As of Today 3

When I wrote As of Today , I purposefully omitted two subject matters I was helping Robert to learn in the last month.  I believed that they should be treated separately as the idea to work on them came from Robert’s teacher.  This hasn’t been a typical arrangement. The sad thing is that for the most of Robert’s education I, not the school, was a driving force behind teaching Robert something new.

In the last three years, I can point to just one occurrence when I followed the school’s lead. In September/October of 2009 Robert was learning names of the planets in  our solar system. I helped him with that by providing many opportunities for practice. Then, for almost three next years, I didn’t help Robert to learn anything that originated at school.  I tried to help him learn names of all the New England states and their capitals, but I gave up, as learning ordered pairs of information seemed too hard for Robert.  It would be possible but it would take too much time with too small  benefits.  I didn’t even try to help Robert learn names of the bones in the skeleton (also introduced at school), believing that learning just a few of them should suffice. Instead, I have kept on familiarizing  (the process is not finished yet) Robert with names of different internal organs, their functions,  and the systems they are part of.  (I use a model from children’s science kid I bought in Costco and appropriate children’s books.)

For the next three years Robert was learning something at school and learning something else at home.  It would take me a lot of time to explain why the things worked this way, so I skip any details, at least for now.

This year, however, started differently.  I observed Robert’s classroom.  The children were constructing sentences telling what was happening in the pictures.  These first sentences were  followed by  predictions about what would happen next.  For Robert, this  meant practicing a few skills at once.  Skills he hardly had, although I was partially introducing them to Robert over the previous few years. Connecting them together was a next step I had planned to take when, almost two years before, I purchased a set of cards Let’s Predict from Super Duper School Company.

Except, I never took that step.

Despite the appearance of being a  person who pushes and pulls Robert forward I am reluctant to start something new.  I catch myself being unable to imagine how to introduce a set of new concepts and being scared of complications that might appear during the processes of learning and teaching. Self-doubts  are specially strong and consequently damaging because of the prolonged periods of lack of support in this lonely educational pilgrimage.

When I saw the teacher introducing the ask to children, I became calmly inspired.  At home, I took the set of cards out of the drawer and for almost a month Robert was building sentences and making predictions based on two, three, or four pictures from the set.

For Robert, that was a complex assignment: telling what was happening in picture, followed by writing it down, making predictions, and using proper tenses including, just introduced, future tense.  I don’t think I would have a courage to practice all those skills at once had it not been for the teacher whose lesson I observed.

The second subject matter involved order of operation in mathematics.  In the past, Robert practiced with parenthesis,  multiplication, division, addition and subtraction.  Those were usually two, rarely three, simple operations.  But the teacher added second power of the numbers to the set of operations.  I am not sure if I would add counting a square of a number to that set.  But I am glad that the teacher did.  Although counting the value of longer expressions seems not related to narrowly understood “functional” mathematics, for Robert ability  to compute in a right order is a priceless  exercise in working memory, attention, concentration, and planning.  That is why Robert and I spent a lot of time together counting the values of expressions that involved a few math operations. The teacher moved to the next topic, but Robert still finds the values of arithmetic expressions involving parenthesis, squares, multiplications, and other operations.

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