When Schools Teach and When They Don’t

I rarely write about skills Robert acquired at one of his schools.  There are two reasons for that.

1. When the school did a good job of teaching, my part was mostly supportive.  I just either followed the suggestions given to me  during home visits by one of Robert’s teachers (when he attended private, ABA driven school) or I provided extra practice based on  the worksheets Robert brought from his collaborative program.  I did not have to think, design a program, or adjust it when it didn’t work.

2.There were long periods, extending into months when Robert was not taught anything new, when so-called “progress reports” although very wordy did not indicate one concrete thing Robert learned at school. So there was nothing to write about the school teaching.

I remember most vividly those attempts to teach Robert which aimed at the skills he was most resistant to learn. The longer I tried, the more approaches I experimented with, the stronger my memory. If I remember how  Robert finally memorized the addition  facts it is because for six years, his school and I tried, tried, and failed. So the final success felt like a miracle, although it was the result of finding a proper approach, as I documented in Looking for Variables.

Sadly, I do not recall as clearly the ways Robert learned those skills that were mainly taught at schools.  I cannot describe, for instance, how Robert was toilet trained.  I did not contribute much time, effort, or thought to that developmental achievement.  It was all the doing of wonderful, although always changing, teachers in Private School, Robert was attending at that time.  I believe that in the process many hours were spent in the toilet, but I am not sure even of that.    This school’s young and dedicated teachers also managed, to my disbelief,  to teach Robert to tie his shoelaces.  I suspect that they wrote a good task analysis and used either forward or backward chaining.  Thanks to them we did not have to search a store after a  store for Robert’s size shoes with Velcro straps.

Most importantly at that school Robert learned to stop when asked to do so.  It was a life saving skill.  Many times Robert managed to wiggle out of my grasps  and run without looking or stopping to the point of getting out of my site and placing himself in danger.  I couldn’t keep up with him and consequently I could take him to park, playground, or store only together  with his sister.  She was five, six, or seven, but she knew it was her role to stop Robert. Two teachers taught Robert to stop when he heard the word “Stop” or his name.  One walked with Robert in a maze of hallways, the other one called Robert from behind.

From what I know now about other programs, collaborative or public, I am sure that neither of them would teach Robert those important life skills.  I doubt if they would even try. That possibility still sends chill through my spine.

Similarly,  I  cannot say, how Robert learned multiplication facts because teaching and learning took place at school and I only supported what the teachers were doing in the collaborative program which Robert attended at that time.

I also don’t know how the occupational therapist in the public school managed to teach Robert to manipulate his  combination padlock to open his locker.

I value greatly those times when Robert learned something with only minimal support from me or without my support at all.  I felt that the world was full of people able to support Robert.  That was a source of great relief and hope.

On the other hand, the fact that I write so much on these pages about Robert’s learning is a very unfortunate one.  I became the main force  and sometimes the only force in Robert’s learning only because I had to fill the terrible void caused by lack of any appropriate teaching at schools. And this is quite depressing.

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