Progress, Ever So Evasive

April 26, 2015

In the last few days, Robert and I returned to the workbooks we have completed twice before.

1. Cut, Paste, & Color Logic from Remedia Publication

As I  watched Robert attempting to place four pictures in four spaces by following three or two cues, I wondered how to asses his progress.  It was clear, that he would not have completed this activity if I had not been sitting next to him.  I don’t know however, how exactly did he benefit from my presence.  Did he observe (as he did so cleverly in the past ) my reactions to his manipulations and deduced the proper response based on what he noticed in the movement of my eyes or lips?  Was it possible that my very presence did the trick by giving him psychological support as he tried to find a way to place four animals in four cages?


Whenever he read a sentence of the form, “A was not put in B”, Robert wrote in the B rectangle, “no A”.  To sound less abstract: when Robert read. ” Elephant was not the last”, Robert wrote in the last rectangle, “NO elephant.” Moreover he made sure not to put elephant there.  That was the progress as during our previous sessions, a year or two ago, he (and thus I) often made mistakes there.  Another sign of  progress was the fact that Robert slowed down and injected a few seconds of thinking between reading direction and following it.  That was mostly visible when he had to choose simultaneously two out of the three spaces.

To find where to put zebras, a parrot, an elephant and a hippo, Robert read all three sentences before placing pictures in order:

1.The elephant is fed last.

2.The zebras are fed after the hippo.

3. The hippo is not fed first.

Those few seconds of hesitation squeezed  between reading directions and acting upon them was the most important developmental improvement.

Momentum Math F, Unit 1 Multiplying and Dividing Natural Numbers.

It is an easy unit for Robert.  He knows how to multiply and divide numbers. Moreover, he knew that three years ago and five years ago. well, the matter of fact, he knew that seven years ago too. But when four and five years ago Robert was working with this textbook/workbook, I decided to skip some topics. For instance, I decided not to teach him multiplying by partial products.  I was afraid that learning another method might impact negatively his ability to use standard multiplication algorithm.  This time, I knew that his skills were strong enough to resist possible confusion. Moreover, over the years Robert practiced writing a number in expanded form (247=200+40+7) thus he had prerequisite skills allowing mu to grasp the method of partial products.

During our previous work with Momentum Math, I introduced for the first time the prime factorization.  I did it because it was a chapter in the book and I tried to follow the curriculum.  I wasn’t sure if Robert would benefit from knowing it.  But mainly, I wasn’t sure if Robert could grasp it. Well, it was rather easy for him to get down to the prime factors. However, he had difficulties presenting a number as a product of its prime factors – those which were on the ends of the tree. He wanted to write all factors, not only the prime ones.

This time, he didn’t make that mistake, but there is still something amiss.

Searching for the Key

April 17-24, 2015

The keys are on two different key chains. Robert wants it this way, and whenever I put them back, he, somehow manages to separates them again. It is a nuisance, as I search the bottom of my purse for the proper car key, I tend to always take the wrong one, then search again. Like I said, that is a nuisance. Moreover, Robert allows his father to keep both keys on one key chain. He doesn’t allow me to do the same.

He still remembers that time in October of 2013 when I placed the wrong car key in the ignition and couldn’t turn it, and couldn’t take it out. That was followed by over four hours of waiting for the AAA, a ride to the dealer, leaving the  car AND the CAR KEY there. Traumatic experience for Robert which I described in:

The matter of fact I forgot about this event, which  happened 18 months ago  but Robert obviously not. Not that he doesn’t trust me, but he wants to prevent me from making the same mistake. So far, he did.

From Life to Books and Back

April 15, 2015

Yesterday, Robert and I read A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting.  Although I looked for inspiration in The Magic of Stories I quickly realized, that my approach to reading this book with Robert has to be different than it was the case with The Great Kapok Tree.

While reading and discussing the last book I could rely on what Robert was already exposed to (Well, I am not really sure what he learned, only what I tried to teach him.) and on three additional books with many pictures and not too many words. Moreover, I could remind Robert our visits few years before to Rain Forest section of the Cleveland Zoo and the last year visit to see orchids exhibition in the rain forest section of Bronx Biological Garden.  To set the stage for reading I had to just bring these elements together, so we could bring Robert’s life experiences to the text.

From the book however we came out ( I believe) with better understanding of creatures living in a jungle, their complexity of their needs and the richness of resources that the rain forest provides to its inhabitants.

