Friday, November 30, 2007

Scaffolding and the Cutting Edge

In Chapter 2 of Awakening Children's Minds, Laura Berk discusses scaffolding as a way to help children in mastering new areas of competence. Today, we had a great example of how this works. Pamela finds cutting anything short or curved a challenge. We have been making toys from The Toymaker to practice cutting (among other things). Today, we cut out the Christmas angel box. When we started RDI, Pamela could handle simple cutting tasks that were straight and long. She was not very good at corners, short snips, and curves. She tried to cut curves with shorter straight cuts. She cut this piece all by herself today, a task she can do independently because it had all straight lines and right-angle corners. I assisted by cleaning up a couple of corners--the last skill she needs to learn for cutting corners.

When it comes to cutting, we have a shared understanding that Pamela will cut as much as she can by herself and I will cut the tricky parts. She got this far when she recognized the short, tight cuts in the roof were too hard. She told me, "Help me with this." I cut only the parts that were challenging and encouraged her to keep cutting.

She reached another tight, tricky corner near the floor of the house. I left one little triangle for her to snip and asked her if she could do it. She said she could and finished cutting the rest all on her own.

As you can see she had a couple of snags that were minor, so I cleaned it up for her. Her cutting has improved over the past couple of months, and I did not think it was worth drawing her attention to it since I had bigger plans in mind.

She did not know where to begin with the angel and handed me the entire piece, uncut. I decided to cut the inner part of the wings and section between the head and wings. I thought she could do the stand all by herself, and I would use the long curve edge of the wings to demonstrate how to cut curves. I filmed us cutting the angel: first, I told her I thought she could do the straight edges and she agreed. Then, we talked about how you cut with the cutting hand and you turn with the turning hand (she is left handed, so I wanted to avoid left versus right).

The first clip shows the straight cuts.

The second clip shows the curved cuts. This is the first time Pamela has ever successfully turned a paper while cutting a curve! You can see how pleased I am by the smile on my face!

The first technique of scaffolding I used was joint problem solving aimed at keeping Pamela in the zone of proximal development. I broke down the task into three parts: the interior, which I would cut; the straight stand, which Pamela would cut; and the long curves, which I would show Pamela how to cut. I provided very little direction in the straight cuts because she has mastered that skill. I provided detailed direction on the long curve because had never been able to do it before unless I held the paper and turned it for her. Since I knew cutting curves was at the edge of the zone, I moved in closer to narrow the zone of connection between us. I had to give her a little "tu" sound to help her think of the word, turning, which I was trying to spotlight. I also repositioned the paper to maximize success for her.

The second technique of scaffolding I used was self-regulation, or "the capacity to use thought to guide behavior" (page 49). Pamela and I talked about what my cutting hand was doing versus what my holding hand was doing. You can tell she put this new way of thinking about cutting curves into action. She made three of four curved cuts by turning the paper today. In my opinion, this is the major difference between behavioral techniques and RDI. The former focuses on changing the environment or finding ways to shape behavior; the latter focuses on thinking in new ways so that the person makes better informed behavioral choices:
In scaffolding, the adult encourages the child to grapple with questions and problems, and, thereby, to contribute significantly to the dialogue. . . The parent or teacher intervenes only when the child is truly stuck, granting the child as much opportunity to master his or her own behavior as possible. . . When adults ask children questions and make suggestions that permit them to participate in the discovery of solutions, then transfer of useful strategies to the child is maximized. by introducing language as a mediator of the child's activity, the adult's questions and prompts prevent the child from responding impulsively. They encourage the child to step back from the immediate situation and consider alternatives--in essence, to think (pages 49-50).
The third technique of scaffolding is what I covered in another blog post: warm parenting.

Of course, I cannot help but close with some Charlotte Mason musings. I think she instinctively understood the idea of scaffolding. For example, when teaching children under six outdoor geography, she encouraged parents to break it down into many little steps and to engage children in conversations about what they observe and concepts of geography. Children could learn to think of a duck-pond as an island sea, a hill as a mountain, and a brook as a mighty river. To prepare them for map reading when older, she broke down directions and distances: talk about observing the sun's movement and time, observing the sun and compass directions, paces and distance, time of a walk and distance, direction different windows in the house and other buildings face, the connection between wind direction and weather, the compass and directions, measuring boundaries (property boundaries, building dimensions) by pacing, making their own plans of their house, their property, the block in which they live, the neighborhood, etc. You can read her ideas on outdoor geography here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Creating the Zone

I have not blogged on Awakening Children's Minds in awhile. Chapter 2 contains so much great material that I am lingering.

When I think about Pamela's abilities, I can rattle off things she can do completely independently: zipping her pants, using the microwave to reheat food, adding and subtracting fractions with the same denominator, turning a whole into a fraction and vice versa, writing ten sentences with the syntax she has mastered, etc. Pamela can do even more with a little guidance from me: zipping a jacket once I get it started, baking simple recipes when I help her with measuring correctly, converting mixed fractions to improper fractions (and vice versus) when she sees she is stuck ad asks for help, writing an organized paragraph when I set up sentence strips based on her oral narration, etc. Some things are completely beyond Pamela's reach right now, even with help: flossing her teeth, making a recipe GF/CF, multiplying fractions, writing a research paper with at least 1,000 words, etc.

The tasks I put in red represent Pamela's actual development. The tasks I put in purple and blue are her potential development, or things she should be able to do independently in the future. The ones in purple are in the zone of proximal development, meaning tasks she can do with my guidance in helping her to solve problems. To help her master these future skills, Laura Berk suggests,
Rather than transmitting ready-made knowledge to a passive child or giving a child tasks for which he or she already has the requisite skills, the adult's role is to engage in dialogue with the child--by observing, conversing, questioning, assisting, and encouraging. During that dialogue, the adult continually assesses the child's progress and creates the "zone" by keeping the task "proximal"--slightly above the child's level of independent functioning (page 41).

