Friday, March 29, 2013

Gleaning Habits from Picture Study

People confuse classical education with Charlotte Mason's method for our materials are similar. What we do with books and things is quite different. The first four years of a classical education is the pouring in and spitting out of specific facts (the Grammar Stage). Connecting ideas is not expected until the next stage. Students in a Mason paradigm form relations early and remember what stirs the mind. Since I plan to blog art, I searched briefly for how a classical folks teach art, and most sites link to "Charlotte Mason style" lessons. Curious.

Mason educators aim for good habits. Mason wrote,
No intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hall-mark of an educated person.... The habits of fitting and ready expression, of obedience, of good-will, and of an impersonal outlook are spontaneous bye-products of education in this sort. So, too, are the habits of right thinking and right judging; while physical habits of neatness and order attend upon the self-respect which follows an education which respects the personality of children.
The following video depicts order which Pamela learned from watching me. As discussed in my last post, she has taken order to a new level. For years, she saw me transition us from one task to another. When she seemed ready to take on these duties, I let her. Pamela is a bit slow in how she puts away a highlighter, retrieves the pencil, checks for lead, adds more lead to the pencil, grabs the highlighter, highlights the schedule to mark off a task, puts the highlighter back, grabs her language arts composition book, and turns to the right page. People with autism process more slowly. Some struggle with the level of executive function Pamela shows here.

The habit of order eases one's life. Mason wrote, "Consider how laborious life would be were its wheels not greased by habits of cleanliness, neatness, order, courtesy; had we to make the effort of decision about every detail of dressing and eating, coming and going, life would not be worth living." Where static thinking helps us most is in the execution of routine tasks. It frees up our working memory for higher-level thinking.

What is higher-level thinking? Dynamic thinking—which people in the spectrum find challenging. While picture study seems so simple—and it is—chances arise to think dynamically. My last picture study post recapped how we practice theory of mind, "fitting and ready expression," and attention, retrieve memory, and make historical connections. Picture study is how I scaffold Pamela in writing paragraphs, too.

Pamela knows what is expected of her. I have slightly altered how we do picture study to work on dynamic thinking. She picked one of the twenty-four Winslow Homer picture cards and studied carefully. She does the work of imprinting details from the picture into her memory and of describing it so clearly from her memory that I can pick it out of the stack. This is the "act of knowing" for a picture study. In the following video, you can see how fluently she narrates the picture which I have hidden from view. Although she has left gaps in her description, I do not interrupt her.

After she finished, I reflect upon her narration and ask her meaningful questions that help me construct an image in my mind. Rather than ask direct questions, I paraphrase her words. I tell her what I don't know. She spoke of something blue outside, and I told her I didn't know what was blue. Making a declarative statement about gaps in my understanding gives her a chance to listen more carefully and think. I do ask open-ended questions.

You can see how she enjoys our exchange of information. As you watch her listen, think, and respond, you can see how quickly she processes now. The pace of our conversation is much faster! Pamela illustrates what Mason said about listening with full attention, "We can all imagine how our work would be eased if our subordinates listened to instructions with the full attention which implies recollection."

Now, we come to the moment of truth! Can Pamela's efforts guide me to the correct picture? This process illustrates how differently we do things. When a teacher creates a worksheet, the teacher robs the opportunity to think from students. Some teachers explained to me not long ago that open-ended questions create anxiety in students of today. They are afraid of saying the wrong thing. They don't know what details teachers want. They fear low grades. While they are adept at static thinking (direct questions with only one right answer), they have difficulty with dynamic thinking. When we do picture study, Pamela does most of the work for she has to know how much information is good enough. I am more of a guide in our journey to a shared understanding.

In the next video, I go through each card and explain my decision to accept or reject it. You can see Pamela's anticipation until I find the right one. Then, interest wanes because the element of surprise is gone. I persist through the entire stack since two or more pictures might fit her description. In this case, I narrowed it down to two: Snap the Whip and School Time.

Below are the two pictures. They have so much in common that they almost look the same.

I use this opportunity to explain why I choose the top picture. Upon further reflection, I think I could have spotlighted "same but different" thinking instead. Then, I would have given Pamela another chance to think dynamically. Next time we have a close call, I will do that! I also spotlighted errors to help her refine her observation before doing a written narration. I asked her what season she thought it was to give her a chance to infer. At around minute 1:20, Pamela shifts her gaze and studies her schedule. I kept talking to see if she would turn to me on her own. She did not, so I cleared my throat. She inferred that I had noticed her lack of attention. (Note to self: slow down and talk less!)

When I ask Pamela to write the title of the painting, I see an opportunity to work on gray thinking. Winslow Homer named it Snap the Whip, and yet no whips are in sight. I am thrilled when Pamela immediately realizes the boys were the whip! To encourage her to lengthen her descriptions, I first ask her how many sentences she can write. After she said, "Six," I apply "Edge Plus One" (an RDI term) and suggest seven. Pamela balks vociferously, so I back off and leave the matter unresolved.

Pamela has written three narrations for picture study so far: Girl with Laurel, Fog Warning, and, of course, Snap the Whip. While she writes, I say absolutely nothing. I don't even peek over her shoulder. I try to find something else to do. She has to do the work.

Originally, Snap the Whip had six sentences. I scaffold her into writing a seventh by suggesting she had forgotten to mention the season. She comes up with "It's fall" and I prompt "because" to encourage her to write a longer sentence. And, she does!


Nancy Kelly said...

Oh, this is fabulous! And Pamela is astonishing. But my favorite part is your "note to self". (!) I'm going to share this over on the LER fb page so those that haven't met you and Pamela can at least begin to know you two.

From joy to joy,

walking said...

Thanks, Nancy! God has been whispering in my ear a lot lately. :-)

I am astounded at Pamela lately! So many people give up on teaching academics when a person with special needs reaches a certain age. Pamela's communication skills have improved so much in the past six years I have to let people know: DO NOT GIVE UP!

One thing RDI (the CM-like therapy for autism) taught me was to assess MYSELF. So, when I catch myself doing things that do not promote dynamic thinking, it sows the notion that leads to a thought that leads to an act that leads to a habit that leads to a character.

The Winding Ascent said...

Everything you say and do is also great for any reluctant learner. When I began scaffolding with Jesse for Algebra I, it changed our lives completely. Now he's approaching the end of Algebra II successfully. It's pretty amazing. And we should ALL be using these techniques. I just rewatched the Eve Anderson picture study dvd the other day, and it really reminded me of the importance of assisting without taking over. I used to think it was sort of an all or nothing business. Other educators interrupt and talk over students and interfere with learning all the time. CM educators NEVER interfere or interrupt. But that was so wrong. It's perfectly fine to scaffold and shepherd and otherwise assist them as they grow in their ability to narrate. My silence wasn't improving the narrations! My computer won't load the videos. I'm gonna shut it down and let it cool off and try again...

walking said...

So true, Megan. I think coming alongside and not in front of someone struggling is far more helpful. The culture gives us an all or nothing mentality because it thinks that, to prove a child knows something, they must do it alone. The teacher gets in front and teaches and the student takes it all on. I think reluctant or struggling learners feel less stupid when it is a side-by-side effort.

Oh, you just made me think of a connection: paraclete means intercessor and it is the word used to describe the Holy Spirit's role in our lives.

Here is where it gets lovely: the actual word in Greek means...

..."come along side"

And who is publishing your book?

Carol said...

Tammy, I love the connection with the word paraclete and coming alongside. You made me think of Galatians 6- not becoming weary & reaping a harvest if we don't give up. Thanks for the videos & to Pamela for her part.

walking said...

Thank you for the Bible verse, Carol!