March 29, 2015

Every evening, Robert reminds me, “Notebook, notebook.”  He takes the notebook from the drawer and brings it to the dining room table. He looks at me expectantly, waiting for the first prompt. If the prompt doesn’t come, he begins on his own, “I went to”, he hesitates and then adds what is appropriate for the day, Mac Donald, swimming pool, grocery store, bowling alley, walk.  It is harder on those days when Robert just stayed home.  The phrase, “I went to” hangs in the air.  Robert looks at me for help.  “Cross it” ,I tell him and suggest the word “ate”.  Robert gets back on track. “I ate”, he writes, “chicken (or poblano, or potato and cheese) for dinner”. Then he adds, “I did laundry” ,”I watched Netflix”, “I read”, or “I studied with mother”.  If the worksheets are still on the table, I point to some of them to elicit more specific answer, “I learned about tornadoes” (or digestive system, or magnets…)

This evening, Robert wrote about his trip to Vermont.  He informed his job coaches at his day program, that he stayed in Hampton Inn, skied at Killington Mountain, ate at the lodge and at the UNO restaurant.  He was able to add important to him details – swimming in the hotel’s pool, going up the mountain not on a ski lift but in a gondola, and stopping at the rest stop on the way there. I still help him by asking him questions, giving him two choices, suggesting the useful word.

Writing in his Notebook seems very important for Robert.  It is Robert who reminds me about this obligation.  If he forgets to do so in the evening, then he tells me, “Notebook, notebook” early in the morning before he even dresses up.

I believe that writing in the Notebook helps Robert relive his experiences and learn to express them for his own benefit and the benefit of the reader.

I cannot overestimate the importance of his writing – from learning some of the useful (repetitive) phrases, to putting events in order, to learning to communicate with others, to being able to analyze his actions.

I cannot overestimate that importance.  At the same time, I am acutely aware that one of the reasons why Robert is so keen on writing in his Notebook, is because his job coaches/instructors at his work, are reading them.  Their readings make all the difference for Robert.  He feels that what he is not able to say, but what he can write, has some significance and meaning to others. And that makes all the difference.

Sadly, that was not his previous experience.

The Past: Spring 2005

Robert joined a new collaborative program.  Everyday, Robert carried to school packets of worksheets he had completed at home with me.  I asked him to do that hoping that bringing worksheets to school would: 1. Let the teacher be more aware of Robert’s skills and deficits. 2. Increase the importance of home studying in Robert’s mind.

Well, I thought so. But, one morning, after dropping Robert in the classroom a few minutes before the first bell, I realized that I forgot to tell something to the teacher, so I returned.  As I opened the door I saw Robert throwing all of his home worksheets into a recycling wastebasket. Knowing Robert, I was sure, that he did what he saw his teacher doing every day.  He just wanted to spare her trouble, so he threw the papers away himself.

I learned a bitter lesson about parent-teacher cooperation then. My need to share was considered presumptuous interference into this teacher’s field of expertise.

In the following years, sending to school Robert’s worksheets or journal entries didn’t seem as meaningful to Robert or his teachers, as I hoped for.  But Robert, at my insistence, continued to do so. While some teachers responded positively, some just ignored Robert’s work, but never disposed of his papers the same way the teacher in the collaborative program did.

I don’t regret that.  Robert formed a habit of writing and now he, with the help of his job coaches and instructors, benefits from it.


In the Light of Stellaluna

March 16, 2015

Amanda, Robert’s sister, read all those books.  She read Rainbow Fish, Streganona, Amazing Grace, and many, many more.  She, of course, read Stellaluna.  She loved the book so much, that she bought it with her lunch money during one of the Scholastic Books sales at her elementary school. But when Amanda got older, other books filled the bookshelves in her room.  I felt she outgrew the picture books and thus I brought them all to Salvation Army store.

I felt, that those books were of no use to Robert.  He had, after all,  other books. The books which should provide concrete information about animals, plants, human body.  All of them written on a level of kindergarten – third grade student.  Robert also had many other workbooks that were supposed to address deficits in his comprehension.  So they addressed one aspect of comprehension at a time: getting details,  answering WH question, finding main  topic, making inferences, and so on…They were called Comprehension Quickies, Close Reading, Addressing Specific Skills Series and so on… They all addressed some sort of deficits, I believe.  I used them a lot with Robert.  He didn’t enjoy them and I didn’t enjoy them either.  Moreover, they didn’t seem to improve Robert’s comprehension or my ability to teach reading comprehension.