Adults can create this zone in several ways. First, they can use shared understanding. Second, they can build a support system through a variety of techniques: scaffolding (joint problem solving, self-regulation, and warmth and encouragement) and conversation (narrative and theory of mind). Instead of writing a lengthy blog, I will cover these ideas in later posts.

I will conclude with another parallel to Charlotte Mason who had a grasp of proximal development. She knew that some children were ready for skills like learning the alphabet on their own schedule and recommended waiting until a child showed an interest. She understood that interaction between adult and child worked well when the child actively pursues learning the alphabet with the adult there to answer questions, make observations, assist in letter formation and information, etc. Although the zone was not part of her vocabulary, she discouraged adults from rushing children into something outside of the zone of proximal development.

The Alphabet.––As for his letters, the child usually teaches himself. He has his box of ivory letters and picks out p for pudding, b for blackbird, h for horse, big and little, and knows them both. But the learning of the alphabet should be made a means of cultivating the child's observation: he should be made to see what he looks at. Make big B in the air, and let him name it; then let him make round O, and crooked S, and T for Tommy, and you name the letters as the little finger forms them with unsteady strokes in the air. To make the small letters thus from memory is a work of more art, and requires more careful observation on the child's part. A tray of sand is useful at this stage. The child draws his finger boldly through the sand, and then puts a back to his D; and behold, his first essay in making a straight line and a curve. But the devices for making the learning of the 'A B C' interesting are endless. There is no occasion to hurry the child: let him learn one form at a time, and know it so well that he can pick out the d's, say, big and little, in a page of large print. Let him say d for duck, dog, doll, thus: d-uck, d-og, prolonging the sound of the initial consonant, and at last sounding d alone, not dee, but d', the mere sound of the consonant separated as far as possible from the following vowel.

Let the child alone, and he will learn the alphabet for himself: but few mothers can resist the pleasure of teaching it; and there is no reason why they should, for this kind of learning is no more than play to the child, and if the alphabet be taught to the little student, his appreciation of both form and sound will be cultivated. When should he begin? Whenever his box of letters begins to interest him. The baby of two will often be able to name half a dozen letters; and there is nothing against it so long as the finding and naming of letters is a game to him. But he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters when his heart is set on other play (pages 201 to 202).

My neurotypical son learned his alphabet before we realized what he was doing. We gave him an alphabet wooden puzzle for Christmas when he was two years old. While I was running around the house doing chores or working with Pamela, he would ask, "Wha' dis?" and I would distractedly answer him. He knew his alphabet by the time he turned three. And, as he was a strong-willed, contrary little thing, I just know had I introduced the idea of learning his alphabet, he would have turned ten years old before learning it. I am so thankful that being swamped with Pamela's needs prevented me from ruining a good thing!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Tam-Pam-Tallman-Jamberry-J-man-Sly Show

One reason why I love the Internet is the opportunity to meet kindred spirits. When you live in a town with a population just over 4,000, you find it hard to meet homeschoolers doing RDI, the association method, and living books with an autistic child, much less one who graduated from the boat school and married a naval officer. Today, the kids (Pam and Tallman) and I had the pleasure of meeting Jamberry and her crew (J-man and Sly). We met them at Swan Lake and spent a leisurely lunch at Burger King. As I have not clue if my camera has a timer, much less how to use it, I took a short video clip of the crew.

The map of the lake covered in rainwater fascinated Pamela. She kept running her finger through it and talking about floods. Sly discovered where the muscovy ducks hide from the tourists (under a very ancient magnolia tree). We also laughed at the disco duck, shaking his bootie for the camera.

We all had a great time. In typical fashion, Pamela and J-man quietly did their own thing. Jamberry and I talked non-stop when we weren't redirecting kids! Sly who has no older brother to rough house and Tallman who has always wanted a younger brother packed in male bonding in a few hours. I enjoyed being with someone who can order a gf/cf meal!

J-man fascinated me because he reminded me of Pamela at that age! Many times, when I meet children in the spectrum, they are very different from Pamela. J-man had that very sweet, gentle spirit--quiet, yet alert and watchful to everything happening around him. He flashed that warm-hearted smile several times and had a couple of giggle fests (Pamela giggled too when she was thinking of her favorite You-Tube videos). I did see one major difference: he communicated with his face, which Jamberry attributed to RDI (I believe her based upon our lone-ranger RDI experience). Many times, I could get an idea of his thoughts based upon his facial expressions.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Seven Bloggers and It!

That is the afghan I am crocheting for Steve. Eighteen skeins down and fourteen to go! The blanket should measure 75 inches by 90 inches when complete, and I have the scars to prove it (I keep my yarn tension tight). By the way, the afghan represents It for all you Five Children and It fans.

Rats! Mady tagged me because she tagged the first seven people to comment on her blog after she had decided to choose those unwilling and unknowing victims. I thought commenting was good netiquette . . . Here is my mission should I choose to accept it:

1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Seven Facts You Don't Already Know about Me
1. I was born on an island (Japan) and have lived fourteen years of my life on islands in the Pacific and Atlantic. Maybe that is why I enjoy books like The Brendan Voyage and Kon-Tiki.

2. I am a Navy brat and former naval officer. The last time I counted I have moved at least thirty-three times.

3. I was THE top twenty-five percent of my graduating class (we had four seniors that year). We were the last senior class ever to graduate from that school.

4. I was the only person in my family to start and end my education at the same school: A. L. Bristol School at Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada. I attended Kindergarten for three months and promptly dropped out because of a move. I graduated in 1980.

