Monday, June 18, 2012

What We've Always Known: Teaching is all about Connections

Guest Blogger: Heather Pedersen

See Heather's first post about "Susan":  Making Miracles Happen

As the school year draws to a close, I am anxious to update you on one of our grade 2 students .  Susan is a selective mute who has not spoken directly to an adult at school since she entered kindergarten.  Up to February of 2012, she was using a few discreet gestures and would whisper to a friend who could then relay that message on to the teacher.  But, with the introduction of the Ipad, so much has changed.

When I last wrote, Susan had used the Ipad to create puppet plays with a friend and had communicated one short message to me.   It’s hard to know where to begin because there have been so many wonderful developments in the past 3 months.

Susan now uses an Ipod  or an Ipad, on a daily basis. Each morning, her EA records a personal message for her, often telling her of the day’s events or other bits of information to help make the day go smoothly.   During guided reading Susan takes the Ipod and finds a quiet corner in the room to record a passage that she has been assigned.  She then plays it to the group  when it is her turn.  She has even played a recording to her entire class of 21 students!

Susan comes down to my room at least once a week and we work on all kinds of different little projects via the Ipad.  She regularly records a message for our principal and our secretary.  She loves to tell them riddles and her smile tells us she also loves to stump them.  One of her favourite apps is called Story Kit.  This app allows the user to create books of varying lengths.  Each page has room for an illustration, text and also taped  commentary.  Susan has created close to a dozen stories, and each one is more complex and more elaborate than the previous one.  The intonation and animated expression she uses when talking is amazing.

Many of these have been done at home but Susan happily shares these with adults in the building.  She shares with those people she knows, but on occasion with visitors to the school who happen to stop by my room.  She has recently started creating short books with optical illusions that she has drawn.  She records instructions telling how long you have to guess what the picture might be.    At the end of the given time, she indicates that the time is up and what the answer is.  Her drawings are brilliant and she giggles out loud as I try to unsuccessfully determine what it is she has created.

Susan: “Okay this is also a guessing one…….so…….I’ll give you 15 seconds.   Ready?  Here we go……….
Time’s up so stop guessing!  The answer is it’s an H and and an i and that spells Hi!”  (For those of you, like me, unable to read that, concentrate on the greenish figures in the center.  There’s a capital H and then a bubble i beneath that.) 

The Ipad has opened the door to really getting to know Susan.  I have been able to ask her questions, sometimes about something we are working on, but most often just typical conversations about weekend plans, upcoming events, etc. and she has always recorded an answer for me. Today’s answer was close to a minute long and full of details.  On occasion, I have stayed in the room but at a distance as she answers, but generally I give her privacy and leave the room.    

There are many significant and visible spinoffs for Susan. She used to move through the school with a buddy.  Now, you can often see Susan walking through the school on her own, with more confidence and purpose.  She makes and maintains eye contact with more adults more readily.  Susan will more easily shake her head to indicate no, rather than drop her eyes down and wait it out.  She will draw attention to herself by knocking on my door as she arrives at my classroom.  All of these are helping Susan to become a more well-rounded student.  However, as I reflect on the past 4 months, I realize that there have been significant and positive spinoffs for me as well.  Working with Susan has challenged me to think outside the box, to be creative and to really examine my philosophy of education – and all of these are helping me become a more well-rounded teacher.

Teaching is all about connections.  I have always known that, and working with Susan has only reinforced that.  It’s about a child being comfortable in your presence and knowing that he or she is accepted and valued.  It’s also about being adaptive and flexible and finding new and creative ways to meet the needs of each child. They say a child may not remember the content of what you teach them, but they will always remember how you have made them feel.  I know that these are wise words and ones that a teacher must always remember.

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