Resisting the Attack of the Questions. Teach First, Ask Later

I was watching a speech pathologist working with my son.  She had almost the same approach I had when I taught Robert at home. The difference was that her pronunciation was better than my, forever foreign, accent would allow. She had a warm, clear voice. She was addressing Robert’s deficits. And yet I became concerned.  I noticed something which I had never noticed when I worked with Robert. If I did not, it was because  concerned with reaching goals, managing behavior,  and mentally recording errors,   I did not look at myself calmly and objectively enough. She and I, we both, asked too many questions. And thus our teaching was reduced to checking what Robert doesn’t know.  We addressed the gaps in his language AFTER we discovered them.  It never occurred  to me, that I was checking Robert’s knowledge BEFORE I taught him related concepts. I should have known better.  I heard it loud and clear at least three times before.

1. I heard it at the  PCDI Conference:

Even before the conference I was aware of  the benefits of the most to least prompting. This prompting was used with Robert after the least to most prompting did not produce results.  When asked, “Do this” while paired with a therapist’s clapping her hands, Robert  responded with the whole repertoire of gestures he previously had learned: clapping, patting his head, and touching his nose. For Robert, “Do this” meant, “Do something”. Since he did not know which particular “something” he should do, he aimed for everything assuming that one of the gestures had to do the trick.

Although the conference solidified my conviction that this sort of prompts was the most beneficial for Robert, I still did not realize  that the most to least prompting, was a  form of a very basic teaching approach:  Teach first, ask later.

During this conference, I also recognized, for the first time, the negative impact the questions can have on slowly emerging skills. I watched a short movie clip presenting  a girl showing a picture to a teacher. She had made this picture  a few minutes before and, at the request of her therapist, she went to show her picture to another person.  That was an exercise in  social skills and communication. The other teacher did not ask, “What is it?” or “Who is that”  etc. The teacher complemented the girl and elaborated on the picture.    I remember the advice of the conference presenter, “Don’t ask what it is.  The student already made an effort.  Don’t punish her by asking questions.  Complement her.  Reward her with verbal prize.   Elaborate, if possible, on the picture’s message. Made the student  feel good not only about drawing a picture but also about showing it to you.”

As I understood then, the presenters wanted to show how not to intimidate a student who initiates communication.  Because the questions required answer which the student was not able to form yet, they were quite  punishing, intimidating, and confusing. Drawing a picture and talking about it are two completely different skills.

I think, that by commenting and elaborating on the picture, the teacher was also presenting the student with the model of how to talk about her artwork.  The teacher was teaching before asking.

2. I heard it from  Bridget Taylor during her short workshop at SNCARC in Westwood.

“If your son (or daughter) doesn’t come to you, when you call him, don’t repeat the request again.  Go to him, take his hand, bring him to the place he was supposed to come to and tell him, “This means come here.”  ”

It was such a simple advice, and such an eye opener.  We should demonstrate what “come here” means before demanding over and over, “Come here! Come here Now!! Come right now!!!!! If I remember correctly,  Bridget Taylor explained, that if we repeat ten times the same request with increased volumes, we will teach that “Come here” doesn’t mean anything if it is not followed by ten other irritated requests.

Again, it was another variation of the same simple rule: Teach first, ask later or… The most to the least prompting

3. I heard it reiterated again, during Carbone’s Verbal Behavior Conference.

That is when I learned about a simple tool of installing novel language concepts:   The teacher asks, immediately provides an answer, and repeats the question.  Student answers.

Teacher: -What is this? A train.  What is this?-

Student -A train.-

It should be  clear that the first question is really not a question  but it is a element of instruction about how to answer this question. Thus,  it is another variant of  “Teach first, ask later.” and  (AGAIN) of the   most to least prompting.  The student has minimal opportunity to  make an error.  This simple verbal construct reduced a lot of stress associated with unsuccessful teaching and, in Robert’s case,  led to increase in his vocabulary.

If  I feel the need to write about something as basic as “Teach first, ask later.” it is because this approach is quickly becoming extinct.

I have to admit, that the most to least approach seemed almost contra intuitive to me. I doubted if it would have ever worked.  It did.  It brought quick results when nothing else worked.

Before PCDI conference, I was eager to ask Robert many questions.  The fact that he could not talk did not make any difference.  I was asking because I did not know any other alternative.  Moreover, I was anxious and I had to check if Robert STILL does not know how to answer.  

Later, I observed what happened when Robert presented his “artwork” or “homework” to dad or any other relatives.  At the sound of the first question, he turned back and left. Although I knew it was not a good reaction to Robert’s communicative attempt,  it was hard for me to convince others to use PCDI approach.  I guess the questions are imprinted in all of us as the first communicative reaction.

I was the one, who, before Bridget Taylor workshop, exhausted myself with calling my son many times before going to him and bringing him to the place he should have come on his own. After the workshop, less than a week sufficed to reduce to one the number of calling Robert to come to me.

If I did not fail  teaching Robert new concepts through “traditional” (?) methods, I would have considered the Verbal Behavior’s  tool of introducing new words artificial and redundant and would not apply it.

In our world, there is not way to escape questions.  They are everywhere. Questions are the hooks which allow one person to attach herself  or himself to another.  Even when we introduce ourselves, we really answer unspoken question about who we are. Yes, there is no escaping questions.  They have to be taught at some point.  But even with questions, we have to teach them, before asking them.


Next Post
Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Jean

     /  January 22, 2013

    Very difficult to teach before asking questions, but key for our children


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: