Teaching as Dismantling

I don’t remember all 12 animals pictured on the wooden pieces of the puzzle.  I  remember only four of them: elephant, giraffe, walrus, and toucan.  I also remember being hot and cold from conflicting emotions.  Robert and I were sitting at the small but heavy, wooden table across from each other. The wooden puzzle was placed on the table.  I held two pieces at a time in my both hands and asked Robert to point to one of the two animals pictured on these pieces.  He did. He did it again.  Every single time he chose correctly the animal I asked for. At that time I believed that Robert didn’t know any words receptively.  And here he responded correctly every  time.  Well, at the beginning I was only asking for an elephant or a giraffe or for another animal while contrasted with an elephant or a giraffe. I could believe that Robert knew those after many trips to the Zoo and some other learning opportunities I provided before.  I could believe that.  I almost did.  But when Robert could differentiate between pictures of a toucan and a walrus I knew something was wrong.  I knew but I still hoped it wasn’t.  So I changed presentation format.  Now, I took two pictures and placed them on the table. I lowered my head. I folded my arms.  I asked the same questions.  Now Robert answers became random.  He didn’t know “walrus”.  He didn’t know “toucan”.  And he didn’t know “elephant” or “giraffe” either.

So why his responses were correct? I knew, I must have done something to direct Robert’s attention toward proper answer.  I still don’t know what it was.  Nobody was there to observe from the side.  Was that slight movement of my arms or my eyes? Was that the  tilting of my head?   I don’t know.

What I, however, realized then was that Robert knew something.  He knew how to read what picture I wanted him to point to.  He knew that from reading cues I was giving him unaware of that fact. He knew something about me, I didn’t know myself.

I also realized that I would have to dismantle his way of reading cues before I could teach him my way (our way) of responding to the environment – physical, acoustic, human.

Seventeen years later I still wonder if that is possible or necessary….

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  1. Unclear on Yes or No, Following Body Language | krymarh

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