Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Acessing ability

(In addition to Presuming it.)

Our dream lives (or at least my dreams) indicate that there is a lot more information, ideas, worlds, words, complexities in our brains than we can access at anytime. Hidden memories, imaginary (or forgotten) worlds, works of art, poetry among other things often show up in our (again, at least mine) dreams that we don’t seem to have access to when we are awake. I often find that it seems like someone may not know something when the reality of it is that they are simply unable to access it. One of the first things taught when it comes to test-taking strategy is to try whenever possible to take the test the same location you were when you learned the material. I will never forget my college Physics 2000 classroom where I took all of my undergrad science classes due to the size of the class, tests were administered in assigned seating. I remember one particular Chemistry test that I took and it simply felt like I lost most of the information I clearly knew the preceeding weeks, and in fact the night after one of my tests I remember dreaming about the test and realizing that I had gotten some answers wrong, because in my dream I somehow realized the right answers (When I woke up I double checked and realized that I had the correct answers in my dream, but not on the test…sigh.) Needless to say, I thought about this and realized that I always, always, always sat towards the right center of the professor (facing him, he was to my left) in each and every class I had in that room (I really don’t know why, it is just where I liked to sit), but when I took this chemistry test, I was assigned to the left side of the room…and yes, this seems odd to me too, but for some strange reason it makes sense. Needless to say, when I am teaching my students I often think that in addition to teaching (or perhaps instead of), my job is to help my little friends access what is already there. Many parents I work with often tell me that their child knew the information but they seem to have “lost” it. It often seems to me that there is so much that my friends know and understand, yet are either unable to access the information or unable to access the language to communicate to me what they know. That being the case, I think it is my job to provide a variety of stimuli (verbal, visual, tactile, books, songs, stories, pictures) in order to help the my friends to both access what is already there and to find a way to show me what they know. By doing this, I often am pleasantly surprised to find out what one of my students already knows.

William always serves as my biggest reminder of the knowledge that exists inside, yet is not demonstrated perhaps due to a lack of resources. His IEP and all of his reports indicated that he was non-verbal, unable to identify numbers, letters, shapes, colors…to be completely honest, according to his reports there was very little that William actually was able to do. Yet when I was able to tune my ears to his previously seeming indiscriminate noises and sounds, I realized that William actually was using words, not just verbally stimming “jiipppaaawwwabbaabbbdddeellllllleeddeebbeaaaabbbbaabbaaddabbblle” noises…When calling him over to Circle time one morning, as he walked in circles with one hand to his chest and my aides were telling him to “come sit down” William, I suddenly “heard” William. “Stop” I told my aides. By this time, William had stopped his babbling and I looked at him and said “William, I pledge allegiance…” and he proceeded to finish the entire pledge and this time we all “heard” it with our newly tuned ears. The interesting thing is that my class never recited the Pledge of Allegiance so I had to make the assumption that it was something that had been done in his previous classroom…a classroom which according to the reports, IEP and consultant who came to visit us periodically in our classroom, he had never participated in, but stayed to himself to play with dry rice and farm animals and chew his blue chewy tube. Somehow, he managed to “learn” the pledge, as well as many other skills he demonstrated to us later, even when he didn’t appear to be learning or participating. In addition, it seemed like the more we “heard” William, the more he “spoke” to us. I remember the day we had a sub for his 1:1 aide he was speaking to the aide and I turned toward her and said, “He wants to play with the animals and the ABC puzzle. He likes to spell out the names of the animals”, and the aide looked at me and asked me how on earth I knew that…well he had just said it. It was clear as day to me. But the confused look of doubt on the aides face made me realize that William’s speech might not have been getting clearer as I had previously thought, but my listening had certainly improved. And as my and the classroom aides listening improved, we would remind each other to provide more and more opportunities to help our students access information and communicate what they already knew. In addition, it was our job to “listen” to the language and behavior that served as communication in order to help them communicate their more complex thoughts and feelings that they may not have the access to particular words to do so for themselves quite yet. So farm animals paired with magnetic letters showed us William knew how to spell (his low tone made it hard for him to write out legible letters, but he was working on it!). Big books and stories (and better ears) showed us that William could sight read many words. Green clay rolled out into long thin snakes showed us that he could manipulate them into letters and that he knew all the letters of the alphabet and in which order. And the day his regular aide Amy was out sick, and he grabbed my hand and told me “Iwwaaehbesez” (I want ABC’s, meaning I want the green clay that I make ABC’s with) and he spelled out “AMY” instead of his usual “ABCDE...”, my new and improved listening (courtesy of my teacher William) heard him telling me “I love Amy and I miss her. She does this with me and this is something we enjoy doing together. Amy is my friend and I wish she was here today. Where is Amy today SquareGirl?” Of course William could’ve just told me “Iwaaahehmee”, but really…what would I have learned about William, of what he is capable of, of what he is really trying to tell me about his dear friend Amy, and how would I continue to improve my own listening skills if he had just told me that? My little friends, especially my sweet red-headed, buck toothed, freckle faced William, are much to profound and poetic for that


Blogger Wade Rankin said...

The teachers we most love are those who have taken the time to listen to the little Rankster, because the very act of listening is an expression of love on their part. Education professors can talk about the need to listen, but actually hearing a child shows why some teachers are truly special.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Kristina Chew said...

"Access" as you show is a 2-way street, and we too often put the onus on our children (with their additional needs!) to do all the work.

In your renderings of William's speech I hear so much of Charlie's: Understanding him is like being the conductor of a rather raucous, very eager, underpracticed youth symphony orchestra.

Music is in the ear of the beholder.

9:57 PM  
Blogger gretchen said...

I got chills as I read this! I am going to post right now about something Henry's teachers do to help him access his abilities...

8:48 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Just 10 minutes ago I was changing C's diaper and he was babbling on and on. It suddenly hit me...he was actually singing "Ring Around the Rosie" over and over again. When I started to sing with him he got a huge smile on his face. I stood him up and he walked around in circles and the fell down at the end of the song. To think he was just babbling and then to suddenly HEAR what he was saying (singing) was amazing.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Tori'sPop said...

Loving it Squaregirl......Thanks!!!

10:48 PM  
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