For my introduction to neuroscience class in my Sped Doc program we're reading the book, My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. It's absolutely fascinating- Taylor, a brain scientist, writes about her experience of having a stroke- describing which areas of her brain went down based on the functions she lost the morning of her stroke- and then what needed to be done to re-build or re-map those areas of her brain to gain her skills back. It's an easy read and is a great intro to the regions of the brain because instead of just reading a dry text book which lists the regions of the brain and what they do, Taylor describes the regions and then describes in detail, and with emotional attachment, what happens when you lose that region.
Taylor dedicates one of her chapters to what she needed most for a successful recovery, which she also includes in a list form in the appendix. Her list begins with excellent recommendations when considering how to meet the needs of anyone in intensive care, or in a long-term hospital stay, but as it continues Taylor shifts from her needs as a patient to her learning needs. As someone who understood the brain she knew exactly what was needed to rebuild her brain- the kind of environment, support, and structure that were essential in bringing her back to her life as a professor. In many ways she describes what our learners, particularly our learners with special needs, need in order to be successful.
"For a successful recovery, it was important that we focus on my ability, not my disability" she writes.
"I needed people to celebrate the triumphs I made every day because my successes, no matter how small, inspired me."- Amen. Sometimes it is so hard to see the tiny little steps toward success our children are making when we are so focused on the end goal (that seems SO far away) but encouraging them and celebrating each step will give them to motivation to keep working toward that end goal.
"My successful recovery was completely dependent on my ability to break every task down into smaller and simpler steps of action" Baby steps. Everything can be simplified for our kids- from writing the letter g (start with the curve of the c first before finishing the o) to how to manipulate scissors. Piece by piece put it together. It's just a different way of looking at tasks.
"Look for what obstacles prevent me from succeeding on a task."
"Clarify for me what the next level or step is so I know what I am working toward."
"Remember that I have to be proficient at one level of function before I can move on to the next level."
"I needed my caregivers to teach me with patience."
The one that struck me the most though was, "Please don't finish my sentences for me or fill in words I can't find. I need to work my brain."
We know to give children wait-time. During instruction time we know to sit and let children find the answers even when it becomes uncomfortable- yet I find we don't do that when we are merely chatting with children. As adults we are too quick to fill the silence when our children are searching for words to answer our questions.
"Did you have a good summer?" we ask, and then immediately jump into, "Did you go to the pool? Did you go to the beach? Did you read any good books?" without giving answer time.
"I bet you went to the pool! Was the water cold? Did your pool having a diving board?"
We can go on and on with these questions, and before you know it, we've had a conversation with ourselves. When we do this we are immersing our children in vocabulary, but we're not giving them the chance to use that vocabulary. They need to be able to search and find those words themselves.
We're also quick to give our children the words when they seem to be searching for the correct English word. "Um, you know, the long thing over the water?" and as though we're answering a trivia question we jump in, "The diving board!" "Yeah, that" the child answers, usually not even bothering to repeat the lost word to us.
Once I read Taylor's request for being able to finish her sentences I became hyper-aware of what I was doing in my conversations not just with my children but with their parents, and my co-workers. I realized that when someone jumped in to finish my sentence I did shut down- I handed the task of finishing the thought to them, as though my brain was turning off. Usually it was for nothing important- directions on how to get lunch at a nearby deli, or where to find the copy room in our school- but if my brain shut down when giving information it knows cold, it must be more than happy to do that when someone completes an answer for me that I don't know as well.
My goal this year is to allow children wait time, not just in academic settings but even in our daily conversation. Let them have the practice of finding the vocabulary words they want to use, practice searching their brains for the English word that corresponds with what they are thinking. Hopefully tomorrow, in the midst of the screaming, home sick kindergartners, I'll be able to somewhat remember this...