Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thank you, Erin Pavlina!

Abigail does not move easily in the world of words. She works hard to read and write. We struggle to help her. It's frustrating: for her, for us, and for her teachers. I marvel at the effort, determination, and persistence she marshals to tackle assignments she finds very difficult. Her ability to apply herself to a task is remarkable. I admire her for it.

Part of the problem in teaching her is that she is just wired differently than most people. She sees things differently, from an unusual, fresh perspective. Understanding how she understands things requires detective work and translation.

She is a talented artist. Her drawings and clay work are always interesting, always have something to say.

She is graceful and athletic. She could navigate the monkey bars at the playground before she started kindergarten.

When emotional, she sometimes "loses her words" and goes completely non-verbal. Sometimes it seems that English is a second language to her. (I guess that makes Hebrew her third?)

In the normal academic plane, she casts but a bit of a shadow. The volume of Abigail's abilities and talents is not represented in the two-dimensions of a test paper. The bulk of her talents is orthogonal to the test paper.

Last Friday morning, while surfing the web, I came across a story of an insightful woman's experience as a substitute teacher. I felt echoes of Abigail.

Coincidentally, that Friday afternoon, Abigail came home with the results of her weekly spelling test. As always, we had studied together for it. She received extra help at school preparing for it. She got a 5 out of 12. Her misspellings were all over the place, with no discernable pattern. She just didn't get it.

On her spelling test, her teacher wrote "We will modify the words you study so that you can have more success."

Dispirited and baffled, Abigail asked me to sign the test, then slunk upstairs for a nap.

I slumped at my computer and turned to the monitor. That lovely story was still on my computer screen.

I called Abigail back, sat her down, and read her the story.

"Is that a true story?" she interrupted.

I assured her it was. I said we were going to try an experiment. I told her to draw the spelling words. She resisted, repeating "It won't work, Mommy" in a whiny voice.

"Please, just try it. You can do anything you want, use any supplies we have. Please?

"Can I use.... [very long pause while thinking]....[facial expression transitions from resigned to sly to challenging]...Can I use clay?" she dared. (Clay is only used outside at our house, and we hadn't done so since it the Fall.)

Before I could reply, all the other children started with the predictable "no fair! She gets to use clay? Hey! Can we play with clay?"

And so, that is why, erev Shabbat, when I had challah to bake and a dining room table to find (it is always there, somewhere under the detritus of the week), I said "yes" to clay for everyone.

She eagerly set to working on an abstract and colorful sculptural interpretation of her spelling list. I had to retrofit the explicit requirement that the clay have the LETTERS of the spelling words. I assumed that was a given, but it surprised Abigail.

The result? Not only did she turn dismal afternoon into joyful activity, but she has remembered ALL of her words, and can spell them correctly. We quizzed her over the shabbat table, after soccer on Sunday, and on Monday morning. Sometimes she'd get a blank look on her face, but we encouraged her to remember carving the words in the clay, and, like magic, she'd remember!

On Sunday night, Abigail asked me to print the story from the website so she could read it to the class. Did you hear that? Read it aloud in front of the class. Abigail was volunteering to read aloud in front of the class. Astonishing.

So now we know: Abigail is a kinesthetic learner. We plan to use the clay every week.

Thank you, Erin Pavlina. You have given us hope and understanding. I hope what you did for Jason is multiplied a thousand-fold, by sharing it on your blog. Thank you.

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cwexl said...

I have read about the different learning modes, and that most of us are a mix of each, with one sense being predominant. But rarely do you hear such illustrative stories and real solutions to this.
You are a terrific mom and a great teacher. I am inspired both as a former professional trainer and as a new mom.

crunchygranolamom said...

That was amazing to read. I have chills. Good for you (all of you!).

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
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