Learning More, Understanding Less

May 19, 2015

I am for teaching Robert as many subjects and topics as I am capable to teach.  At the same time, not once, instead of teaching I  confused Robert with too many words when I attempted to explain the subject completely. It might be because Robert processes words in a way that I don’t fully understand. It is not that he grasps the meaning of my directions/explanations slowly. I suspect that he grasps the meaning of just a few last words (or a few first words.  I am not sure even of that.) and then he replaces words he didn’t catch with other ones. I don’t know where those “other” words, unspoken by me, come from.  The less words I use to explain something, the more effects they have.  Adding words, that might show another side of the subject calls for extra caution as they instead might cloud the image already formed in Robert’s mind.

I don’t think this problem is typical of only children with special needs.  Imagine asking for directions and having someone giving you all the information about the way you should take – directions that would consist not only of names of the streets, but  also  descriptions of the all  buildings or  trees.

As I noticed before, Robert  had a strong tendency to compartmentalize his life and refused to accept that some elements moved  from one part of his life to another.  He pushed me out of his classroom when he was five, and he kept pushing his teachers when they arrived for home visits. Only respite worker could take him to McDonald but not his parents. Each of us belonged to specific places, and we shouldn’t encroach on other people terrains.   I do believe that it might be that similar separate structures exist in Robert’s mind that don’t allow him to see the same subject in a different light.

When I was teaching Robert algorithm for multiplying large numbers I was smart enough to ignore the method of partial products.  It is a great method which really demonstrate clearly to the student what is the basis for the multiplication algorithm. But for Robert it was important to associate only one method with one task.  Only when Robert became very good at multiplying large number I dared to present Robert with method of partial products.  We even completed a few examples.  At that point, Robert’s skill was strong enough to withstand the attack of the new method.  To the contrary, he seemed pleased almost as if he understood the idea behind the multiplication algorithm a little better.

Not so much luck with subtracting those fractions that needed regrouping. I made a mistake of switching between the two methods – changing mixed fractions into improper fractions or regrouping by changing just  1 into a fraction of the proper denominator.  I tried to follow Momentum Math  to the fault.

Of course, I did that because I believed that Robert knew already one of the methods and had the prerequisite skills for the second method.  But I also knew that Robert didn’t master any of the methods yet.  He  was still prone to making errors as he had tendency to lose track of what he was doing specially when subtraction demanded not only regrouping but also finding common denominator.

As I said, I followed Momentum Math curriculum without really taking into account Robert’s level of understanding of all steps needed for subtraction. As we read the problems, Robert attempted to solve the problem using the required method.  This way, problem after problem,  he grew more and more bewildered until he didn’t know any more what to do.

So we will go to the beginning following all the steps he had already mastered in the past and those that are still puzzling.

I don’t give up, however, on teaching another algorithm at some point.  If not for the sake of improving Robert’s arithmetical abilities than to give him much more important lesson:  different methods can help to achieve the same goals just like different people can bring you to the same places.

And although Robert learns best with as succinct instruction as possible, adding non important words, phrases, or sentences could better prepare Robert for flexibly adjusting to our noisy, imperfect  world.

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