5. Speaking of seven . . . my parents had seven children, a yours-mine-and-ours family. It was my flesh and blood sister who dumped a bowl of oatmeal on my head, not my step brothers.

6. Seven historical incidents I would have like to have seen in action: (1) a meeting of the Inklings, (2) a lesson for Helen Keller by Annie Sullivan, (3) Charlotte Mason delivering her homeschooling lectures, (4) Theodore Roosevelt romping with his kids in the White House, (5) William Wilberforce and William Pitt discussing politics, (6) Pa Ingalls telling the story of the pig and the sled, and (7) the performance of Handel's Messiah in which the King stood (just so I could find out why and preserve that tidbit for history).

7. Seven is an important number spiritually speaking. I am a spiritual mutt: my great, great grandparents were booted from a Holiness Pentecostal church for growing tobacco and taking their children to the county fair. My dad grew up Methodist; my mom, Lutheran (Missouri Synod). I was baptized by water immersion in a Baptist church, confirmed in the Lutheran church, and am married to a Roman Catholic. The bottom line for me is that I have accepted Jesus as my personal savior and He guides my life (when I let go of the reins).

My victims are fellow bloggers, both cloaked and uncloaked, who have helped me figure out RDI for Pamela. See what happens when you are nice to someone: Mary, Sonya, Nifferco, Queen Mum, Chef Penny, and my three cloaked amigas Poohder, Jamberry, and Kathy.

Yes, I can count! I tagged eight people because I could not in good conscience leave one of them out! So, what are you going to do, force me to live on an isolated island in the Aleutians? Too late! I've already been there, done that--TWICE!

Friday, November 23, 2007

An Engineer's Take on Shakespeare

My dear husband, an engineer who never read Shakespeare in high school because he grew up in Central America, finally watched his first Shakespeare movie. It has taken me years to get him interested in English living books that he missed because he read Don Quixote and other Spanish classics. Last night, we sat down and watched The Merchant of Venice (Warning: the movie is rated R because ladies of the night flaunt their "goods" in some crowd scenes and two merchants talk business at a brothel where they handle some "merchandise"--nothing beyond handling, however).

Me: "Honey, you might like the story and Al Pacino plays one of the leading role." Like many men, my dear husband has a weakness for gangster movies.

He: "It's not on a stage, is it?"

Me: "No, it's set in Venice. It is like real movie, only with dialogue by Shakespeare."

He: "Well, turn on the subtitles."

Me: "Uh, I tried that. They're in French. Closed caption doesn't work either. But, I'll explain any confusing parts."

He reluctantly agreed to watch. The first hurdle was the caskets of gold, silver, and lead. I explained how Portia's deceased father set up a lottery in which she would marry the man who picked the casket with her picture after reading the poem assigned to each. His engineering mind began to whirl, "But, wait a minute! By the third guy, everyone will know."

I tried explaining that only one suitor could be in the room at a time, but it took seeing how the suitor scenes played out for him to get it. When the Prince of Morocco came with his men, my dh says, "So, that's like his posse, huh?" Yeah, sure, whatever. He did get it when Portia insulted the Prince with what appeared to be compliment in Act II, Scene I ("Yourself, renowned prince, then stood as fair as any comer I have look’d on yet for my affection"). In that same scene, Steve perked up when he heard, "All that glitters is not gold," and remarked with surprise, "That came from Shakespeare?"

Of course, he got wrapped around the axle when Bassiano was deciding which casket to choose.

He: "Oh, come on! She knows which casket has her picture. All Bassiano has to do is watch her reaction."

Me: "Yeah, but look he's not watching her. He is thinking about the meaning of gold, silver, and lead and the poems in making his choice."

He: "Yes, but she's so obvious. All he has to do is look at her."

Me: "But, he's not!"

Shakespeare's plot drew him into the movie. He had to find out if Shylock would really demand a pound of flesh. And, in the court scene, he grabbed the book to compare how faithful the movie was to the original text, remarking "I'm impressedeth." He could not imagine how Portia would be able to save Antonio from his fate, and I was surprised he resisted the temptation to scan the text and figure out her strategy. (With the Bleak House DVD, he could not wait for the third disc from Netflix and looked up a synopsis of the book online.)

Just to give you an idea of how an engineering mind processes Shakespeare, we had to pause the court scene and rewind it several times to calculate the number of ducats Shylock meant when he said, "What judgment shall I dread, doing were in six parts and every part a ducat I would not draw them; I would have my bond."

We heard the word pots, not parts. When I pulled out my hard copy of the play, Steve said, "Parts? Oh, well then, that's easy. It's 36,000 ducats."

As they bind Antonio's limbs to the arms and legs of the chair and tighten the belt tying his chest to the chair, he eyes the straps skeptically, "Do you think those straps are strong enough to hold him?" Then, as Shylock places the point of his blade on Antonio's chest, he comments, "Hey, why didn't Antonio fatten himself up? He could have taken estrogen shots or something . . ."

Then, the whole ring prank with Portia and Nerissa got him going, "Why those ______!" I will leave you to fill in the blank so that my blog may remain chaste.

In the end, my dear husband enjoyed his first Shakespearean movie. In sooth, my lord demandeth of me that he shall heareth nought but the Shakespearean tongue part from my lips from this day forth. So fare thee well since I needs be gone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thankful for the Association Method!

I have some BIG NEWS to share about speech therapy ala the association method. But, first, I will share a quick recap!

A few weeks ago, we reviewed 131 irregular verbs for simple past tense and mastered simple past tense questions containing the word did. She knows 79 irregular verbs for simple past tense. Of the ones she missed, she knows seven by sound but spelled them incorrectly. That means we can slowly work through the 52 remaining verbs at our leisure because she knows enough to move onto present progressive tense. My idea is to start with the seven misspelled verbs and lump them in with ones she can spell. For example, she wrote layd but wrote said and paid. That will be an easy fix. When I write up the next batch of studied dictation, I plan to find quotations using irregular verbs she misspelled.