Still, I believed they were right way to go, as they were short.  ‘Short’ was a synonym with easy and survivable. I believed, at that time, that Robert cannot listen to long stories.  I believed that Robert, despite his ability to decode the text, was not able to understand the plot. To make a matter worse, Robert didn’t want us to read to him, because he couldn’t listen. He would rather read himself then listen.  He would read, because when he was doing that, nobody expected him to listen at the same time.

I still remember how doubtful I felt, when I had to read to Robert (relatively) long stories from Reasoning and Writing Part A. I was sure, that he would not sit through.  And he didn’t.  He got up a few times during the first part of the story, and another few times the following day when I read to him the second part. But, I expected worse.  So, I continued, and Robert stopped getting up in the middle of my reading.

As we followed with reading stories from Reasoning and Writing, Robert learned to listened and I learned to read to him.  I learned to stop, add a comment, ask a question, repeat a sentence, pretend to explain it to myself,  and so on.  Nothing special.

Then, I looked through The Power of Retelling and realized how much Robert could learned through proper reading instruction. How much his vocabulary would improve, his ability to connect concepts in the way that would weave a path to better understanding of his  life.  But I wasn’t trained Reading Instructor, so I couldn’t transform general idea into a practical instruction. Luckily, someone on one of the parents’ internet list advised The Magic of Stories.

The Magic of Stories, brought me back to Rainbow Fish, Streganona, and Stellaluna.
From  The Magic of Stories,  I learned how to prepare for reading, how to read, and how to place the book in the context of readers experiences, abilities, challenges.  How to make more probable, that the reader  is not just capable of answering WH questions but that his language and his life is clearly enriched by the stories.

So, I got Stellaluna from our library.  No, I didn’t make any preparation for reading.  I didn’t follow any of the advises from Magic of Stories.   They are great and I will use the ideas behind them in the future. But this time, I was just curious how Robert would like this book as we alternate reading it, looking at the pictures, predicting what might happened and trying to figure out  some of the  confusing statements.

I had the feeling that Robert loved the book. He was relaxed, calm, and smiled with his eyes.

Later that evening, I called my daughter to tell her that Robert liked Stellaluna. “Oh, I adored that book”, said Amanda.

Sadly, I realized that I was feeding Robert with many  texts created specifically to address comprehension deficiency, but I have never read him stories that would match his humanity.  Moreover, I also realized that had I ever fed such educational  texts to my daughter as I fed them to my son, she would have lost her love of reading before finishing second or third grade.

Mine is a foolery of replacing wonderful children’s literature with soulless texts in the name of teaching.

Well, Robert is 23 years old, but he doesn’t mind reading Stellaluna again. Neither do I.




Piece of Rock

March 7, 2015

I thought it would be a piece of cake.  The task  so easy that Robert could do it without my help or even without my presence (Those are not exactly the same things for Robert as my silent presence gives him the courage to undertake more difficult problems.) Using five line segments of equal length, each divided into different parts (halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, and eights) Robert was supposed to compare fractions.  I though the problem was self-explanatory. Just decide which line is longer or if they have the same length.  It was so much simpler endeavor than comparing fractions by replacing them with equivalent fractions with the same denominators.  That Robert could do.  He might  need one example as a reminder, but then he can follow with the same algorithm and find the correct answers.

Using the number lines, however, seemed so much simpler and quicker for ME, so I was led  to the conclusion that it would be also easier and faster for Robert. It wasn’t.

Five parallel number lines completely confused him.  I was not able to detect what exactly was a reason for his errors and I was not able to help him get on track.  I was telling him, that the longer segments represent larger fractions, that the same length segments represent equivalent fractions. that didn’t help.

