menu and yummy food). She did not greet us with good morning and then hit us up with questions like "What's for breakfast?" or "When are we leaving?" Sometimes, people talk simply to share what they are thinking!

Those who endorse teaching through positive reinforcements often point out that we all work for money, and, if left unpaid, we would quit our jobs. Abraham Lincoln made a great point about work, "My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it." If offered two jobs with the same pay, one boring and the other fulfilling, most people would choose the latter. If all of our income needs were met, would we still work? It depends upon the nature of the job. Work that has intrinsic meaning and fulfillment would still be worth pursuing for its own sake.

Why do people volunteer? Once or twice a month, rain, stifling heat, or freezing cold, the kids and I deliver meals on wheels. We are not paid for it. The weather makes it unpleasant sometimes. The people we are serving will probably never be able to return the favor for they are poor and elderly. We serve them out of gratitude for our blessings in hopes of brightening their day with food and a friendly face.

What motivates people to feed the birds or exceed expectations in lawn care like Mr. Pearl Fryar in Bishopville? Why do we read books like The Lord of the Rings that teach us nothing practical but touch the soul? Why do we drive to a special spot to watch the sunrise? Why do folks cook a delicious meal when something easy like a peanut butter and jelly on wheat sandwiches with carrot sticks and an apple will do?

For some inexplicable reason that has to do with the sacredness of personality, we find it irresistable. Charlotte Mason believed we could teach children without toying with their desires. She wrote, "But knowledge is delectable. We have all the 'satiable curtiosity' of Mr. Kipling's Elephant even when we content ourselves with the broken meats flung by the daily press. Knowledge is to us as our mother's milk, we grow thereby and in the act of sucking are admirably content" (Volume 6, page 89).

Some criticize RDI because it ignores "proven" behavior principles like reinforcement and motivation. Can children with autism learn for the sake of learning without these principles? In Pamela's case, yes! I snicker because one board-certified behavior therapist admits that RDI may help "some advanced and naturally vocal children"--a person with lifelong aphasia who is still mastering English as a first language at age twenty is not what I call naturally vocal.

How do we teach children with autism without behavior principles? The other day Pamela ran into the house to tell me the chiminea had fallen. The news was not all that surprising for the thing was cracked in several spots. I asked Pamela if she wanted to help me clean up and she agreed. First, I pulled over the big trash can, opened it up, and looked at the mess, acting as if I were thinking about what to do first. Pamela looked at the mess too, grabbed a piece of the pot, and tossed it into the can. Then, I did the same. We took turns picking up big pieces, sticks, and trash we had intented to burn.

At one point, Pamela stopped and said, "Wash your hands." I noted, "My hands are dirty too. I'm going to wait until I'm finished." Then, I kept working and she did the same. We got to the point in which the only thing left was ash and small bits of debris. I said, "I don't think we can pick that up with our hands," and walked over to the shed. We found two shovels, a snow shovel and a digging shovel. Pamela had never used a big shovel before so I demonstrated how to use it and then we took turns trying out both shovels as long as it seemed worth while.

Ash was all over that corner of the brick patio, so we grabbed the big broom from the garage. Pamela held the snow shovel on the grass, while I swept ash onto the shovel. When finished, she dumped it into the trash can. To remove all of the fine ash, we walked over to the hose. Pamela secured the spray nozzle to the hose, and I turned it on. Then, she sprayed the brick until she thought it looked good enough. When finished, we put everything away and washed our hands.

Collaborating to figure out a new task is an example of guided participation. I structured the activity through familiar interaction patterns: alternating and simultaneous. When Pamela was unsure of a step, she looked at me and I nodded to let her know she was on track. She struggled to stick the snow shovel under the debris, and I scaffolded with my hands over her hands. I guided the movement of the shovel to the trashcan and held my hands underneath the handle in case Pamela found it too heavy. She did so well the first time dumping ash into the can, I backed out and let her be. The only time I stepped back into assist on her turn was when she asked for help. When I made declarative comments, I was just making talk. The goal of narrating is to describe what we are doing, not to tell Pamela what to do. Directing her verbally would rob her of the opportunity to think.

Behaviorists do somthing similar with "a heavy emphasis on making learning enjoyable, and on engaging the learner in positive social interactions" (Dr. Gina Green). Why must they make learning more palatable? Once Pamela learned to embrace change and novelty, she began to feel competent about the constant variations and unexpected events of life, which increased her motivation to learn. Dr. Steve Gustein's description fits Pamela well, "Apprentices who routinely experience challenges as safe and successful develop a strong motivation to explore and expand their world, as well as a sense of general well being, competence and trust in themselves and their guides." Even though she had never cleaned up a broken chiminea nor handled a shovel, she felt competent enough to try something new.
"These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire." Charlotte Mason's Fourth Principle of Education.

