Unclear on Yes or No, Following Body Language

Robert’s speech therapist from his summer program noticed that Robert still has a lot of problems with answering “yes and no” questions. However, she also observed, that when” yes and no” questions are asked outside of the therapy sessions  in “natural” school environment, Robert makes fewer errors.

For the last few days, I have been practicing with Robert these questions using sets from Functional Language Workbook of Activities for Language and Cognition  by Leslie Bilik-Thompson and I have to confirm that Robert’s responses have been erratic.  He answers yes and no haphazardly, switches from one answer to another while simultaneously he is paying extremely close attention to the tiniest movements of the muscles on my face.  I know I do something to my face when I think about the proper response to  yes or no, and Robert can read that.  I don’t know how Robert can decipher and interpret  almost invisible tension of the muscles around my jaw, or around my eyes, but he he clearly decodes when they tell, “yes” and when they say, “NO.”  This uncanny skills demonstrates  itself mainly during our teaching sessions.  Robert wants to answer what I want to hear.  Even if the answer is in his head, he doesn’t bother to retrieve it from there.  He wants to find clues on my face.

I realized that a few years ago.  I thought I addressed this problem by camouflaging correct answer by thinking about the wrong one.  When the  answer was  “yes” I tried to think about “No” and Robert answered, “No”.  When I shifted my thinking from yes to no, Robert followed changing his responses from  “yes to no”.

The second observation made by the speech pathologist, that Robert makes less errors in “natural” settings , allowed me to  realize to what degree, “one to one” arrangement of a teaching environment  reinforced Robert’s ability  to read facial expressions and, sadly,  prevented him from relying on his brain. It is not a surprise that this problem  presents itself most evidently during exercises with “yes and no” questions.  It is not new, however.

In my old post Teaching as Dismantling, I described the first time I encountered this problem when Robert was 3 years old.  Based on unnoticeable to anybody else movements of my hands, he pointed correctly to twelve animals.  At that time he did not have any receptive language and he certainly did not know what toucans or walruses were. I understood that as long as Robert would base his answers on the wrong set of cues, he won’t learn reading appropriate cues.  I knew it then, and I know it now.

I tried to address that issue in many ways.  When the response to the question is a noun, a verb or a two or three words phrase, Robert makes less errors, as difficulties in reading my expressions prevent him from relying on them.  I learned to lower my head, cover my mouth, turned away.  But,  with “Yes and NO”  it is much harder.

I asked Robert to close his eyes while listening to the question and answering it, but his anxiety interfered with such a great idea and made it useless.  I tried to hide half of my face behind a book.  Robert became even more tense and tried to read my eyes.

If the “desk” teaching is not extended  to  “natural” settings, Robert won’t find a reason to consult his brain to help him find proper replies.  In one on one setting Robert’s the purpose in answering is not to find an answer which matches his prior knowledge of the world but to make his teacher happy.  And to make the teacher happy, Robert has to read the answers off his teacher’s face.

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1 Comment

  1. When Colin was very young,we printed the correct response on the back of the picture card. We flashed the reply very quickly s a a prompt. Then we removed the answer from the card.

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