Moreover, I knew that without those five number lines, Robert would easily point to the pairs of equivalent fractions.  Still, he couldn’t do that WITH the visual HELP of number lines.  I am still not sure why, but I might consider these reasons:

1. Robert was looking not at the length of segments assigned to the whole fraction (for instance 3/4) but at the length of one part – that is 1/4.  And thus decided than 2/3 was larger than 3/4 because 1/3 segment was longer than 1/4/

If that was the case, I should have asked him to measure the length of the segment starting from 0.

2. Placing the equivalent fractions on top of each other might have suggested to him that those which were on top were larger than those on the bottom. Again, I should have asked Robert to measure the segments starting from 0.

I also could ask him to draw vertical lines through some of the fractions.

I am not sure what was the reason for Robert’s confusion.  I am sure, however, that I  should refrain from deciding for Robert what is easy and what is not as he processes signs differently than I do.


Sinusoid to the Rescue

March 5, 2015

Today, Robert  had difficulties drawing ocean animals. Copying slanted lines and curved lines going in different directions seemed to be very confusing to Robert. So, I went  back to Write from the Start by Ion Teodorescu and Lois M. Addy. I looked through the exercises in both parts of that curriculum with emphasis on those which would help with drawing. ( I couldn’t help but wonder to what degree those exercises helped Robert with writing cursive letters, in the past) Still, this time I looked for something else.  I looked for ideas that would helped Robert to draw curved backs of dolphins, wavy shapes of seahorses, and sharp endings of  curves representing bodies of different fish.

I thought that the closest match to what Robert needed to relatively successfully complete his ocean picture was to practice drawing circles inside and outside triangles and squares.  I expanded on that ideas with exercises that demanded that Robert draw ovals inside and outside rectangles.

Another good suggestion taken from the book was to draw sinusoid (wave) but going down vertically (With horizontal waves Robert didn’t have as many problems.) By spacing either points or different length line segments I prepared pages for Robert to draw waves (sinusoids) of different frequency and amplitudes.  Later, Robert was presented with tasks of drawing such shapes along slanted lines.

The exercises seemed easy.  Although mathematician would have a problem with Robert rendering of those shapes, they clearly demonstrated Robert’s understanding of concepts.

After all those exercises, I asked Robert to copy the drawing of the dolphin. This time I stopped myself from any “helpful” interference and let Robert worked out on his own all the curves and angles.  And he did.


Compare and Contrast

March 3, 2015

One of the staple in teaching reading comprehension is the emphasis on comparing and contrasting specific elements of the text. Most often two characters are subjected to this treatment.  How are they alike?  How are they different?

In the past,  I used “Compare and Contrast” chart with Robert to compare  two simple objects: an apple and an orange, the fish and a turtle, or a stove and a refrigerator. I have never, however, used such chart in connection with a read text.

Today, Robert read a text, two pages long, which  compared alligators and crocodiles. It seemed very well suited, almost self-explanatory, to be used with Compare and Contrast Chart.

I gave Robert three highlighters of different colors.  The green one should be used with the information that related to both reptiles.  The yellow one was assigned to alligators and the pink one to crocodiles. After reading each sentence, Robert was to decide which color had to be used.  Robert was not used to stopping after every sentence and tried to accelerate the process by often taking what was in the closest proximity of his hand.  Slowing him down was the most difficult part.  I covered the highlighters with my hand and asked, ” Did you read about alligators, crocodiles, or both?”

Well, when the sentence was about both kinds of reptiles, Robert didn’t know what to answer.  Clearly the concept of “both” in this context seemed not fully developed yet.  As I was working with Robert, I realized that it would make much more sense to use two highlighters – for instance blue and yellow for such sentences.  That would add the third color –  green to the mixture and might result in better understanding of the concept of “both”  But, of course, I couldn’t make changes in the middle of the task and confuse Robert even more.   Luckily coloring the sentences that informed about only one of the reptiles wasn’t difficult for Robert.  When the sentence informed about both, I led Robert through the procedure.

Later, Robert use this color coding to fill the Compare and Contrast Chart.

I am not really sure what he understood about the whole process.  I think, I will write a couple of simple texts that would give him opportunity for more practice.  I think I might even introduce two people – young and old, tall and short, happy and angry.  After all, comparing and contrasting could be most valuable if it helped Robert find a tool to understand others.