Learning to Listen

January 29, 2015

Today Robert completed Part B of Reasoning and Writing.  It was the second time around.  His grasp on most of the presented concepts seemed much more solid.  Robert and I learned a lot from this curriculum. I have already written many times how this curriculum helped Robert to learn to think by very thoughtful introduction of many concepts.

The most important benefit, however, was that I learned to read to Robert and Robert learned to listen.

Robert learned to read many years before he learned to listen.  He could decipher words when he was five years old.  He could match words to pictures, he could decode words on the 3-4 grade level.  But he didn’t want to listen to anybody reading or telling him a story.  When my husband or I tried to read to him in his bed, he kept taking book from us, read it by himself, and quickly be done with all of that. It is impossible to know what he gained from such approach.

When I first looked at Part A of Reasoning and Writing, I was sure it would be extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, to keep Robert listening as I read rather long parts of stories included in the Instruction Book.  That had never happened before. But I jumped head first following directions as closely as possible.  Robert survived at his chair till the end of my reading. Of course, there were intervals when I asked questions or made comments the Instruction Book told me to.  I am not sure wow much he understood from that first reading, but as the time went by, there  were new opportunities to recount the stories and/or read them again. There were stories about Paul who painted everything pink or purple, Roger who kept leaving his hat in one place only to find it somewhere else, about Bragging Rats who always argued, Robot named Bleep whose tendency to move screws in his head kept resulting in one or another kind of speech impairment.  The last story was about Queen of Garbo who didn’t want to listen but learned any way.  Except she learned so-called “hard way.”  I read four parts of the story over Sunday and Monday.  And Robert listened. He listened,  He followed Queen’s steps up the south side of the mountain and down the mountain on its east side.  He listened as I read about Saint Bernard’s coming to the rescue of the Queen and her greyhounds. He listened.

I am not sure how much he learned.  I stopped reading a few times to comment or ask Robert questions that would clarify the understanding.  I repeated some of the sections.  We looked at the drawing of Queen’s footprints in the workbook.  We saw how Saint Bernard’s were lowered down the ledge with the help of a stake and a rope. He listened.

Sadly, Part C of Reasoning and Writing  doesn’t contain any stories.  It focuses on different skills – mainly on writing.  (Some of those skills were already introduced in the part B).  But as I kept reading to Robert I also kept learning how to read to him.  I will go on with reading, even if Robert can read by himself.


More on Teaching Writing (Letters) and Teaching Drawing

January 18, 2015

Robert learned to write printed letters with the help of Sensible Pencil Curriculum and with help and determined guidance of his teachers from Private School.  Later, he did almost all exercises from the first part and many from the second part of Write from the Start.     They helped him with eye-hand coordination and  understanding directions and patterns. That also helped Robert to learn later simplified cursive from Handwriting Without Tears.

With the exception of producing in cursive some of the capital letters, Robert has become quite a good writer.  This hasn’t been the case with drawing.

I believe that this is my fault as I mostly taught him to copy simple pictures.  Nothing wrong with copying as the first phase of teaching to draw.  But everything is wrong if there is no next step.

It had to be said that Robert had huge problems with drawing even simplest shapes like triangle or rectangle. Where there should be an angle, Robert always drew an arch. The reason for that was, that he couldn’t stop himself in the corner even for a fraction of the second to change the direction of the line from horizontal to vertical or oblique. At first, I tried to teach him stopping, but that was hard.  Then I asked him to first  draw points in the corners of a triangle or a rectangle and then connect them.  That made a huge difference.  Somehow Robert grasped (understood or felt) that he was connecting corner points. For a very long time he was using this strategy (without prompting) to draw shapes. Even today when asked to draw a five point star, he begins with drawing five well spaced points and then connecting in continuous movement of the pencil.

Robert can copy simple drawing. For more complex pictures, he relies on sequences of partial drawings demonstrating steps needed to complete the picture. This way, he can draw people, houses, animals, vehicles and many other things.


