Monday, August 1, 2011

The power of one...

And no, I am not suggesting you read Bryce Courtenay (unless you really want to, and if you do, read the book about his son, Damon - April Fool's Day, because it's astonishing, in my opinion). But, already, I digress.

This post is about one to one teaching, and the power of it in the life of my son. 

We have just begun Term 3 of our Distance Education (homeschool) adventure. Distance Ed is schooling at home, that is fully supervised by the education department. We have developmentally appropriate units of work sent to us, and we complete them and send them back to a supervising teacher. 

It's (sadly) temporary until we get a handle on Billy's health issues (fodder for another post). It is a great way for us to get our heads around where Billy's same age peers are at, learning wise. It's a great way of exploring learning in a manner that accommodates both the expected (NT) and the possible (ASD) in our lives. 

Some days I want to throw up, because I cannot work out how to explain (mould, re-constitute, re-iterate, represent) some concept that Billy needs to learn. We've struggled with money (who knew that 7 year olds should be able to make change for $20?), we've spent more time on the intricacies of handwriting than I ever thought was possible (until an old episode of Elmo's World covered all the necessary basics in a 7 minute segment and I almost cried with relief) and we've listened to recordings of a lot of kids talking about their lives (something Billy finds as interesting as the rise and fall of stock markets of Eastern European nations).

Other days, I want to cry with relief. The days when things fall into place, when his little eyes light up, when he furrows his brow and works and works and works at something until he's got it. 

To be honest, most days have a fair mix of both in them. 

Billy likes to achieve. He is one of those kids. He looks for the light in your eyes when he's on the right track. He loves to share facts. He's very big on the 'I didn't know that!' or the 'Isn't that amazing?' in response to something new.

He is not a perfectionist, by any stretch. His favourite homeschooling phrase is, 'But that's OK' in response to my endless stream of corrections. I have all sorts of sneaky methods to ensure there is some (slow, incremental) change in his practice, because he would be one finger typing and never handwriting (never mind handwriting in Upper and Lower case) if he had his way.

He is not a dogged 'have a go' kid either. He's more likely to guess at something he's struggling with, than to apply any kind of strategic thought. He will not be the kid who hacks into the FBI, through sheer methodical determination. He may, however, luck into their database, and have a good look around (probably for their files about animals or trains.)

This is because Billy is the king of the break. 

He is the kid who ends a term completely unable to do something, who has a couple of weeks off, and who can magically do that thing (that has been causing his mother to weep into her cornflakes) at the beginning of the next term. It's like his brain needs the rest. It's like his brain has tiny teeth chomping away at the concept, taking bits off the edges, remoulding them with a bit of brain-spit and sticking them back on again. And now that I am thoroughly revolted by that image, I'll let it alone. 

We struggle for time doing homeschool. There are many things that make it hard for Billy to sustain attention. His inner ASD-ian/ADHD-ian fights with dog woofs, construction noise from next door, tantrumming toddlers over the back fence... we can be deep in some exhilarating spelling worksheet, and whammo... the doorbell rings, the dog barks, and we have tears and a resolution that he 'cannot possibly try again because everything is terrible and impossible and awful...' And then, we find a book about flamingoes or a crazy pencil (more about that later) and we're off on a learning journey again.

We struggle conceptually sometimes too. Billy's report (a very interesting document in itself) noted his challenges grappling with things like history (it's not here in front of me and there are no photos of it, ergo it doesn't exist - it's the scandal ridden politician's view of history). But there are ways around that (as politicians find all the time). We recently found a brilliant app called Strip Design. It's a way to 'have fun with your photos', if you are anyone but us. For us, it's a way to learn, a way to prepare, a way to ease into just about anything. We've made social stories with it, we've explored history with it, we've annotated Billy's (very fine motor-ly challenged) drawings with it. It's freaking genius.

Concept by concept, story by story, experience by experience, word by word... this homeschooling adventure is really starting to stick. Things are sinking in. There is more laughter. There is increasing serenity. There is a massive amount of flexibility. None of these things have a nasty undercurrent, to me. They all seem positive, productive, possible.

All in all, I dread the day (should it come) when we send Billy back in to a big class full of kids and bossy (not-Mummy) adults. I see how other kids thrive at school. I wish (for the sake of my sanity and hairstyle) that it was a place where Billy would thrive. But right now, it does not seem like the right place for him. Not in the form it exists in now (heavily populated, noisy, fast, lengthy in hour and plentiful in germ-age).

It sucks some days to have to accept that you only get one go at life, at least in this conscious life we live now, because sometimes it would be handy to be able to compare. For now, though, it is what it is. 

Homeschool is what we do, and it is working well on all sorts of levels that non-homeschooling did not. 

One to one learning means Billy learns. One to anywhere between 18 and 39 learning meant he did not. 

One to one learning means Billy is in control of his learning environment. Higher ratios mean he is not. 

One to one learning means we try and try and try (and rest and cry and get distracted and have a break) and try and try until we get it. That could not and did not happen at school. 

One to one learning means we can use a crazy pencil (seriously, instead of his name it has the word 'crazy' etched into the end of it, and it jumps around a lot, magically finding itself in the right position in his hand) to encourage the correct pencil grip, a set of tiny animal toys to encourage the appropriate behaviour and a series of un-smily faces and drawings of bottoms to endorse the 'wrong' way to do things.

Neurologically, Billy comes with an individualism that requires unique attention. We live in a society that cannot afford to respect the need for that attention, and instead chooses to see his difference as something to be moulded into something more recognisable. For now, I reject that reality, and choose to celebrate the difference. Even if it means I have a shocking home made haircut and tear soaked breakfast cereal.

For what it's worth, Billy's Distance Education report said he had a 'sound' grasp of the Key Learning Areas for 2nd Grade. For any parent with a child on the potentially mainstream-able end of the ASD spectrum, you will understand this is a double edged sword. 

On one level, we know he is deeply clever and has waaaaay more than a sound understanding of many, many things. On the other, we realise that an intricate knowledge of the populations of at least 100 zoos worldwide is not exactly what the Year Two curriculum is calling for. On the most important level of all, we see that making your way through school at an expected age level, with solid mental health and a general lack of physical and emotional bruising... that's a win.

My hair... not so much. But I'm convinced if I keep snipping, something nice will emerge.


Di said...

Well..... I just have to tell you!! :)
...if you were living here, you could do what you damn well pleased, no education authority breathing down your neck, living is cheaper..... and oh my word, Billy would be in 7th heaven cos we have GAZELLES etc etc! :)
Oh, and I love Aussies... except when they are playing rugby against New Zealand or South Africa!!! ;)
You are a fab mum and I really hope everything works out the way you want it to! xx

Di said...

p.s. Thanks so much for introducing me to Strip Design. It is fantastic! :)