Right now, our readings address the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. I chose In My Father's House, the autobiography of Corrie ten Boom, as a bridge from the period to World War II. Before leaving for Kansas last week, we read about her encounter with a mentally-ill man named Thys. As a child, Corrie prayed for the alcoholics and homeless people living on the streets near her home. She and her sister Nollie came across a crowd of children picking on Thys. The passage we read began,
I was so full of pity for poor Thys and angry at the cruel children that I shouted, "You leave him alone, do you hear!"Corrie went on to say that her sister Nollie, appalled at the kiss, whisked Corrie home. After hearing about what happened, their aunt scrubbed her face. At bedtime, their mama noted that Jesus was the source of her pity and kindness and that praying for street people might be a safer thing for little girls to do.
The children stopped at my bold challenge. They looked for his defender and saw a little girl, less than half his size. Suddenly he walked toward me and stooped down. I could smell the unpleasant odor of his unwashed clothes and matted beard. He put his hand under my chin and kissed me on both cheeks.
Yesterday—about a week later—Pamela read the next section. First, she narrated our last reading. Her retelling of the heated emotion of the scene came out in a burst of loud, angry words. "Corrie sees bullies. ANGRY! Leave him alone! Go away! Went to bed. Mom said obey. That's citizenship." Many things struck me about her account in that Pamela:
- Clearly felt Corrie's passion.
- Accurately labeled the children as bullies, a word not used in the passage.
- Recognized what Corrie did as a good deed even though her mother was worried.
- Picked a perfect word to describe Corrie's behavior: citizenship.
Pamela enjoys looking up words in the red discovery book (dictionary) and encyclopedia for fun. Curious about her knowledge of citizenship, I asked her where she read about it. She said, "In encyclopedia." I asked why she thought Corrie was doing citizenship. She explained, "Citizenship stop the war. Corrie stop the fighting." Then, I began to wonder. She reads my planning spreadsheets where I loosely categorize her school books as subjects. I had this book listed as World History, not Citizenship! Her summation of Corrie's action was truly an original thought!
Many students with autism prefer textbooks. Expectations are predictable. Having to answer the questions of others means more black-and-white thinking. Much of the work required is mindless busywork. Even though Pamela would find textbooks easier, I think going the living book route promotes more flexible thinking and more experience sharing.
Several articles that appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday affirm the elements of our approach to education:
- Reading Aloud to Older Children Is Valuable - Pamela and I read books in the manner described in the article, "And they read the Bard’s plays together, divvying up the parts, because 'that's how they are meant to be experienced.'" (We are reading aloud Macbeth right now!) Reading aloud to older children offers academic and emotional benefits. It broadens the menu by adding more challenging books. One mom describes how more pleasurable reading becomes for her daughter with dyslexia, "Reading together–with her watching the words as I read, and then her reading to me–is a way to be together, to experience the world, to enjoy a common pleasure." Retired teachers who reconnect with former students online find the most memorable thing they did as a class was reading aloud.
- Multi-Tasking Equals Failure to Filter - The jury is out on whether inattentive folks are born that way or are the product of chronic media multitasking. When several modes of data stream in, heavy multitaskers cannot ignore the irrelevant. They find organizing and storing information into memory difficult. They do not even switch attention faster. In a nutshell, information overload slows down their ability to process. That sounds a lot like autism!
- The Mind Is Made for Story - Modern textbooks promote multitasking. My son switched to public school as a junior. I was appalled at his precalculus textbook. The math book looked like it had ADHD: graphics, sidebars, pop-ups, font variability, etc. When looking up information to help David with his questions about math, I found it hard to follow a train of thought. Living books embed the information contained in graphics and sidebars into a narrative account. We can follow the train of thought in living books because our minds respond to stories.
- Lingering a Living Book in a Term or Year Supports Long-Term Memory - Modern students have to pack a textbook into one semester, and their classes can take up to ninety minutes. Packing in information over a short, intense period of time is called massed studying. Science backs up common thinking that cramming is ineffective. Yet, students today have to learn that way thanks to block scheduling. My high school spread out a math textbook over two semesters in five fifty-minute periods five times a week. Distributed study is far more effective. My husband's high school offered one math class. It weaved algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, etc. over the course of four years. He never took long breaks from algebra in order to learn geometry. He aced his math classes in college!
- The Real Issue Might Not Be Inattention! - Students today have so many entertainment choices they can avoid boredom. When something loses their attention, they tune into something else. Having no other option forces you to stick with what you are doing. Jennifer Roberts, professor of art and architecture history, assigned her students to write an in-depth research paper based upon a three hour study of any painting in a nearby museum. Continued looking at one thing revealed something new. The longer students the painting, the more they discovered. Patience was rewarded. Living books are another way to encourage sustained attention, and the joy of reading them is the reward.
And, folks, I am not the only person not giving up teaching an adult person in the autism spectrum to communicate! "the neuroplasticity necessary for new language learning that was not supposed to exist in this population, did exist. Many of the students desperately wanted to crack the code of conventional communication, and their brains were capable."