I recently observed a three-year-old girl who was going to start in-classroom learning after an extended time at home during COVID. She and her father were visiting her grandparents for the first time after an 18-month gap due to COVID. Even though they frequently interacted online via Zoom or FaceTime, the excitement and anticipation in seeing each other was significant. However, the little girl, on only a few occasions during the two-day visit, wanted to leave the loving embrace of her father. She was able to name all the letters and colors and sat down to do focused desk work for a surprising amount of time. She seemed happy to withdraw into her own world and engage in learning material; however, she was reluctant to interact with her grandparents.
This observation made me think of a book I have been reading by Krista Tippett, entitled, Becoming Wise. In the book, she interviews Ann Hamilton, an artist who makes the statement that we really must practice listening because our everyday spaces are not set up for listening. She expanded on this idea by pointing out that it is not only that we don’t have time and space to really listen, but that when we do listen, we tend to want to do so by using earphones to improve our own ability to focus on specific information. We don’t really listen or we are “plugged in”; and she explained that “It is very hard for me to wear headphones at all or sunglasses because then I feel like I’m not where I am, wherever that is” (Tippett, p. 88).
I couldn’t help thinking of how the use of earphones on my iPad has helped me to isolate myself from the environment in recent months. It was almost as if I needed the earphones to protect me from the outside world. Although it did help me to focus my attention on what I was working on, it clearly also functioned as a buffer against what was going on around me. It dawned on me that I too have become skilled in using this buffer to isolate me from outside world during COVID.
Recently, I was asked to provide information on the background to and motivation for my book on meaning-making in AAC intervention. Why did I write this book and what do I regard as the main contribution of the book?
This narrative is aimed at increasing children’s understanding of daily concepts by enhancing curiosity and engagement in everyday life events. It promotes close observation and inquiry based on what we see. Like before, I set the stage for the narrative by going through the concepts to ensure that children have some understanding of the main concepts in the narrative. The URLs are included to provide you with easy access to pictures and ideas to expand on your discussion with the children.
Preparation: Enhancing Conceptual Understanding
Here are some of the most important concepts highlighted in this short narrative. Although some of the concepts may be too difficult for some children, it is important to expose all children to all the concepts. Children learn by being exposed to new information and contexts even though each child will derive different meaning from the interaction. How children are able to participate in this activity is not as important as the experience they share with others in finding answers to the questions. The engagement in and enjoyment of the interaction is of primary importance.
Weather: For this blog I start off by setting the context in terms of the weather. I do this by contrasting different weather patterns: Indiana is cold, icy, wet, and snowy. South Africa is hot and dry, with little rain. Lack of rain often means that there is a water shortage.
Spider: Spiders have a body and legs and live on land, mostly in dry places. Pay particular attention to the physical resemblance, i.e., shape of a spider and its color to contrast with the spider in the pond.
Cracked ice: Looks like/not the same as/different from a real spider. Did the crack stay the same/change over time?
Feelings and experiences: Excited, curious. In addition to this narrative, the first story in the series also deals with playing a trick on someone.
As this is my first blog of the New Year, I want to wish you all a wonderful 2021. May we all soon see the end of covid! We will start off the year by talking about the use of core words in the classroom.
Teachers and therapist often ask me how much time they should spend on teaching a particular core word (or words) to their class before moving on to the next core word. Truth be told, this is a very difficult question to answer, as there are so many different factors impacting how long students take to learn a specific core word.
Traditionally we formulated our vocabulary goals by specifying that the child is able to use one language function at a time, e.g., requesting. We would use the words “I want” and encourage the student to indicate whatever s/he would like to choose. The focus is therefore on choice-making. The following video is a typical example of this kind of approach, where the focus is on getting the student to request specific objects to express needs and wants.
I recently followed an interaction between communication professionals on twitter in which they commented on the difference between compliance and engagement in interacting with young children. It made me acknowledge that Twitter can be used in really constructive ways: These short messages can make you think! Please see the postings as well as the comments on the postings below (Nov. 13 & 14, 2020).
Twitter Postings and Comments on Compliance and Engagement
(November 13 & 14, 2020)
Communication isn’t about pressing buttons to get things. Communication is about deepening connection, meaning-making and engagement. These things drive us to keep communicating (Alex de la Nuez).
Let’s not confuse compliance with engagement. Doing something I don’t necessarily want because someone tells me to do it is compliance. Doing something I want to do because you’ve inspired me to make my own choice is engagement. (Chris Bugaj).
• True, true, but we all have to do things that we don’t find engaging. (Cathryn Robbins)
• True. Compliance also isn’t always learning. Following directions doesn’t necessarily mean content is being learned. This can be especially true for students with language delays. (Mollie Kropp)
These postings and comments highlight some important concepts in thinking about the differentiation between compliance and engagement. I briefly summarize the primary points below.
If the Corona virus epidemic has taught us anything, it probably is the value of friends and family in negotiating our way through difficult periods. Talking to friends and catching up on Zoom allow us to share how we feel in our dark moments. Friendships empower us to face reality and to realize that we are still ok and sane!
Even though we can strengthen our existing friendships remotely, it is generally more difficult to develop new friendships online. Existing friendships are what we capitalize on in difficult times.
