On Simplicity of a Good Teaching


Last Sunday (March 24 ) Robert had another skiing lesson at NEHSA.  The instructors, Denise and Brian, tried to find a way for Robert to change the position of his legs from  “pizza” to “spaghetti”.  Robert skis very fast but his legs are locked in a wedge position. This arrangement allows him to feel more in control.  When, however, he has to go on a narrow and, as I was told, winding trail, Robert without any additional directions, brings his ski together to almost parallel position.  Unfortunately, Williamson Trail, is not often open.  The instructors tried to have Robert hold a stick by both hands in front of him.  For some reasons, this did not work very well.  During the morning part of the lesson, Robert zigzagged on left and right sides of orange cones.  During the afternoon lesson, the instructors devised another  plan. They went back on a relatively easy (for Robert)  wide trail and  skied on both sides of Robert, but as far away from him, as the trail allowed.  While skiing down, Robert had to travel  from Denise to Brian and back to give them “five”.  The need to make frequent turns required that Robert keeps his skis in parallel position.  His legs were still rather far from each other, but they were PARALLEL!

My husband, who followed them, took a short video on his phone.  I could see Robert gliding from one side of the slope to another. He must have felt happy. I would if I had  been there.   I don’t ski myself.  Because of my childhood polio, I  have never even entertained that possibility.  At NEHSA,  a vast army of experienced volunteers, and all sort of special equipment (including over 50 seating skis for skiers with many kinds of spinal injuries) it would be worth considering.  But…

When I talked to instructors after the lesson, I realized the simplicity of a good teaching:

1. Define the problem

The problem was that Robert kept his feet in a wedge position all the time

2.Design instruction to address it, the same way you would form a scientific hypothesis.

Tell him and/or demonstrate to him  a parallel position.

3.Check it in practice.

It worked only for a short time when Robert was required to walk, or only for a few seconds at the beginning of the ride.  As soon as Robert went down the slope, he went back to his favorite pose.

4. If it doesn’t work make corrections, or redefine the problem.

Since the verbal instruction and  demonstration did not work, find a prompt that would be delivered to Robert throughout the whole length of the trail like   the cones requiring zigzagging.

5. Even when it works, think about improving it.

Telling  Robert to give the instructors “five” was an improvement  comparing to zigzagging between cones.  It was more visible and concrete prompt. Paying attention to the positions of his instructors, and giving them “five” offered an additional benefit that addressed directly the core issues related to Robert’s form of autism.

Of course, at some point the prompts have to be changed or removed, but that is another story for another skiing season.

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