Learning Robert 2

I noticed that the posts that I wrote first are displayed below those I wrote later.  That wouldn’t be a problem if all the posts were separated essays not connected to each other.  But they are not.  I am describing a process.  It started with an unusual event (a student understood computer voice but not people’s voices).  It lead to formation of two hypothesis explaining the event.  Now I will write about another event that puts different light on the first one  …

In the first week of September 1996 there was a breakthrough.  Robert’s new teacher Karen was able to lead Robert to mastering auditory discrimination between two labels “touch cup”, “touch spoon”.  Again, I am not sure if those were exactly those two labels.  I think it was a “cup” and something else. Still the important thing was that Robert finally could touch one of two objects at least 80% correctly when asked to do so. 

As soon as I heard about this breakthrough which involved only two labels I took a set of picture cards (Schaffer’s First 100 Words) and spreading randomly 2-5 of them a in front of Robert I asked him to point to the picture representing the object I was naming.  He could point to at least 50 pictures correctly.  So I called the school.  We set a meeting and Robert demonstrated for his teachers and clinical supervisor his ability to label those 50 words.  That was clearly not something they expected.  After all he was hardly able to differentiate between just two of them after almost 12 months of intensive teaching.  And how intensive!  Three times a day, each time consisting of three chains of 10 trails.  “So”, I remember clinical supervisor saying,” Let’s make sure Robert REALLY knows those words.  Lets take three of them: bed, table, and chair and work on them in discrete trails format.”

And work they did.  The teachers worked on these three words every day:  90 times a day posing one of the three demands, “Touch a bed; touch a table; touch a chair.”

Two or three months passed by.   Again I spread 3-6 pictures  in front of Robert and repeated previous routine.  Except that this time I was choosing from two sets of Schaffer’s cards – 200 total.  Robert pointed correctly to at least 100 of them.  Just to clarify.  I asked for the same picture a few times demanding that Robert chooses it from different groups of pictures.  He KNEW 100+ words.

But there were three words that proved to be extremely confusing for Robert.  He was aiming his hands at them and moving it quickly back or redirecting for something else.  He looked at me trying to deduce from my face or my body language if he made a right choice.  He clearly was not sure what he was supposed to point to.  He knew 50 new words as compared to the previous informal evaluation, but he didn’t know bed, table and chair. He didn’t know the words he was so intensively taught.

This development lead me to a new hypothesis on Robert’s ability to learn from computer program and not from his teachers (or me).  It was the method of teaching that inhibited his learning. Constant repetitions, even if he answered correctly installed doubt in Robert’s mind as to what the answers should be.  Teacher was asking over and over for one of three items, no matter if Robert’s reply was correct or not.  Forget reinforcers – candies, chips, or sips of juice.  They didn’t lead Robert anywhere.  They were not cues for him.  The cue was that he was asked again and again.  That cue meant that he was wrong over and over.

I wonder what would happen if I didn’t check Robert’s receptive vocabulary at home.  If I didn’t realized that he unlearned things he was taught and learned things he wasn’t taught formally. Would his teachers ever doubted the method?  Probably not.  They were recording dutifully each single answer.  They might do some scientifically looking graphs. That would not bring them closer to the general facts about Robert’s learning. About what he knows and what he doesn’t.

The explanation of what makes me go on and on in teaching Robert those things that other people consider ridiculous given his IQ comes from the second conclusion: I also do not believe that Robert learned all those 50 words in a few days after “breakthrough” I think he knew them long before he was able to DEMONSTRATE his knowledge.

So, there must be a phase when Robert “knows” but cannot communicate his understanding or retention of information.

But that is again another story.

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