For years, I believed that Pamela couldn't learn nonverbals for I believed her brain was hard-wired not to communicate in that way. I mainly focused on speech. We worked so hard for every word and every sentence that, when RDI felt like taking taking a step backward to focus on nonverbals. Since Pamela did not have the habit of paying attention to my actions and body language, all she needed to process was words, or text, a script without any stage directions.
To give you an example of what our children might be missing by relying upon only words, I typed up a script of the beginning of the video posted below.
Me: Ooooo! Very nice!
Me: What color do you want to do?
Me: Green. Okay now, with the green, we're going to have to add one tablespoon of white vinegar. We need one tablespoon of white vinegar.
Did you catch everything that was going on? Probably not.
I rewrote the script with different channels. Imagine you have five color-coded wires that carry specific stimuli. In an instant, our brains process information from all five wires into one packet of meaning, which I placed in capital letters. Infants spend the first year-and-a-half of life, learning how to interpret each wire of information and process it all into one packet of meaning. Isn't the brain amazing?
Black = text
Green = actions
Red = head movement/facial expression
Purple = point or other hand gestures
Blue = voice changes
CAPITAL LETTERS = meaning
I follow Pamela's track with my eyes as she carries a cup of water and hands it to me. PAMELA KNOWS I WANT THE WATER. I put my finger in the water TO TEST THE TEMPERATURE. Pamela she watches me with her hands up IN ANTICIPATION. She wiggles her fingers AND FEELS NERVOUS. My voice takes on a high-pitched intrigued tone.
Me: Ooooo! Very nice!
THE TEMPERATURE IS PERFECT. Pamela opens her mouth and drops her hands TO RELAX.
I shrug my shoulders and lay my hand on the table palm up TO INVITE HER TO SIT.
Me: What color do you want to do?
I look down TO STUDY THE BOX and pick up the cup of water. Pamela watches my movement. SHE IS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HER ROLE. I pour while I talk so my voice pacing has starts and stops.
Me: Green. Okay now, with the green, we're going to have to add one tablespoon of white vinegar.
I grab the bottle of vinegar and speak slowly. I'M NOT SURE SHE UNDERSTOOD.
Me: We need one tablespoon of white vinegar.
I touch the cup of green dye TO SHOW WHERE THE VINEGAR GOES. I clasp my hands together and stare at Pamela. I'M WAITING FOR HER TO MAKE A MOVE. Pamela stands up to get the tablespoon. PAMELA UNDERSTANDS ME CLEARLY.
One of the broad goals of establishing a Guided Participation Relationship (GPR) is to present opportunties for your child to look to you for information, not pure words, but multi-channel information, and begin to piece together what it all means. At first, this task is incredibly difficult. It may be only possible to focus on one channel at a time: smile versus frown, head nod versus head shake, nah-uh versus uh-huh, happy sound versus sad sound, etc. Picking ingredients already sitting on the table to put in a bowl, shopping for ten items on a list, going on a treasure hunt at the park, looking for lost toys, playing I spy, putting away silverware, etc. are ripe for this kind of broadband communication, or horizontal integration (the brain process sensory information into meaning).
Reviewing elements of GPR from yesterday in this clip, we have some productive uncertainty. I told Pamela to get warm water. Warm is an ambiguous word. She doesn't easily distinguish between fractions of a cup, tablespoons, teaspoons, and fractions of a teaspoon. I didn't realize the clean tablespoon was in the dishwasher, so she searched quite diligently before asking for help. I really don't have any sensory issues, so my helplessness at having wet fingers surprised her. Pamela was slightly annoyed! Pamela's active role was to fetch things. We didn't follow any clearcut interaction patterns, but, in later clips, we randomly took turns pouring water and vinegar.
Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) GPR requires thinkspace. I know where Pamela is in various areas of her development. The key to making uncertainty productive is to know what is within reach for your child. I would not expect a young, impatient child to search through drawers for a tablespoon, only for it to be in the dishwasher! I would have everything needed on the table, ready to go, for wee ones with short attention spans. I would plan a five-minute task and be ready to switch to something else. I would not expect a child with fine motor delays to handle boiled eggs without dropping them. The ideal is to have a child work on the edge of where she feels competent without pushing so hard that she screams and cries out of frustration. Constant dysregulation might be due to working outside the zone too often. The book Awakening Children's Minds by Laura Berk explains ZPD and other elements used in RDI, including references for actual research studies.