As outlined in my plan for speech therapy, we did present progressive tense sentences last week and are doing the questions that go with them this week. The focus for these two weeks was to contrast present progressive tense with simple past tense for the same situation, describing it during and after the action. For example, "The boy is fixing the skateboard with his tools" goes with a picture of a boy fixing a skateboard, while "The boy fixed the skateboard with his tools" goes with a picture of him skateboarding.

Guess what! After years and years of failure, Pamela has caught onto present progressive tense with ease! Back in 1994, I bought Laureate's all seven Micro-LADS and Early Emerging Rules. In 1996, I started drilling her with a hand-me-down program from Pamela's last teacher (Vocabulary, Articulation, and Syntax Training Program cards), a visual way to practice sentences with varying syntax, including verb endings. In 1998, I made color-coded charts for the different verb endings that go with tense and started drilling sentence patterns ala Teach Me Language.

We did a combination of all of these things off and on with very little measurable improvement for about eight years until we came across the answer to our prayers. Yes, I can safely say that the association method is THE ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS when it comes to syntax. Why? I can remember working with Pamela's present progressive tense during her elementary homeschool years. All of the drilling and diligent practice never amounted to much and no matter how hard we worked she would still say things like "dog is run" or "dog running" as a complete sentence. She continued to do this until we started focusing upon simple present tense back in May.

About three years ago, we started doing the association method. One thing I knew is that, if Pamela could finally get present progressive tense straight, then I would know without a doubt that it was working! It has taken three years of working through the varies levels of syntax and stories (see page 9) to reach this goal. But, in two weeks of teaching, she has finally nailed it!

Each of ten reading primers from the syntax-controlled Reading Milestones program has six stories. I always have Pamela narrate in writing her favorite story. We just finished Level 02 Reader 05. This time she chose a story about Dee and Boo, two-costumed characters that appear in some of the stories. She wrote this story without any help or correction from me. Look at her beautiful use of present progressive tense! In days long gone, she would not have been this accurate even with an example in front of her because she just could not process language in this way!

The true test is for syntax to generalize into every day conversation. Present progressive tense is already emerging with accuracy!!!!!!

Yesterday, for both RDI and generalization of speech therapy, I got out twelve pictures card for the three little bears story that I found at Hearing Journey. (It was a weekly activity that is no longer available.) She put them in order, and then we took turns retelling the story. The video clip is six minutes long and, in those six minutes, I only needed to remind her to use full sentences four times. The following is a transcript of all of the sentences she used!

She had NO slip-ups the two times when she used present progressive tense. I know she jumps around from one tense to another but look how well she puts words together! This was NOT possible before the association method and would have only happened in one sentence by sheer luck, much less nineteen sentences. I also love how she added little touches when I asked her questions, adding "I said" for emphasis or responding with "That's right." And, at the very end of her retelling, Pamela gives my hope for the future by saying "The goldilocks will run" for I have not formally taught future tense!

Some bears are eating some breakfast.
The family goes to the woods.
The girl goes to a house.
The girls go inside, see some breakfast.
It’s cold porridge; eat cold porridge.
She sat on the hard chair.
She sat on the soft chair.
She sat on the old chair.
She said, "Too hard! Too little! The bed is great!"
Goldilocks slept in the bed.
The porridge is gone.
Baby Bear feels sad because the porridge is gone.
I saw a broken chair.
A baby bear cries because the chair is broken.
Goldilocks is sleeping.
Baby bear is angry, "Get out of here!"
The girl felt scared.
She is frightened.
The goldilocks will run away.

In case you are really bored and are not in the midst of baking turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, etc., this video clip is one reason why I am so very thankful this year:

Friday, November 16, 2007

Turkey Surprise!

I had a hard time snapping a picture of Pamela. She knows when the flash is going to go off, so most pictures show her with closed eyes. On the third try, I suggested to her to look away. On Friday, Pamela made a turkey from The Toymaker. I chose the black and white version so that we could experiment with the crayon shavings technique. However, if your time or patience with coloring is limited, you can try the colored version.

Pamela painted the turkey body and tail feathers (pieces A and B) with brown water color. While the paint was wet, we added the shavings. Once dry, I covered it with a piece of paper, then a towel. Pamela and I melted the shavings with a brand-new iron. I am not sure why it turned so brown: did we have the heat too hot or did the colors mix in with the brown water color? Whatever the reason, the effect turned out surprisingly feather-like. They say even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. As I am not a crafty person, I felt like I found a nut that day!

Do you see our little mistake? We drew the head on the wrong end at first. I think it gives it character . . . At least, that is my story, and I am sticking with it . . .

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shared Understanding

Adults guide children by seeking to create a shared understanding (the million-dollar word is intersubjectivity). In Awakening Children's Minds, Laura Berk points out that "each participant in the dialogue strives to grasp the subjective perspective of the other, an effort that results in a 'meeting of the minds,' in which the partners' thoughts make contact, connect, and coincide" (page 42). With very young children, adults bear greater responsibility for striving for a mutually understood of thinking about a situation. As children mature, they are more able to figure out the perspective of others.

People with autism take longer to figure out that people have their own minds and thoughts. They also have a hard time learning to see the perspective of neurologically typical people because their brains perceive the world so differently. Teaching this ability, theory of mind, can help smooth out and prevent misunderstandings.

