Not So Fast, Not So Easy

Robert did not learn much  last year at school. It is not a surprise.   Robert needs a very well designed instruction that the teachers are unwilling and incapable of providing. They don’t make necessary adjustments such as among others: using vocabulary Robert understands, providing enough opportunity for repetition of the skills in training, understanding his need to generalize to slightly different settings. Because Robert haven’t learned much from the last three teachers, each of them deduced that he was incapable of learning and started ignoring him, often withdrawing any instruction at all.  During one year, the main teacher not only removed Robert from the learning group, placing him at the separate desk with word searches as the main task repeated day after day, but she also forbade Robert’s aide to teach him.

In the end those three teachers were right.  Robert was incapable of learning at school. But the reason for that was that he was sentenced to be “taught” by people who  didn’t know how to teach him as they were not used to dealing with students with his educational profile and they were unwilling, despite assurances to the contrary-  to learn.

Teaching Robert is not a straight forward process.  It requires many repetitions and constant analysis of his responses. It demands specially designed worksheets that would decrease opportunities for errors and increase independence in solving problems. Because of Robert’s problems with short memory ( and working memory?), from one session  to the next, Robert forgets most of what he seemed to know already.  He cannot depend on what he remembers.  Very often the problem he could solve easily in the past, startles him and makes him incapable of continuing.

As Robert and I continue to practice changing digital representation of time  to the form that involves such words as ‘ before’ and ‘after’, I am often baffled by patterns of Robert knowing and unknowing the answers to the same question.  Of course, when I analyze closer I understand that “not knowing”  which come after the phase of “knowing” was really a result of “false knowing”. The quick glimpse at the last five days of our teaching/learning can clarify the difficulties in acquiring skills and point to the need for close observation and frequent adjustments.

First day.  Robert was using three worksheets which had respectively times 5, 10, and 15 minutes off the full hour.  by the end of each page, he seemed to grasp the pattern. Well, he seemed to know it.

Second day, Robert seemed at the same level.  He needed a lot of prompting with problems presented at the top of each age, and seemed almost independent by the time he reached the bottom.

Third day. Robert doesn’t have any problems with times 15 minutes off the hours (6:46, 6:15, 2:45, 5:15 etc) but times 10 minutes before the full hour (6:50, 2:50 )confuse him. He sets the analog clock to proper time,  but he doesn’t “see” that this is 10 minutes before full hour.  He “saw” that first and second day.  Why doesn’t he “see” that now?  I ask him to count minutes to the full hour. He counts to ten, but doesn’t make a connection.  Nonetheless, after  counting twice, he already recognizes the pattern and is independent till the end of the page. The problems return with times five minutes before full hours but yet again are gone by the end of the page.

Fourth day.  I prepared for Robert a page with exercises in which he has to find a missing addendum in equations where the sum of known number and a variable equals 60.  Except that instead of letter for a variable I am using an empty square:  40 + X =60,  Y+50+60, Z+55=60, and so on.  After practicing finding missing addenda we go back to the clock and similar exercises as those from day 1-3.

Day five.  We start with equations,  43+X=60, 58+z=60, 48+Z=60 and then return to Judy Clock.  Everything goes slower than before, but Robert is counting. Sometimes, he still needs support. Although he still utilizes patterns to help him with a fluency, he also is capable of writing an equation when he gets confused. If he baffled by an expression 4:47, he writes 47+X= 60 and finds that it is “13 minutes before 5 o’clock”.

Day six.  I anticipate that at the beginning of the session Robert will need to be reminded to help himself with an equation.  He might even be reminded what equation that should be.  In a few more days, such scaffolding would lead to independence.

Alas, if the skill is not used during next few weeks, it will disappear.

I don’t think such approach to teaching is possible in public school.  It would be possible in ABA driven Private School, such as the one that Robert attended in the past.  On the other hand, based on my experiences, it would take weeks if not months, before some adjustments to teaching could be done in such programs. still….