This was not the case with A Day’s Work. I didn’t have any information of Robert’s knowledge of issues related to immigrants coming to United States in need of work.  Maybe somehow he heard his teachers talking about immigrants coming for work, gathering at corners of busy street hoping to be hired for a day work.  Maybe, he learned even more.  However, I never became aware of such a lesson Robert might have taken in the past.

Since I didn’t know what Robert knew, I couldn’t set the stage by bringing Robert’s prior knowledge, and prior experiences to the book.  The only thing I could do was to tell him in as few words as possible (too many words confuse) that many people come to America from other countries to look for work. That they often don’t speak English, so nobody can understand them and they don’t understand others.  (I had a feeling that the part of not being understood hit the nail in Robert’s mind, as too often he is the one who is not understood.) The only way I could relate to other languages was out October? November trip to France and Poland.  Robert heard people speaking in languages he didn’t know.  Without touching on legal/illegal issues I said that often immigrants try to find just the work for one day and hope that someone would need them.  They wait in places where there are many cars passing and many contractors or farmers come.  For instance near hardware stores. I kept repeating the same things as we first looked at the pictures, before we began reading.

I don’t know what Robert understood from this first encounter with the problem.  He understood that they pulled plants instead of weeds.  Did he understand that the boy’s lie caused the problem and the grandfather honesty fixed it.  I am not sure.  But there will be another book someday, and the future would provide more opportunity to learn and to relate to  a book and the life itself.

Under ” The Great Kapok Tree” Thinking about “A Day’s Work” and Other Things

April 12, 2015

Today, Robert and I read The Great Kapok Tree.  I prepared myself for this book by getting ideas and a couple of graphic organizers from The Magic of Stories.  Of course neither ideas nor graphic organizers are ideal match for Robert.  I also looked for books and websites about trees and rain forest in particular.  To my surprise I found three books in Robert’s bookcase.  Two by Scholastic, and one in 3D I bought in Costco. All of them had many pictures but not many pages or words.  Robert didn’t read, we just talked (mainly I did the talking) about what we saw in the pictures in four books (Including The Great Kapok Tree).   In the afternoon, we finally read the book.  It had an easy to follow structure.  On each page, a different animal spoke to the sleeping woodcutter convincing him not to cut the tree. It was easy for Robert to retell the story,  He did that by turning pages and naming the animals appearing next to the man.

The next book I am planning to read with Robert is “A Day’s Work” . I don’t think it would be easy for Robert to understand the problem.  The boy lies about his grandfather’s skills to make sure that his grandpa finds a work. And yet, I would not know how to present the same general problem without any support from the book.  If we read and properly (?) analyze the book, Robert at least has a chance to become familiar with the issues the boy and his grandpa faced in the story. Without reading, there is no chance to enlarge Robert’s world.

This is similar to the problem I had when Robert was 3, 4, or 5 and I wanted to teach him to put pictures in a proper sequence.  At that time, Robert would not grasp the story behind the set of images, but he had much fewer difficulties placing in order pictures representing stages needed to complete simple drawing – be it a house or a basket with fruit.  At that time I didn’t use those cards to help Robert draw a picture but to help him learn the concept of a sequence.  From that we graduated toward images of children completing an action – building a snowman, carving Jack o’ Lantern, finishing a puzzle, or setting a table.

Retelling The Great Kapok Tree was like putting pictures in a sequence (Although it was also a great exercise in presenting  different perspectives.)  It would be much harder for Robert to understand and retell A Day’s Work. But as I said we have to try.

As I am leading Robert in learning, I also learn myself. I didn’t know what kapok tree was.  I saw pictures of it on web site for the first time. And thus inescapable question, “What is the point of teaching Robert things I haven’t learned myself despite my 61 years on Earth?”

I asked the same question yesterday, when Robert and I were learning new words about ships and boats.  I didn’t know what was hull, keel, or helm.  Of course, I appreciate learning myself as it at least helps me to understand the phrase of someone being at the helm. But if I survived without knowing, why does Robert need to know?  That might be completely useless knowledge for him. Why then I didn’t skip those words in the workbook?

Well, who am I to limit Robert’s exposure to new information.  If there is knowledge that could be accessible to him even in a minimal aspects of it, then I shouldn’t be the one who prohibit him from learning.  I met too many people who believing that if Robert learns one thing then his brain doesn’t have capacity for learning other , more important, things.  That is  why I was laughed at when I admitted, at one point or another, to teaching Robert counting by five,reading maps, understanding calendars, or fractions.