The other day, I caught a great example of our effort to reach a shared understanding about glue during the crayon shavings activity. Usually, I let Pamela spread glue with a toothpick because she does not like the feeling of glue on her fingers. I did not realize that we were out of toothpicks. In this clip, she tells me several times that she cannot glue without the toothpicks. I knew this was going to be a problem for her, so I offered to spread the glue with my finger. I gave her a chance to think about trying, and she opted out of this sticky conundrum. I used this as an opportunity to let her know that I do not mind the glue. I described how the glue felt and how glue bothers some people but not others. My camera stopped filming, but you can get a glimpse of how the dialog began. (Google video is acting up again, so I hope I don't have to upload this again.)

Incidentally, Charlotte Mason recommended dialogues to reach a shared understanding in her book, Formation of Character. At the end of the chapter called The Philosopher at Home, father and son take a walk and discuss what the boy could do to avoid being cross. In Inconstant Kitty, the aunt suggests how the mother can encourage her daughter with a short attention span to stick with her dolly tea party longer by letting her know what adults do, "What! The doll's tea-party over! That's not the way grown-up ladies have tea; they sit and talk for a long time. See if you can make your tea-party last twenty minutes by my watch! (page 32)" The adults in Under a Cloud and Dorothy Elmore's Achievement have gentle dialogues to help them figure out how to handle sullen moods. Given time, I could give many more examples.

Ultimately, Charlotte believed that the mind is where all good habits began, "'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). Sowing ideas with a very light hand can only be accomplished through mind to mind communication between children and adults, even if they are the long-dead author of a living book. She covered in great detail one important function of parents, inspiring children:
That he should take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about him, should make our poor words and ways the starting-point from which, and in the direction of which, he develops––this is a thought which makes the best of us hold our breath. There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as 'inspirers' to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long 'appetency' towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine (page 37).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Best Laid Plans

I made my first contribution to a blog carnival (see the little icon below the Halloween photograph), the Fifth Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, hosted by On Our Journey Westward. You can enjoy past editions or contribute to the next one!

Yesterday, I had a craft all planned, and it fell apart, which is typical for me. The reason why Pamela has a head start on flexible thinking is because I can be so ditzy. I bought some paint for this spinning art project and went to look for the lazy Susan where I keep my spices. I should say, KEPT my spices. I have used it for YEARS, but it did not fit very well in the cabinets of my new house. Until I started looking for it, I had forgotten that it is packed up in a box somewhere OR worse, sitting ON a thrift shop shelf here in town. I am not really certain where it is.

So, at the last minute, I ran to the computer, googled paint and crafts, and found a very long list of potential ideas to explore uncertainty with Pamela. I wanted a craft that was easy enough for Pamela to figure out by referencing my nonverbal communication. I chose crayon stained glass because she has never made crayon shavings, and I already had everything (except the wax paper, so I decided it would be a Christmas ornament).

We made two "balls" and glued them back to back. Today, we will punch a hole and add string. I am pleased because Pamela referenced beautifully to figure out what to do without me saying a word. At first, we tried peeling thick crayon with a vegetable peeler, and I saw that it was too awkward for Pamela. Then, we switched over to the pencil sharpener. You can see how well Pamela will check me to see if I think she is on the right track. At one point, the crayon broke and Pamela read my nonverbal communication to get a blade! Pamela must have been thinking we were sharpening crayons at first because, when I pointed out the full shaving container, she pointed and said, "Trash!" Later, she asked, "What's that for?" I answered mysteriously, "You'll see!" The first clip spotlights the intial nonverbal communication and Pamela's ability to reference to resolve uncertainty. In the second clip, we use more verbal communication as most of the uncertainty is what to do is resolved.

You would think *I* had had enough UNproductive uncertainty for one day, but the iron bit the dust, right before our very eyes! For some mysterious, unfathomable reason, the power button dislodged in a weird way and refuses to turn on the iron. Yes, I meant refuses. I have the worst luck with mechanical things and, if something is going to break, it will break under my watch. I really did nothing special to break it. I didn't even drop it. I thought Black and Decker appliances were supposed to be indestructible, but, at least, the iron lasted longer than the electric can opener--I used that twice before it bit the dust. In fact, I don't even remember when I bought the iron, so that is pretty lengthy for my track record with appliances!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Literary Addendum to Warm, Authoritative Parenting

Last week, I stumbled upon a thought-provoking quote from Great Expectations which I believe dovetails nicely with the posts on warmth and authoritative parenting. Pip, an orphan being "brung up by hand" by his sister, sees the effects of her arbitrary, cold parenting style upon his personality:
My sister's bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter. Within myself, I had sustained, from my babyhood, a perpetual conflict with injustice. I had known, from the time when I could speak, that my sister, in her capricious and violent coercion, was unjust to me. I had cherished a profound conviction that her bringing me up by hand, gave her no right to bring me up by jerks. Through all my punishments, disgraces, fasts and vigils, and other penitential performances, I had nursed this assurance; and to my communing so much with it, in a solitary and unprotected way, I in great part refer the fact that I was morally timid and very sensitive (Chapter 8).
One reason why I love Charlotte Mason's recommendation to read living books is the effect they have on me. Both teacher and child grow as soul-satisfying books speak to their hearts and minds.

P.S. Two days later, I found another great quote about being seen and not heard from E. Nesbit's book, The House of Arden. Edred, a boy transported back in time and place to being locked in the Tower of London for knowing too much about the Guy Fawkes plot, notices the blessings of being able to speak his mind:
Every one was very kind to him, but he had to be very much quieter than he was used to being, and to say Sir and Madam, and not to speak till he was spoken to. You have no idea how tiresome it is not to speak till you are spoken to, with the world full, as it is, of a thousand interesting things that you want to ask questions about. One day–for they were there quite a number of days–Edred met some one who seemed to like answering questions, and this made more difference than perhaps you would think.
And, wait until you learn the identity of the answerer of questions . . . But, I shan't give away any spoilers . . .