Framing In framing an activity, keep in mind the child's ZPD and your objectives. If you are a beginner at RDI, focusing on yourself is more important than what your child accomplishes. In setting up an Easter egg activity, if your child has fine motor delays, you might want to set up an assembly line of scooping a treat into a plastic egg (the child) and then putting on the top (the adult). If you do your productive uncertainty correctly, interest usually lasts longer than expected: suppose you get through three eggs and your child scoops treats into the egg easily, you might make a face of anticipation (the kind you use when playing peek-a-boo) and then grab the wrong color top. Or you pick the right color top, make the face, and drop it. "Uh-oh!" Or you wink, say, "Sh!", and sneak a bit of the treat. Or you switch roles. Variation often extends attention span, but eventually it wears off, so have a second step planned: putting stickers on the eggs to decorate them: you peel and they stick. Have a third step, take turns putting an egg into a basket for the Easter bunny to hide later.
Framing means setting up the activity in a way to spotlight your objective, which in this case would be learning the intricacies of GPR. Even now, once I start an activity, I think about how well I am guiding Pamela. Am I going slowly enough for her to feel competent? Does she have an active role? Am I limiting my words and exaggerating my nonverbals? Am I using declarative language?
Scaffolding While framing is what you do before an activity, scaffolding, another element covered in Awakening Children's Minds, is what you do during the activity. Scaffolding is giving a child just enough support to create productive uncertainty while staying in the zone through warm, encouraging interactions and modeling helpful self-talk. I did not offer to help Pamela until asked. I didn't fuss about failing to find the tablespoon and, while I searched, I modeled thinking out loud to help her see how thoughts guide our behavior. I stayed upbeat, even when I could not find it myself, so that she learns to remain calm and neutral during problem solving. Scaffolding is dynamic because we give more support when walking on the very edge of competency and less support for something nearly mastered. Some days require more scaffolding than others because we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes!
Social Referencing By the age of twelve months, infants can do some social referencing, which is paying attention to their parents' nonverbal communication when solving a problem. In the visual cliff experiment (click here for the video), parents place their infants on a crawling table set up to look like a cliff. Infants recognize the potential danger, stop, and look to their parents for guidance. If the parent smiles, the infant keeps crawling. If the parent looks fearful, the infant refuses to budge.
Social referencing greases the skids of otherwise awkward situations. A lovely scene in the new production of Emma illustrates this. At her first dinner party at Hartfield, Harriet Smith references the behavior of her guide Emma Woodhouse into Highbury's high society. When unsure how to wear a napkin or spoon soup, she carefully watches Emma for clues. Later, when Harriet believes herself in love for the third time in a year, Emma cautions her to check her feelings and "Let his behaviour be the guide of your sensations." That is really referencing in a nutshell, letting the behavior of people you trust guide you.
It takes time to weave all these elements together real-time on the fly and capitalize on opportunities as they arise. The other day, Pamela and I headed to the post office to mail the census form. I parked parallel to the spot where the blue mail boxes are, only three cars back. Pamela has mailed stamped letters all by herself before, but never metered mail. I was curious to see if (a) she would notice the envelope lacked stamps and (b) she would reference me to solve the problem. Since this situation is in her ZPD and making a mistake would not be the end of the world, I framed it by deciding not to mention anything. Sometimes, deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. She scampered down the sidewalk to drop off the envelope. I scaffolded her by staying in the car and waiting to see what she would do. Pamela stopped at the box for stamped mail and then flipped the envelope around a couple of times. When she realized it had no stamp, she hesitated and looked at me. My heart leapt for joy. I shook my head, so she stepped to the metered box and mailed the census form. The true test of mastery in RDI is not getting the targeted response in a series of repetitive drills, carefully generalized. It is seeing the child apply the objective in the real world, unprompted, because it just makes sense.