This Cornavirus time is, therefore, another wake-up call for us to seriously reflect on how to assist students with special needs to develop friendships. I was struck by a recent posting by a mother of a child with special needs. It vividly describes the plight of a boy who does not have friends. She wrote:
I’ve been doing this for 19 years, so I’m used to it. But really, no, not doing okay. I’m so depressed and sad for him. He is lonely and anxious and doesn’t understand why people don’t want to be with him. He’s lovable but they can only take him in doses. His sadness turns to rage, on me mostly. And I stand there with my invisible shield on and I take it. Because no one else can or will take it from him. I’m going to be there for him no matter what. And right now, during this…pandemic, I have to be here for him 24/7. Because he has nothing to do and because he’s so full of anxiety. It’s really hard.
This mother’s cry for help is not uncommon, and it requires our attention. The posting highlights the boy’s isolation and lack of friendships. It also describes the parent’s desperation within this context. While some parents of typical students could probably identify with this mother, the extent of the challenges are different when you have a child with a significant disability.
I remember when I first started to teach online in the late ’90s, I attended a training session on blended learning. The message was that online learning is not “just like classroom learning.” You cannot take what you do in face-to-face classroom teaching and simply put it “online.” You need to identifythe main purpose of the learning exposure, and then select the strategy best fit to achieve the goal. One has to integrate learning purpose and strategy from the get-go.
This integration requires that one has knowledge and understanding of the different types of online strategies, their strengths, and their limitations. There are no hard and fast rules for what strategies work best for students with severe communication difficulties. The secret to success is: one needs to be open-minded in observing each student’s pace of learning and adapt strategies to suit the student’s learning outcomes.
Paying Attention to Detail : Enhancing World Knowledge and Understanding of Concepts.
Today’s narrative is different from the previous two stories as it focuses attention on observations made while watching a pond with turtles. This type of observational narrative encourages children to focus attention on detail. Encouraging children to look more carefully at their environment builds on their world knowledge and understanding. What we see depends on how carefully we look and listen. Careful observation is not only the basis for acquiring knowledge, it is also related to understanding concepts and making sure that we have something to communicate about. Having something to share with another is at the basis of developing communication skills.
Background to the narrative
I have friends whose house is next to a big pond. If you stand in their sunroom, you can see the turtles and fish swim in the pond and sometimes you can even see a snake swim in the water. When I first saw the pond I couldn’t see anything in the pond. However, after a while, when I looked more carefully, I realized you can see a lot! My granny always said if you look too quickly you can’t see anything, however, if you look carefully, you will be surprised at what you see!. Today I am telling you about the turtles that live in my friends’ pond and if you look closely at the pictures, you will see what I saw! Continue reading “Story-time with Erna #3: For Parents and Their Young Children—About Turtles in a Pond”
Pre-amble to the story: Talking about taking turns.
As soon as my granny sat down to tell us a story, she would ask: “So, which story do you want to listen to?”. In response to this question my brother, Nico and I would start to shout out the stories we wanted to hear. Our shouting often became louder as we tried to persuade my granny to tell the story we wanted to hear. Then, my granny would ask : ”Who picked the story last time?”. My brother, Nico and I would then quickly start to point at each other saying “You chose last time!”. However, my granny was a wise woman and would remind us who selected the story last time by saying something like “ Let’s think about this. Erna, didn’t you choose the story about “How the Animals Chose their King?” When granny said this, we all knew that Granny was well aware of whose turn it was and that we needed to quickly step in line before she changed her mind about the story! This was indeed Nico’s turn to choose the story. I had to accept that this was his turn to choose. This time, however, Nico chose a really good story. See if you agree with me..
It is not uncommon for parents to express uncertainty about how to go about playing with young children who are not able to express themselves. These children often have a limited repertoire of toys that they are interested in. All we need for play is to identify one toy (e.g. teddy), action (e.g. jumping), or object (e.g.. car) that the child is interested in and use it as a basis for play. We want to be aware of what the child is interested in and then for us to extend what s/he does with the toy/object to expand involvement with us and the toy/object or action.
My child is in school already, why should s/he still learn to play like this?
There is a direct link between children’s ability to play with themselves and others, and their ability to learn. This also applies for children of school -going age. Children learn primarily through play. They make up action stories (e.g. the doggie runs in the yard, he runs fast, he sees daddy coming in the car, what does the doggie do? He runs to the car to greet daddy). In playing out a simple story like this, they learn about sequential actions and logical outcomes. If we can get a young child to play like this, s/he is well on the way to learning.
What toys do I use?
We need to watch carefully what toys the child spontaneously engages with. We need to observe how s/he uses the toys to develop their play skills. Allow yourself to expand play around the object of your child’s interest by adding one or two ideas that you think the child might relate to. Parents can be most intuitive in knowing what a child might enjoy – and if it doesn’t work, then you can try with another object/action/toy later on. It is not how many times we have to try that is important, but where we are heading for!
Gaining a young child’s attention is often difficult and expanding that interest to include a slightly longer engagement with the toy can be quite difficult at first. Remember this is an activity that you and your child should enjoy together. Don’t allow a play session to change into a “teaching session”. The idea is to have fun together. Play, communication and learning can only happen when a child is interested and enjoy what they are doing with you.