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Authoritative Parenting

Both Laura Berk (Awakening Children's Minds and Charlotte Mason focus on the tension between authority and obedience. In her third principle of education, Charlotte wrote, "The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental." Charlotte devoted the first two chapters of Volume 3 and an entire chapter in Volume 6 to this topic because she knew the pendulum had swung from very strict "children are to be seen and not heard" (pages 2 to 3), and parents were searching for direction.

Before I get into the meat of the post, I will give an example of the difference between authoritative parenting and rote obedience. Pamela has delayed fine motor skills, and we enjoy making paper toys. Nearly all of the toys require cutting, a skill in which she needs support and practice. Sometimes, the directions are not clear on where to cut or how to put it together (the chocolate truck). That creates productive uncertainty and the opportunity for Pamela to borrow my perspective.

As her guide, I let Pamela cut whatever she can do. When she finds a part too hard to cut, she references me with a questioning look and sometimes says, "Help me with this." Then, I will do that part and non-verbally with facial expression point her to where she could cut next. Sometimes, she is confident and will do it. Sometimes, she is not sure and may give me feedback that it might be too difficult. In this way, she is not simply obeying because she lets me know when she thinks a cut is too challenging. She is thinking about her own abilities and determining whether or not she feels able to handle something I think she can do. Since I respect her as a person, I provide greater support, and we continue making the toy.

In cutting the cardstock paper, Pamela showed me a teachable (docile) spirit, respecting my more experienced view. However, I showed a teachable spirit toward her in respecting her understanding of her own abilities and limitations. I can gently encourage her when I think she is more ready than she thinks or give her more support when I think her self-assessment is accurate. Charlotte does not see teacher and taught, but two learners expanding their own area of what is known, "Docility implies equality; there is no great gulf fixed between teacher and taught; both are pursuing the same ends, engaged on, the same theme, enriched by mutual interests; and probably the quite delightful pursuit of knowledge affords the only intrinsic liberty for both teacher and taught (page 71)."

Laura Berk does not dwell on authoritative parenting too long, but she does point out that many cultures throughout the world "mingle concern and affection with guidance and control" (page 50). This type of parenting, which "combines the motivating power of warmth with the guidance inherent in scaffolding [effective adult support], predicts many aspects of children's competence" (page 73). It boosts the child's competence throughout childhood:
In early childhood, it predicts positive mood, self-confidence and independence in mastery of new tasks, cooperativeness, and resistance to engaging in disruptive behavior. And in middle childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, it is related to high self-esteem, social and moral maturity, academic achievement, and educational attainment (page 51).
Charlotte Mason found two conditions necessary to secure a teachable spirit and willingness to respect an adult's authority. First, "The teacher, or other head may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience" (page 73). The ultimate authority for Judeo-Christian parents is God!

Whenever my dearest random son complains about having to take math courses or learn grammar, I remind him that I am not arbitrarily picking subjects with which to torment him. I am subject to follow the homeschooling laws of South Carolina and must keep paperwork to back up what we do every day. Not only that, I also point out to him that he must know enough reading, writing, and arithmetic to score well on the SAT to gain entrance into the college of his choice.

The second condition was that "children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher." This would take a whole other post or two to explain. Let me give you an example. Charlotte believed children ought to read fine, living books and narrate what they got out of the book. She did not believe in drilling bits of knowledge into a child's head. A child who narrates the right books over the course of an education will learn and remember much more knowledge than those pumping and dumping facts out of textbooks for tests. This method did not require fancy oral lessons, over-the-top enthusiasm from a teacher, constant review, carefully planned themes, etc. The child's mind connected with the mind of the author with very little intervention of the teacher, other than to see what the student got out of the book.

For me, this is the big difference between a behaviorist way of teaching and a relationship way of guiding. When Pamela was nine-years-old, we toured a grocery store. The guide headed us into the storage spaces in the back, but Pamela absolutely refused to go. She would not budge and would have melted down had I tried to force her to obey me arbitrarily. The group came back and explained Pamela's mysterious behavior. Children with autism have acute hearing, and Pamela heard something none of us could hear. In one of the rooms was a huge, loud box-crushing machine. She knew that getting any closer would be extremely painful for her delicate ears. I am just thankful that on that day I gave her that "fine sense of freedom" to choose between going and staying behind and respected her as a person who is willing obey when the order is reasonable.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Referencing to Resolve Uncertainty

One of my goals for Pamela is to borrow my perspective when she is unsure. This can be tricky to frame because I have to think of new things for her to do. This week, I found two lifestyle activities that were short and told me that Pamela is referencing me to resolve uncertainty when she is unsure.

On Wednesday, Pamela refilled the suet cage. She tried opening the wrong end (where the hinge is) at first. Then, she turned to the other end and glanced at me with a questioning look. I nodded, so she persisted until she opened it. She cut the plastic off the suet but was not sure if the plastic container went in the cage, too. Pamela glanced at me to make sure how to do it! Then, we went to hang a bell feeder. After she cut off the plastic and cut string, she was not sure how to string it. She pointed to the hole and looked at me. I made a motion of putting my fingers to my mouth, pretending to wet the string. She has done that before with her sewing and very quickly imitated the action!

On Friday, we went to Wal-Mart and did the self-checkout. Since it was a small shopping run, I wanted to pay in cash for she was used to credit card. I got Pamela's attention and opened my wallet, She pointed to the word Cash on the touch screen and glanced at me. I nodded and handed her a large bill, so she pressed cash. Then, she pointed at the cash slot and looked at me, just to make sure. I nodded. When she saw the coins, she knew where to put it for I had the coin purse in my wallet unzipped. Neither one of us knew where to find the bills. The machine kept talking to us (driving me crazy) and finally I spotted the cash dispenser under the scanner. I exclaimed, "I found it!" She looked at me, and I gazed at the cash dispenser. She found the bills in no time.

