Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some Things I have Learned about Learning

Over the years working with our kids' teachers I have run into a few glitches in the common beliefs about learning that didn't work for my kids. I thought I would detail some things that didn't go the way I had expected so you could analyze your own programs and interactions and iron things out early.

Organizational Skills: One year my son's team agreed that my son did not have these skills and decided that he needed to learn them. They tried positive reinforcement, they tried negative reinforcement, they tried ignoring the deficit, they tried orgainzing for him and nothing worked. EVERYONE was miserable and frustrated.

After a ton of discussion it became clear that they were treating organization/disorganization as a behavior, rather than as a skill.

After this they started explaining, modeling and giving him practice, the way they would to teach other skills. THEN they started seeing some positive results...

Behavior: My daughter always rode the 'regular' bus with the rest of our neighborhood. In first grade she suddenly started throwing her shoes on the bus. Now, this is obviously a dangerous thing to do--clocking the busdriver, or anyone else, is not conducive to safe arrival... So, they put an aide on the bus for safety. The aide sat with my daughter and my daughter stopped throwing shoes...

One day I ran into her busdriver in the grocery store and I said that I was so glad that we had solved the shoe problem. He agreed that the shoes had stopped flying, but then he said something eye-opening. He said that we didn't really know if she had learned or was just stopped... He was right of course. There is a difference between being good and being controlled.

I called the school that afternoon and we had the aide moved out of my daughter's seat to allow my daughter to make choices, but to intervene if she made the wrong one... A much better plan, if you think about it.

It should also be noted that compliance by itself is not an appropriate behavior goal. One team I know of wanted to make "will not say NO" a goal for my friend's daughter. If she can't say no how would she deal with unsafe situations and people? That was NOT an appropriate goal.

For another disturbing behavior experience read this post.

Flashcards: Testing and teaching are two different things. You can practice retrieving information that someone knows by using flashcards, but you don't TEACH info by asking someone repeatedly if they know something. Enough said?

Reading Comprehension: I learned this mind-changing thought from David Koppenhaver: To teach comprehension let the reader know BEFORE they read what they are looking for. Endless quizzing is testing, not teaching.

You can do this with a beginning reader as you read. Pause and say "What is Junie-B going to buy?" Or "What is Charlotte going to write?" For Social Studies or Science let them see the questions at the end of the chaper before they read the chapter as well as after. Or teach them to ask themselves what they want to know in the upcoming reading...

Think about it, it makes sense. Do you have a better chance finding what you want by sending your kids to just go look around the house for a few minutes and then asking did they find your phone charger? Or does it work better if you ask everybody to look for the phone charger?

Discrete Trials: While this method is popular and effective for many kids, the applications needs careful consideration. For my daughter it seems to make disconnected information silos in her head. For what she learns to be useful to her she needs webs that connect new info with old in meaningful ways--this helps with retrieval. It also makes what she learns meaningful to HER, not just meaningful while being mediated by a partner in a certain proscribed way.

The Fry Word List: When Jenn was younger her team was looking for ways to teach her reading where they could document their results. They spent hours and hours working on this list of 300 or so words... The problem was that this list is made entirely of small words like if and and and the. Not a noun or a verb among them. It is totally boring. And after hours of tedium, when you can finally read the whole list there is not a single book you can then pick up and enjoy.

A lot of time and effort, excellent documentation, but no meaningful literacy gained. Another activity that only had meaning when someone else was there--if you found her word cards out of context--say on a bus seat--they would mean nothing to you or to her.

3x5 Cards: These are the bane of my son's existence. Teachers REALLY love them. My son can't write on them. He can't jot notes on little bitty cards and by the time he has he has memorized his note and doesn't need the card. Every year we have to discuss this. Every year. When sitting in meetings it is hard to think of alternatives. One can copy a page (using a copier)and highlight the needed info. One could do lots of things on the computer...

Readiness: It's not all it's cracked up to be! One of my son's teams wanted to remove him from the strong academic classes because he couldn't keep up with handwriting (pointing out that Stephen Hawking has "handwriting difficulties" yet still makes use of his education made everyone chuckle and re-think!) Readiness seems like an important concept, but even if my son can never handwrite well he will build his life on the info he has learned. We can teach skills, but we can't stop that info to teach the skills. Ever.

Readiness is also frequently used as a reason not to do things with my daughter--it's a reasonable goal, but should never be a barrier. Whether or not she knows her colors, she should be taught other things. (She does, but I'm just sayin'...)

I hope these examples help you analyze your own situation and avoid some pitfalls. Do you have other examples?


rickismom said...

For reading, where you want to let them know the questions in advance, or what to look for, I found stick-it-notes at the top of the page great....

Terri said...

Great idea, Thanks!

datri said...

Love this post, so helpful.

My 8 year old daughter with PDD-NOS has an issue with one specific aspect of reading comprehension -- she can't read "between the lines". I'm pretty sure it's because she's so literal that if it isn't on the page, it's not relevant. She almost always misses the reading comprehension question that starts off with "the story doesn't say, but...." She also has trouble figuring out the meaning of a word she doesn't know from its context. Any suggestions on how to help with these issues?

Louise said...

Hi Terri; to Dartri's question I offer "learning to see relationships".
As part of literacy development
I have learned to focus on three
Text to Self relationships
Text to Text and
Text to World
Most of the last 8-12 months we have worked on "seeing text to self" as an "academic goal" and we support text to text and text to world relationships. The text to world is the hardest at this point.
The more understanding/comprehension of text to self concepts the more background knowledge can start to have whole meaning.