Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Crochet as benign neglect

As a piano teacher of many years, I am intimately acquainted with a phenomenon which happens when you teach children, particularly when you are working one on one with a child. This phenomenon would be the desire of the child to look for an answer to what they are trying to figure out by looking at your face and reading whether they are right or wrong by what they see there. Can't find a note? Look at the teacher's face as you poke around the keyboard until a glimmer of relief is seen and move ahead. I cannot tell you the number of times I have reminded a student that I don't have the notes written on my face and that it will be easier to find the note if they are looking at the music. I have become very adept at not giving away the rightness or wrongness of what they are doing through my facial expressions.

At least I thought I was adept, and I think for the most part I am, but even with all of my practice I still wasn't good enough at not giving away the answer with my face when working with a child who feels her very existence depends on getting the answer right. This hypervigilance took me by surprise because I had not seen evidence of it before. I wasn't expecting it when it came to schoolwork. As I thought about it, though, it made sense. Much of what and how she had been taught before was not done in a way that was accessible to how she learns and that created stress which meant that her rate of disassociation was extremely high. Both of those things combined created, I believe, her uncanny ability to read the correct answer in the teacher's face. When you're only 'present' a little of the time, much of what is going on in a classroom is baffling. If you are then asked a question, it is anybody's guess what the answer might be, so the best place to look for the answer is in the teacher's face.

How did I discover this? Well, one morning, while we were working on phonics, I decided to do a little multi-tasking and crochet while I sat with my new readers as they sounded out words. (This learning to read thing is a fairly tedious process.) Suddenly, a girl who was reading words fairly easily was struggling. I was still helping, but my gaze was watching the crochet hook and was therefore unreadable. To confirm my theory I went back to giving her my undivided attention and things improved. Since that day, I have crocheted everyday while I work with my children individually and it is helping, particularly in H.'s case. She is far more likely now to spend time trying to figure out a word rather than making random guesses. It is forcing her to spend her energy thinking for herself rather than on work-arounds that do not force her to apply the hard mental energy to learn.

All of this has put in mind something I read long ago, when we first began homeschooling. That is... one of the charges leveled against homeschooling was that homeschoolers were found by some to have difficulty working on their own, without an adult helping them. Now, a big part of me was ready to write that off, but I think there is always some value in listening to outside critiques, and there was another part of me which took heed of the caution. With my crochet-while-teaching experiment, I began to see what I think was going on with those children who found it difficult to work alone. Could it have been the case of the parent inadvertently giving away answers without the child doing the actual thinking to get there? If you are unaware that such a thing can happen, it is very easy for it to start. I would even venture to say that the child is fairly unaware that they aren't really figuring out the problem themselves.

So, I will continue to crochet. For me, this is the perfect activity. Unlike knitting, I can put it down and pick it up without losing my place and if I stick to simple patterns, it requires very little conscious effort so that I can focus on what the child is doing. Any type of hand work would be fine as long as the bulk of your concentration is on what the child is doing as your hands work. Mending would probably work equally as well. It's kind of the ultimate in multi-tasking.

1 comment:

sandwichinwi said...

I have one who cannot work on math without me practically touching him, in spite of his being extremely gifted in math. This has been since at least 2nd grade. He also is prone to random guessing at answers when asked a question, instead of thinking it through and giving a thoughtful answer. And it is tricky to correct, due to a reluctance to be criticized.



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