Joint Attention and Mutual Awareness: “Why” Not “What”

Teacher and student

Over the years I have come to realize that we often ask the wrong question. The real issue is not “What should we do” or “What type of activity will s/he be interested in?” but rather “Why is the student acting this way? Why does s/he not show interest?” Answering the “Why” question is, however, trickier when a student is an AAC user who has difficulty expressing him/herself. So, it seems easier to focus on activity outcomes rather than to spend time understanding why the student is not paying attention.

Students who do not behave in a way that we expect can be challenging to teach. This is particularly difficult, as we want to demonstrate the gains that students make. If they do not find activities interesting, we change our instructional approaches and strategies (e.g., reinforcement) to ensure the student complies. Changing teaching activities or reward strategies, however, does not guarantee that what we change to will be more effective.

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