Drilling and Scaffolding

There is no doubt that discrete trials helped Robert  to learn although he did not exactly reach those goals that the teachers (therapists) set for him.  At least not without modifications.  But he did learn.  Still, had he been exposed only to discrete trials, he would not progress as much as he did.

It is not surprising that discrete trials according to  the Lova’s research were mainly helpful to those students who quickly acquired language.  Language, this great tool for generalization, allowed to carry learning from one setting to another. However, for the students like Robert who were born without language,  reducing learning only to singular, miniscule drills would not lead far.  Without language, the ability to generalize across settings, (physical places, multiple situations, and different contexts) was severely limited.  And thus teaching/learning would require thousands of discrete skills to be drilled.

This dilemma was addressed by the  idea of teaching pivotal skills.  The skills that would naturally open the way for other skills to be appropriated. I learned about that concept from Laura Schreibman and her graduate students.  It is a great idea which I always kept in mind despite often not being sure  what skills would be pivotal for Robert.  In the end, I concluded that for Robert acquiring ANY skill is a gate that eases his way of learning new skill.

There are many people, and sadly many people working in the field of education, who believe that the students with mental retardation have brains with very little space for learning  and thus it is crucial that you choose only necessary, basic skills to teach, as one unimportant skill might overburden the brain and leave no room for anything else.  If, for instance, you foolishly teach multiplication you will leave no space for learning daily living skills.

My, or rather Robert’s, experience is quite the opposite.  Every time Robert learned something new, the capacity of his brain  grew larger, as if two new paths were formed. So for me  any new skill is a pivot as it opens a way to other skills.

As optimistically, as that sounds, the reality of teaching someone “without language” is much more complex.  Injecting language concepts trial after trial did not seem the answer.   Something else was needed to add another dimension to learning.

In one of my previous posts, I called it exposing Robert to new things without really expecting that he would appropriate them. I did not expect Robert to name new elements of his world or know the functions of new concepts and the ways they relate to each other.  I opted just for a spark of recognition, that would help him not feel totally lost next time he encounters similar elements in different environments.  I believed that with every exposure Robert was gaining confidence leading to  increased ability to maneuver.  Was that similar to the concept of scaffolding, the idea in education I have learned just a few months ago?  I am not sure.

But until I find something better I will continue both drilling discrete skills, through frequent and intensive practicing, and scaffolding, by guiding Robert through   new paths from their beginning to wherever they might lead.

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1 Comment

  1. Jean

     /  November 8, 2013

    I wish all teachers had your ability to understand learning styles, approaches, and then customize their teaching approach. I have much respect for you.

    Reply

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