Until now, I have never asked Robert to recreate those same steps from his memory.

Just today, I realized what I neglected to do to take Robert to the next level in drawing.

Today, like many times before, Robert was presented with a task of drawing something by following four presented to him steps.  It was a duck floating on the water.  I asked Robert to tell me what he would draw first, what next, and what would be last.  He did just that and then completed the picture. He wiped it off. (He used erasable marker.) I covered the picture (All the steps that is), and Robert began, then stopped and waited.  I let him look at  the model again.  He looked then finished the drawing. I asked him to do it again.  This time he finished without peeking. However, when I closed the book, gave Robert paper and a pencil and asked him to draw a duck, Robert seemed confused. He drew the duck, as he used to do before. Very schematic if not primitive drawing. As if changing the circumstances in which the task was supposed to be completed erased previous lesson.   When I opened the book again and  let Robert take a quick look at the duck, he was quick to  draw the duck following all the steps from the original instruction.

However, I am not sure if he could draw the duck if I ask him now.  I think, it would take a few more trials before Robert memorizes and organizes all the steps in his mind.  I think, I will concentrate for a few more days on just drawing the same duck until Robert without help of the model would draw a pond full of ducks.

If I remember correctly, while learning to write, Robert was practicing one letter at a time. This is not what was going on with learning to draw pictures.  Maybe, simple shapes, but not pictures.  He copied one picture ones, then the other also one time, and so on. He has never had a chance to memorize all the elements needed for the drawing of any of the pictures he copied.  But memorizing is important, as it carries the picture from the page to the student’s mind.  Remembering all the elements of one picture would allow for understanding and reconstruction of its structure. More generally it might lead to increased ability to notice the structures of other pictures as well. 

I know that Robert has difficulties with short memory. Working on memorizing how to draw a particular picture would be a great exercise.  It would not only help Robert to draw better  but also to use his brain.  Despite knowing so much, Robert still doesn’t trust his own mind. Learning to use his memory might be one more way to teach him to depend on what he knows and not only on what he sees or hears around.

On One-Track Minds

January 16, 2015

I have just printed worksheets for the last five units from Reasoning and Writing part B. This is the second time around Robert and I learned from this curriculum. A few years ago, we approached it for the first time.  This time it was easier. The concepts seemed familiar to Robert so we mostly ironed some wrinkly details. Of course, in a year or two, it might be beneficial for Robert to redo some of the same exercises.  Then, I won’t make any more copies, but use the original, colorful workbook.

As we worked on units 64 and 65, Robert and I encountered the concept of one-track mind. With the help of the crow named Caw-Caw and Dooley the Duck, Robert learned to find place  on the map that was south of one point and north of another. While Robert didn’t have problems going north OR south of a given place, he did have difficulties stopping at the point in between two places north of A and south of B.  The arrows he drew went past A when he was going south (and thus he ended up south of A) or past B when he was going north and thus he ended up north of B.)

Without the help of the curriculum, I would not realize that the task of finding a point in between demanded a different state of mind, as it was VERY different concept than just going south or just going north.

That means that I also have a one-track mind, which doesn’t  really grasp the differences in appropriating concepts.  What is a simple extension of known ideas for me, is a new challenge for   Robert.  I have to remember I am not teaching myself.  I am teaching Robert. And I have to find the point in the middle.

Still Counting Coins. Why?

January 12, 2015

Yes, I was against teaching counting coins as so-called “functional” skill.  Besides using a vending machine, it is hard to find another place where ATM or credit card wouldn’t be easier and more practical.  And yet, Robert spent a few hours over the period of two weeks doing exercises from Kumon workbook, “Dollars and Cents”. Why?

The exercises had value for Robert and for me.  For Robert because he was “learning” to pay attention while counting.  I was learning what were the obstacles to Robert’s calculations and how to remove them.

Robert never made an error when all the coins were of the same value. All quarters or all nickles.  He made errors mainly when the quarters were followed by nickles often assigning to  the first nickel the value of the quarter.