Now, I have to think of some more new things to try next week.

P.S. I am doing some Snoopy Dancing. I just received an email from Amazon that they have shipped the DVD Amazing Grace, due in my home on or about November 19! I can honestly say that this biopic with great production value and a great message is the best movie I have ever seen. I was so entranced by the vision presented that I could not watch television for about two weeks because it was so lackluster and lacking in soul and spirit. In case, you missed this little gem it is about how William Wilberforce fought to abolish slavery in England and how he eventually won.

P.S.S. I just found an opportunity to resolve uncertainty for next week in a completely new activity! Hearing Journey has a suggestion to make an iron-on transfer for a pillow. Pamela has never done this before, and she could do this with me as her guide! (Remember this activity will disappear by the end of the week.) That got me to thinking about making a tie-dye T-shirt for another day. Plus, on one of the RDI lists, they mentioned using a salad spinner for art--Pamela loves doing abstract, creative things with paint. I wonder if this will work with the cheap lazy Susan I already have. If not, we can turn it into a shopping trip and let her follow my cues in locating a salad spinner!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Warm Parenting

It seems silly to be talking about warm anything on a night when the thermometer will dip into the mid-thirties. (At least my alpaca poncho kept me toasty during David's soccer game.)

I am finally ready to blog Chapter 2 of Awakening Children's Minds by Laura Berk--a chapter which is so full of ideas needing time to digest. This chapter alone will take many posts. And, as always, I am impressed at how well Charlotte Mason picked up on some of these ideas without the benefit of scientific research to back them up. First, Laura talks about how the warmth of teachers is vital to a child's education. She wrote the following about a study,
Those who viewed their teachers as warm and as providing helpful learning conditions--by making expectations clear and checking that the child understood--worked harder on assignments and participated more in class. Effort and participation, in turn, predicted better academic performance, which sustained the child's willingness to try hard in the future. In contrast, children who regarded their teachers as unsupportive were more likely to disengage, stop trying and show declines in achievement. These negative outcomes led children to doubt their own ability, which perpetuated their reduced effort (page 40).
Charlotte recommended the same thing for teachers, "The teacher's part in this regard is to see and feel for himself, and then to rouse his pupils by an appreciative look or word; but to beware how he deadens the impression by a flood of talk" (pages 178-179).

Laura emphasizes how warmth, responsiveness, and encouragement motivates children: "Children who experience warm adult relationships want to preserve that spirit of affection and cooperation" (page 50). Charlotte recognized the importance of that desire recover that love, especially in explosive, strong-willed children like Guy whose wanted so much to make up with his sweet mother, "At last bedtime came, and his mother; but her face had still that sad far-away look, and Guy could see she had been crying. How he longed to spring up and hug her and kiss her as he would have done yesterday. But somehow he dared not; and she never smiled nor spoke, and yet never before had Guy known how his mother loved him (page 18)."

I want to present two long quotes about how warmth and clear expectations drive competence. Laura is first followed by an example Charlotte gave in habit training. The parallels are amazing!

Laura's Quote
A major contributor to these favorable outcomes is the fuel that warmth grants to adult expectations. Warm, caring adults offer explanations and justifications for their demands. In doing so, they invite children to judge the appropriateness of their requirements. When children view demands as fair and reasonable, they are far more likely to heed and internalize them. A warm, involved adult is also more likely to be an effective reinforcing agent, praising children for striving to meet high standards. And when children stray from goals that a parent or teacher regards as important and it is necessary to be firm and disapproving, a warm adult has a much great chance of changing the child's behavior than does an adult who has been indifferent or negative. Children of involved, caring parents find the interruption in parental affection that accompanies a reprimand to be especially unpleasant. They want to regain their parents' warmth and approval as quickly as possible (page 51).

Charlotte's Quote
Stages in the Formation of a Habit.––"Johnny," she says, in a bright, friendly voice, "I want you to remember something with all your might: never go into or out of a room in which anybody is sitting without shutting the door."

"But if I forget, mother?"

"I will try to remind you."

"But perhaps I shall be in a great hurry."

"You must always make time to do that."

"But why, mother?"

"Because it is not polite to the people in the room to make them uncomfortable."

"But if I am going out again that very minute?"

"Still, shut the door, when you come in; you can open it again to go out. Do you think you can remember?"

"I'll try, mother."

"Very well; I shall watch to see how few 'forgets' you make."

For two or three times Johnny remembers; and then, he is off like a shot and half-way downstairs before his mother has time to call him back. She does not cry out, "Johnny, come back and shut the door!" because she knows that a summons of that kind is exasperating to big or little. She goes to the door, and calls pleasantly, "Johnny!" Johnny has forgotten all about the door; he wonders what his mother wants, and, stirred by curiosity, comes back, to find her seated and employed as before. She looks up, glances at the door, and says, "I said I should try to remind you." "Oh, I forgot," says Johnny, put upon his honour; and he shuts the door that time, and the next, and the next.

But the little fellow has really not much power to recollect, and the mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind him; but of two things she will be careful––that he never slips off without shutting the door, and that she never lets the matter be a cause of friction between herself and the child, taking the line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of his. By and by, after, say, twenty shuttings of the door with never an omission, the habit begins to be formed; Johnny shuts the door as a matter of course, and his mother watches him with delight come into a room, shut the door, take something off the table, and go out, again shutting the door pages 122-123

Laura points out that children who survive severe family adversity and grow up well-adjust do so because "a common element in the lives of such resilient youngsters . . . is an unusually warm, positive relationship with at least one parent or a close tie with an adult outside the immediate family" (page 71). In so many books, I have seen this pattern played out: Ralph Moody lost his father and became a breadwinner at a young age, but his mother's encouragement and warmth guided him from going astray. Laura Ingalls' warm relationship with her father helped her survive crop failures, her sister's blindness, near-starvation one winter, many moves, and poverty. Books like A Little Princess and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm contrast warm, sensitive adult relationships with cold, harsh ones.