Friday, August 07, 2009

A Work in Progress

"The human brain is a work-in-progress that reflects your experiences and your relationships" writes Dr. Jeanne Segal. Three years ago, I might have added, "Except for autism," but now I know differently! I would not have believed this nugget ("Scientists studying people over age ninety have found that their subjects' brains can continue to produce new neural pathways even though older pathways are dying") to be true because of all of the neural plasticity blather until I saw Pamela learn to do things children with autism are not supposed to do at the ripe age of eighteen-plus. Three years ago, a statement like this would have made no sense, "The human brain is highly social." Now, I have seen that even the brain of my autistic teenager is highly social when I work within her zone of proximal development (where she is developmentally, even if that means working on preschooler skills).

The following quote fills me up with hope that Pamela will continue to blossom in her ability to make connections and relate to others:
Because the brain remains flexible throughout life, it is capable of continual change. This constant development is influenced by the people with whom we are emotionally attached. As we grow older, this inter-dependence continues to change the way our brains function.

The key factor in shaping the function of the brain is . . . relationship!

Ya, think?

Too many times, I read that RDI is nothing more than a kinder, gentler way of shaping behavior. Okay, I do end up changing behavior, but I do not do it by reinforcing targeted responses because half of the time I am not sure how Pamela will respond. The thought of punishment or reward does not even occur to me when we are interacting with one another. The other day Pamela cried out and acted a bit rude toward me when I did something unexpected. Because I realized right away that she misunderstood what I was doing, I worked on guiding her thinking first.

We have the Netflix option of having three DVDs checked out at a time. Pamela has one, David has one, and Steve and I "share" ours. Right now, we have four out because, when a movie is not stocked, they send the next item on the list plus order the unstocked item. So, we have four DVDs in our possession right now.

I noticed we had FIVE return envelopes because the last time I mailed two DVDs in the same envelope. The return envelopes were on the desk right next to Pamela where she was sitting. Since we only needed four, I threw one away. Pamela got worried and said in a high pitched voice, "We need it! Take it back!"

I paused and, when she grew quiet and shifted attention to me, I explained that we already have four envelopes. That still did not satisfy her because she said, "This one!" and pointed to the trash. Then I picked up the envelopes and counted them out, "We have four envelopes. One" I paused, and Pamela joined in on the count. We counted the rest together, "Two, Three, Four."

Then, I said, "We have four DVDs." We counted them out. Then, Pamela said, "Good."

I did not have to tell her how to change her behavior nor did I have to shape it. Once we shared the same understanding of the situation, my unexpected action made sense to Pamela and she calmed down. The episode added to Pamela's memory bank of situations in which her mother will stop and explain things that she does not understand. I become more trustworthy in her eyes.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I am becoming less reliable to teach Pamela the importance of monitoring other people. On one shopping trip, I did not go through the door if she did not hold it for me or I forgot to get a cart. If I did that every time, Pamela would develop a mindless habit of keeping the door open or getting the cart. Some days, I act like my old self and remain completely reliable to avoid getting into a rut.

Other days, I am more of a ditz. Yesterday, I took my socks off in the car because my feet were hot and one fell out of the car onto the asphalt. After Pamela got out of the car to go to the store, she spotted the sock immediately. She said, "Oops," picked it up, and put it back in the car. I do things like grab the wrong cereal even though she told me which one she wanted or drop the shopping list (she picked it up and said, "You dropped it."). I have forgotten to take the cart when leaving the store or left a bag at the self-checkout. In both cases, Pamela acted appropriately in repairing the situation.

Sometimes, I let Pamela learn through natural consequences. She was at the passenger door of the car and called out, "Open the door." I was busy putting bags in the storage compartment before I returned the cart. She repeated her request two or three times but did not come to make sure I was paying attention. So, I pretended that I hadn't heard her! I put away the cart and, when I turned around, I saw Pamela standing behind the car watching me. She did come to see why I wasn't paying attention, but not fast enough to catch me before I walked away with the cart. Then, I apologized for not unlocking the doors and we went home.

I guess you could say I am shaping Pamela's ability to monitor me, but not with clear, direct reinforcements. My goal is not for her to acquire language, knowledge, and the procedures of life in a static, scripted way, but to apply what she is learning in situations that are unique, spontaneous, and unpredictable. Dr. Segal's gestalt nails it here,

To learn in a manner that produces change (and not merely a glut of information), you need to engage the emotional centers of the brain. There is a difference between learning, taking in new information--and changing, consistently applying what you have learned to the varying circumstances in your life.