I couldn’t figure out what caused Robert to write 57 instead of 75.  Was that an error in counting or just in writing.

Another error Robert kept making was to write the sum of $1 and 10 dimes as $1.100 despite the fact that he could write 100c as $1.

I also noticed that my effort to slow Robert down by writing the values of coins under them before counting was leading to more confusion.  Robert began by writing the value of the singular coins, but soon he switched to writing the added value of coins, as if he was counting them together. For instance he wrote 10, 10 under two dimes, but then under pennies that followed the dimes he wrote 21, 22.

The irony is, that he was making between 0 and 2 errors on the page of 10 problems, but after I “helped” him with my suggestion to write the values of each coin, he kept making 8 errors on the page.

What is shows, that it is hard to help when the nature of student’s thinking is not understood by the teacher.  We install doubts instead of providing tools leading to independence.

For the Record

January 1, 2015

In the last couple months, I have not been writing much.  The truth is, I have to force myself to write. It has been much more difficult for me to untangle the knot of everyday small events to make a chain of clear, singular topics.  I feel unable to choose what to write about and what lesson  I, or anyone else, can deduce from singular episodes. The events that describe my, our, struggles and failures mix with episodes  that show  progress. But the progress is evasive and struggles are as easily forgotten as bad dreams in a daylight.   I don’t even know from which angle I should present our ups and downs. Moreover, I am not sure if ups are ups or downs are downs.  It all depends  on causes and effects.  Those, however, still remain murky as Robert never explains himself.

1. I made an apple pie and baked one sheet of  cookies.  I was afraid that if I baked too many cookies, Robert would eat them all. So I left a pound of dough for the next day. The dough disappeared.  Completely! Between 4PM and 11AM of the next day, it evaporated. Robert ate it.  I don’t know when. I don’t know how he managed to take a ball of dough and consume it. Nobody noticed anything. I was in the kitchen most of the day.  I didn’t see Robert around the refrigerator even once. It is not funny.  Next day, he was extremely cranky and angry.  I knew his stomach hurt.  But then, he said nothing.  So maybe there was another reason.

2. I wasn’t sure if I made a right decision in November when despite Robert protests, I refused to replace the bed sheet I gave to our guests with another one. Yes, it would be the easiest way to calm Robert who kept  insisting (INSISTING!) every 10 or 15 minutes that I take back the blue sheet and give the guests a white one.  In his mind, the blue sheet was supposed to be only for my bed while the white one was for anybody.  There is not hiding the fact that Robert’s  obsessive protests tainted the visit.  I explained to our guests the problem and the reason I felt I shouldn’t give up.  They understood and were supportive.  But I wasn’t really sure if I made a correct decision.  Two weeks later,  the sheet was torn apart in the laundry.  I had to throw it away together with another one.  I cut both of them  into smaller rags. Robert didn’t mind.  He put them in a plastic container with other rags to be used for cleaning. Another week later, Robert didn’t mind that we replaced old mattress with a new one. HUGE!  I am sure, that had I not withheld Robert’s protests in regards to the blue sheet, the both events would cause much more dramatic reactions.

3. With Robert’s sister and grandmother visiting, I had much less time to spend with Robert. The good thing was that Amanda, Jan, and Grandma kept him at least partially occupied. He went skiing to Vermont.  He went for walks.  He went to movies.  Still, I felt Robert was neglected. Maybe that is why during one boring afternoon, he ate the dough.  Not good.  Maybe that is why he found his  IPAD to be appealing again and watched Scrooge in three different adaptations of Christmas Carol. Not bad.

4. Today, I presented Robert with two workbooks bought by his sister. One about counting money, one about telling time.  The first ten or more pages were very easy.  Almost mechanical, but not exactly.  The workbook on time progressed in almost miniscule steps. Robert could work by himself for almost an hour. Huge.

5.  We all had champagne in our glasses.  Robert had too.  With a strike of midnight, each of us took a sip.  Robert too.  Then, he ran to the sink and  spit it out. Oh well.