It was sad to see that many educators didn’t understand that learning one thing is not an obstacle to learning something else.  to the contrary, the things you have already learn help you better understand new connections and new concepts.

In the Mood for Maintenance

April 8-9, 2015

I have to admit that I didn’t teach Robert anything new in the last three months. Those were rather difficult months.  Each of us got sick with either bad cold or flu or both.  Five weeks in a row, we got snowed in so bad that there was not even possibility to go skiing.  Then in March, Robert and Jan went skiing to Killington Mountain in Vermont three times to use six tickets that were given them by Robert’s grandmother.  It is a long way to Killington and requires staying in the hotel. Moreover, ice dams formed on the gutters of our house and caused  leaks that required extensive repairs.  They are not finished yet. A lot of  unpredictable obstacles demanding that we change plans and adjust to the presence of different crews of contractors. Well, I was exhausted and unable to seriously plan Robert’s lessons.  So I was in a mood for only  reviewing and reteaching, believing that maintenance of skills doesn’t require much effort on part of a teacher or a student.  It should be almost mechanical and easy.

During the last three months we did mostly very light/easy work and we both settled for maintenance of what Robert already knows or ALMOST knows:

Adding and  subtracting different amounts of money presented in decimal forms. Multiplying and dividing costs of items by whole numbers.  Operation on fractions with an emphasis on leaving the result in the simplest form.  Changing units of length, weight, and capacity.  Gallons, quarts, pints, cups and ounces still need a lot of hands on practice.  Robert and I need to cook more to get a better grasp on those amounts. Somehow, the abstract form of changing units (by dividing or multiplying) doesn’t result in understanding of what those units represent in the real life.

We continue with reviewing/ relearning third grade vocabulary words.  As always we do a lot of language exercises but with an emphasis on practicing what is easy.  If Robert has difficulties saying a sentence, I don’t ask him to correct himself  but I cut the sentence  short by disposing of unnecessary words or changing the  sentence to two or three phrases that are easier for Robert to repeat.  I use the ideas from Articulation Curriculum Super Pack as a starting point to give me general direction but then I adjust problems to Robert’s abilities and all his interests/experiences.

The sentence, “Fred eats fresh fruit on Friday.” I replace with, ” I eat fresh apple every day. I ate apple last Friday.  I like fresh fruit. Mother likes fruit. She like fresh fruit. ”

Yesterday, we completed all exercises from Speech Improvement Reproducible Masters.  I asked Robert to repeat after me all three words containing a specific sound (at the beginning, middle or end.)  Given Robert’s problems with short memory, I am pleased that he can do that now. To my  Robert really liked those tasks that required repeating the same sentence structure with only one word changing. The sentences were relatively easy and were accompanied by funny drawings.

I began using  a new workbook Comprehending Descriptive Language. Although the book is new, the skills are not. I am supposed to read two adjectives and Robert should follow with circling the picture of the proper object.  Except, I make it more challenging for him.  I ask Robert to repeat after me those two adjectives and follow with an appropriate noun.  Saying three words in a row (two adjectives and one noun) demands Robert’s attention, memorization, and flexibility needed for switching from remembering two words to chosing the third one.

We almost finished the Evan -Moor Reading and Understand Grade 3.  Yesterday, we read the story of Daedalus and Icarus. I was not eager to read it.  I was apprehensive of Robert finding that Icarus fell to the ground and died.  Robert, however, was attracted to the story by  a drawing of two people flying.  So we read it.   However,  we didn’t talk about the story.  It was almost 8 PM and Robert was tired. He wanted to finish answering the questions, take a bath and go to bed. So I didn’t tell Robert how I FELT about the story and I didn’t ask Robert about his feelings. Mistake!

I have to rethink the goals and methods.  Working only on  maintenance of previously acquired skills is never successful without teaching new things that would connect all concepts with new ones.






Don’t Go Where the Wild Things Are

April 6, 2015

Today, I read a story in New York Times, Letting My Autistic Son Go Where the Wild Things Are by Linda Davis. I don’t think I have any opinion about the article. I don’t even know what to think about the ideas behind.   Experiences, thoughts, and interpretations of lives of people with autism are, I believe,  impossible to be translated from one life to another.

The title, however, reminded me of one of the most piercing images I have of my son.

Robert was three or four years old. But small for his age, he looked like two years old toddler.  It was a cold and windy autumn day.  Or maybe it was winter already as maples and oaks  managed to lose all their leaves. If I am not sure, it is because there was no snow on the ground.  Very few people were walking in Blue Hill State Park  that day.  At least not on the same trail we followed.