In closing, Laura encourages us to,
Communicate with high warmth, using a positive emotional tone and providing explanations and justifications for your expectations. When adult-child relationships are sympathetic and caring, children want to acquire skills and behave in ways that preserve those gratifying ties. They are also more willing to work towards goals that are rational and reasonable (page 73).
Now, I know this all seems obvious but maybe not. Let's face it . . . how often do we blow up when our children have forgotten to shut the door for the umpteenth time OR we drag them out of the store after a meltdown over a toy or candy OR we yell over the state of their room OR we question their intelligence in a struggle over math homework. I'll be honest: more than I care to admit.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Framing It Right

Today, Pamela and I did an activity that worked beautifully, and part of our success was the right frame. When I first looked at the Three Bears Mural, I thought it had potential if I framed it right for one of Pamela's objectives when is referencing me for information when she is uncertain.

Problem One: I was not about to print an eighteen-page color-ink-intensive mural (*ahem* $$$$$) for an activity that may not get much mileage for a class size of one! So, I decided to only print pages 17 and 18, which had the characters and objects in the story. I decided we would paint our own scenes in the setting: a kitchen, living room, and bedroom. To throw in some uncertainty, she could guess what three rooms of the house we were painting and learn the answer based upon my facial expressions and reactions.

Then, I got inspired about the whole uncertainty thing . . . Part of the activity could be to GUESS what the story was based upon the set and objects. I would hide the characters and objects in a box and pull out the objects one by one. I would describe an object and have her guess what it was to heighten the anticipation and keep her referencing. It turned out to be double-guessing because she had to guess the object and see if she could figure out what the story was.

Problem Two: I did not have any books about Goldilocks and the three bears handy. Besides, having the story book on hand might give away the whole game! However, I remember reading the very different version in Andrew Lang's Green Fairy Book. To avoid composing a story from scratch, I found an etext of Lang's version and adapted it to the material at hand!

Problem Three: This did not seem like enough uncertainty. So, I decided we should make some furniture (three beds and a table). I had to make dimensions large enough for the characters, so she had to guess the length and width of each piece. I wanted to make the blankets with the pillows (part of the objects that came with the mural), so she would also have to guess the color of the blankets. Not only that, she would get more practice at cutting.

This activity turned out to be a blast for both of us. It may seem "babyish" to read Goldilocks to an eighteen-year-old, but she is the one who told me she would rather play with toys than do the teen-oriented games at youth group. At the end, I asked what she thought of it and she told me it was great and fun. I did not really need to ask because her beaming face (hard to see in the photos captured from my camera) told me how interested she was. The following pictures are a combination of what I printed out and cut before starting the activity and what Pamela and I made during the activity (I did not plan the woodsy background because it was serendipity in the form of my tablecloth).

Step One: We painted each room in the set. Pamela guessed bedroom first and painted it blue, then guessed living room and painted it green, and finally got kitchen and painted it yellow. She did not guess the rooms right away and she had plenty of opportunities for referencing.

Step Two: We made three beds and a table. Pamela guessed beds first and we made a large red, a medium-sized purple, and a small green bed. She guessed the colors and dimensions. She guessed the dimensions and referenced me several times when she drew the lines measured with a ruler. Purple was the most challenging color because our watercolor tray did not contain it. So, I held up two fingers and told the color I was thinking of is made of two different colors. She guessed a brown table, too. All of this required referencing my face and nonverbal communications for information.

I filmed this activity and pulled these images off the video clip, which lasted an hour and is way too long to edit for the blog. In the top image of the two above, I am holding a ruler while Pamela guesses a dimension. In the bottom one, she is trying to guess the color purple for Mama Bear's bed. As always, you can click the images for a larger version.

Step Three: While waiting for the rooms and furniture to dry, we continued the guessing game. I pulled out one object at a time: one pillow, another pillow, and Mama Bear's chair. Pamela struggled to get the color of her chair until I pointed to my pink lips (as shown in the top image of three). Pamela also took awhile to guess bowl (the image in the middle), and we had to do major eye gaze and pointing with the cupboard and a variety of clues. Bowl turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. Pamela is very resilient and persistent in such situations. Porridge did not take as long because I hummed the tune to "Peas Porridge Hot" (bottom image of the three).

At this point, Pamela guessed that the story was Goldilocks and the three bears. So, I hid the characters behind my back, and she had to guess which character I held (pictured left). She enjoys guessing games.

Sometimes, when I showed a character to her, I purposely showed her the wrong one and other times I did it right. She enjoys being surprised by the wrong thing but is glad when I get it right, too. I finished describing all nine objects (three bowls, chairs, and pillows).

Step Four: By this time, the rooms and furniture had finished drying, so Pamela cut the furniture. She can always use practice sharpening her cutting skills (pun intended).

Step Five: We are finally to dig into the story. Of course, Pamela already knew the story, so, to keep her alert, I read parts of it out of order. Sometimes, I said something totally off the wall that did not belong in the story and she laughed at that! You can see in the picture on the left how she listens intently to know where to place the character next. In the one below it, she moves the character into place.

Step Six: Here we have some closure. I wanted to make sure she did not find it too babyish and Pamela confirmed that the activity was great and fun. Part of my parent goals is to give Pamela clear signals when an activity is finished so that she does not suddenly bolt. Sometimes, she will reference me for approval to go. But, that is inconsistent, which is why I am working on being more obvious.