Off the Beaten Track

April 26, 2018

We learn and relearn the same topics.  We follow the ideas as they slowly branch into more complicated concepts. From adding natural numbers to operations on fractions.  From naming visible body parts to labeling internal organs and grasping their relations to each other. We solve similar problems requiring similar techniques.  We return to simpler explanations if the  more intricate ones make our understanding too murky. We move accordingly to the given curriculum and in step with Robert’s and my ability to learn.

To make learning more complete, more rounded I utilize different curricula,  They approach the same concepts from a slightly different angles. But even that leaves a lot of uncharted terrain and the feeling of inadequacy of our learning.  I sense a void in Robert’s perception of the world.

No teacher can teach his students everything they need to know to be prepared for all life circumstances.  The best the teacher can do is to equip students with tools that would allow them to continue to learn on their own.  That is what my teaching lacks. Robert still doesn’t have tools to learn skills on his own.

I have to correct that.  Robert does learn on his own.  But his learning is a part of his vision of the world which only rarely intersects with the way we, relatively typical persons, understand its working. This dissonance makes learning and teaching harder.  I suspect that Robert independently, through observations, comes to many conclusions and utilizes them.  He, however, treats everything he learns from me as a sort of unusable ballast.  The knowledge he gains doesn’t seem applicable to anything in his day-to-day functioning.

It surprised me that although Robert can do many math operations, he was unable to pay $3.50 for his favorite watermelon slash. I believe that dealing with another person might be a factor causing his confusion, but still, what is the purpose of learning if it cannot be applied in such simple situations.

I  wonder if what Robert learns with me is reduced to algorithms, routine steps that have to be followed in a proper order.  I wonder if by studying with him everyday,  I didn’t increase his dependency attaching him even more strongly to the same path leading him nowhere.

It is, however, more uncomfortable for me than it is for Robert to get off the beaten track.

I noticed how uneasy I felt when I introduced to Robert Skill Sharpeners Critical Thinking on the grade 2 level. The workbook presented relatively simple problems.  Many of them Robert could do independently. But there were others that required switching from one mode of thinking to another approach.  The approach, I have to add,  that Robert had never tried before. I didn’t exposed him to them because somehow they fell outside the perimeters of  the curricula we used.  Moreover, from page to page the activities kept changing demanding flexible adjusting to the terms and concepts.

I had difficulties figuring out how to assist Robert.  At moments like that I realize how little insight I have into what Robert knows and HOW he knows it.  I don’t know to which facts I could relate the new information.  I don’t know which skills I should evoke to help Robert discover similarity with the new tasks.

It was precisely because of the difficulties I had that I decide to continue with the next level of Critical Thinking knowing that the hardest to teach concepts are the ones Robert needs most to learn.

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