Little Robert got maybe 100-150 feet ahead of us .  He didn’t run, but walked  quickly and with a great determination as if he were pulled by some invisible magnet. I called him to stop, but at that time he didn’t react to his name or to the “stop” request.  As he walked, he made sounds.  He didn’t scream. He didn’t cry. He didn’t whine. He didn’t hum. The sounds were long, as if he were singing.  But he didn’t singing.  I could say that he was howling but  with the menace of the gusts of wind tempered by the softness and sadness of birds’ cooing.

It seemed that Robert was trying to dissolve himself in this cold autumn/winter day. He heard the call of the wild and echoed it.

He was leaving us behind as if we didn’t matter any more. As if we didn’t exist. He was going into the landscape carved by melancholy ready to be swallowed by it.  He was three or four years old. He was determined, he was lonely, and he let us know.

Amanda and I rushed toward Robert.  Amanda, five or six at that time, had to be as shaken by Robert’s sounds as I was. Except, she was much more sensitive and much less inhibited. She knew that the only way to break the sadness and loneliness of that moment was to join Robert in his howling and or cooing.  So she tried. She tried to imitate Robert’s sounds.  Of course she couldn’t.  Her sounds were the sounds the people make when they try to imitate strange sounds. Robert’s sounds were organic sounds of nature itself.  So she couldn’t imitate them but  she ran to Robert and continued with her attempts.  She didn’t mock him.  No, not at all. She wanted to join him so he wouldn’t have seemed so terribly withdrawn and lonely.

Amanda and I took Robert’s hands.  He looked at us as if our presence startled him but he he didn’t pull his hands out of our grasps but with serious expression on his face walked with us back to the car.


Words, Old and New

March 31, 2015

From time to time, I go back to the shelf where I keep those workbooks Robert and I had already completed a month, a year, or a few years before.  Luckily, their pages are still untouched by Robert’s pencil, as I usually make copies of new materials not sure how easy or difficult the problems presented in workbooks might be for Robert.  The first encounter with the worksheet is always on trial and error basis for both of us. Although we worked diligently many concepts slip through our minds.  I said ours for a reason.  On one hand, Robert doesn’t appropriate new terms during that first encounter, on the other hand, I neglect to practice them out of the teaching table.

Enriching the vocabulary

It is crucial to use new words all across the settings wherever and whenever appropriate. That is the way to bring new words into a fold of one’s personal experience and to let them be assimilated and understood in different contexts. It is crucial, but too often, I don’t do that.  I am just forgetting the words I introduced to Robert  in the table settings, and he forgets them too.  That is why, a month or a year later, we go back to the old workbooks to refresh our memory and relearn the concepts.

I use workbooks, because I would not know which words Robert should know.  That is not exactly precise statement.  I know that Robert needs as many fundamental, basic words as possible.  I just don’t know what those words are.  If there were any workbooks on the kindergarten – second grade level left I would buy them all because I assume that they contain the most often use words.  In the past I used 2 different workbooks for grade 1 and 2.  Now, with some doubts as to the immediate usefulness, I am working with vocabulary words on the third grade level.

It is a second time around Robert and I do the same pages.  this time however, I am choosing words to practice with Robert also out of the table.

1. When we go visit his aunt and grandmother we will practice HOST and GUEST. When friend stops over, I will remind Robert to be a good host and bring cookies to the table or a glass of water or juice.

2. When we go to Audubon park, we will be waiting for arrival of CYGNETS

3.As Robert’s physical exam approaches, we will check in the calendar when is Robert’s next ANNUAL check-up.

One might ask, the matter I am asking myself, “what is the point of enriching the vocabulary of a young man, whose independent speech production is on a level of 3-4 years old toddler. what is the point of immersing such person in the ocean of new words?

And the answer is: Because Robert  can express very little. Since his speech is difficult to come out and carry to another person, it is imperative that he understands most of his surroundings.  He cannot ask for clarification, explanation by himself.  Asking is even more difficult.  That is why he should know language context.  Knowing names of things and actions is to understand better those things and those actions.


I also brought back Speech Improvement Reproducible Masters.  A couple of years ago we did all the exercises.  At that time, I believed that Robert’s biggest problem with speech production was not extending long vowels, squeezing syllables into one unrecognizable sound.  Now, I noticed that he also has problems with clarity of his consonants. Again, I wish it was a trained speech pathologist who would work with Robert, but since there are nowhere to be found, I am working with Robert on practicing the same sounds we had practiced years ago.