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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My New Teaching Style: Less Talky More Laughy

Math has always come easily to Jackson.  He is not a numbers genius or anything, in fact, I find it offensive that some people think all kids with autism have some weird super-math brain.  He is just a like any other kid with a normal aptitude for math, but since he struggles so profoundly with language-based subjects, he excels in math by comparison.

However, teaching math to Jackson has not always come easily.  Traditional classroom educators relay so heavily on verbal instruction that any student who struggles with audio-processing is going to get frustrated very easily.  I found this to be true with Jackson during our first month of homeschooling.

When we pulled him out of Poe Middle School, after 8 weeks of being there, he had done "zero academic work".  So I had to go all the way back to May of 2011 to get a sense of where to start with him.  I decided to start him at the beginning of 3rd grade math just to sort out his strengths and weaknesses.  I quickly discovered that his math skills were extremely unbalanced.  He accelerated in telling time, counting money and basic computation skills, but had no concept of greater than/less than, rounding, estimating, or measurement.  And while he could add, subtract and multiply well, he could not do any of them at an advanced level (i.e. regrouping or multiple digits).

I based his early math curriculum around a cool online resource by Education Creations called Morning Math.  These 1 page sheets provided me with a succinct overview of his skills.  I spent about 2 weeks evaluating him with these worksheets. During this time, I discovered that he was very resistant to me giving him math "lessons",  almost to the point where I could not say anything out loud for fear of getting a pencil thrown at my head.  He preferred to just do the work in silence and ask me questions as they arose.  He needed to be in control of the volume and tone of the educational experience.  This spoke to me of a deep sensory processing issue that was probably just seen as disobedience and defiance in the public school setting... "i.e. he is just being a pain in the a**" type observation by his teachers. This thought still makes me sick to my stomach just writing it down now...

At this point, I took a step back and tried to think about how I was going to teach him higher level math concepts without speaking out loud!  That's right, you read that correctly...I had to figure out how to teach without talking.  I guarantee no traditional university has an educational class on that!  But I knew that was THE roadblock preventing him from progressing and instead of trying to change his learning style, I needed to change my teaching style to meet his learning needs.

I tried using other methods geared towards the visual/kinesthetic learner, but those still relied heavily on the teacher's verbal cues.  And although Jackson's language skills are significantly delayed, he does not need a picture-card system to explain things.  He can read and communicate well enough that those are a bit patronizing from both his and my perspective.  So that left me at another dead end.

So I went to the only area I knew he responded to and that was humor.  He loves to laugh and he loves when people think he is funny. How in the world would I use that to teach him subtraction regrouping!?!  Well it all came together one afternoon when in December when Caroline suggested that I try using boxes to illustrate borrowing.  I wrote a problem on the white board and walked him through it, without talking, but just quietly drew boxes around the numbers that needed to be regrouped and for whatever reason, he thought that was hilarious...he kept talking about Spongebob's box and started to immediately draw his own boxes around the numbers and while he rambled on and on about Spongebob, he began to subtract quickly and accurately.  I just smiled and kept writing problems on the board and we walked through them together, him jibber-jabbering away and me laughing hysterically at his jokes.

And that is how in the last 2 months I have been able to bring Jackson all the way through 3rd grade math and into 4th early grade having learned such things as:

4 digit subtraction regrouping
Advanced addition
2 digit multiplication
Division up to 10
Addition & subtraction of fractions
Equivalent fractions
Greater/less than
Rounding & estimating




Notice I did not say that I taught him these subjects, because I have not. He has learned them through the slow and methodical building of skills by repetition and reinforcement with a non-stop string of jokes pouring out of his mouth.  I do not laugh at him, but have learned to appreciate his sense of humor and laugh with him so he feels understood and appreciated in a way I don't think he ever has before.  By creating an environment of acceptance and recognition, he has been able to absorb the information and process it in a way that fit his learning style - which I now call "Laughter-Processing".

To quote Jackson:

"Now that is funny, and I know funny." 



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