Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Would You Rather

Would you rather learn the layout and streets of a new city by

a) rote memorizing facts from a map through drills, worksheets, quizzes, exams with no reason to memorize, no destination in mind?


b) with one or two destination points in mind at a time, map your way to those destinations and drive them, experience them in context, as you need to get to church, or the grocery store, or the bank, for example?

We're moving to a new-to-us-city in another state. Learning my way around is a job. My husband and I have moved four times to new-to-us-cities; I know that learning the layout of the city is something that will happen over time and with experience, in context. This will be the first move where I have access to a new-fangled GPS plus the old-fashioned map, and still, my getting out and experiencing the layout for myself is necessary.

Being able to pass an exam based on map memorization or street name memorization would be the hard way to learn the layout of a town. That method would be out of context, outside of experiential learning. Yes, I might be able to quote a long list of street names in order, but is that even practical?

I thought about rote memorization vs experience in terms of learning a new city and compared it in my mind to the way we tried to teach my daughter between the ages of two and five using a behavioral approach that relied heavily on rote memorization out of context, which didn't work the way we thought it would and created some new challenges for her and us. Memorizing letters, colors, numbers, shapes, actions, occupations, out of context, out of developmental order, gave her little outside the ability to label in a one-sided way. Basically, she could answer questions on an oral exam, and that was it.

Interestingly, yesterday I talked to a woman whose nephew graduated from high school in another state. The nephew has Asperger's. Because he passed all of his schoolwork with flying colors, because he could answer questions on exams, he graduated with his class, and because he graduated, he receives no more supports or services from his city or state. She says this boy is not capable of navigating anything about college except the academics, the coursework. College is about much, much more than academics, and this child is unprepared for the much, much more. His parents will have to provide an aide at their own expense to accompany the child to college to assist in navigating what amounts to anything that can't be memorized and tested.

I used to answer phones for our local ASA chapter, and I frequently got calls from family members of adults with Asperger's who wanted help in the job world, because these young men could not keep a job, because it required more than good grades and rote memorization. Jobs require teamwork and collaboration, flexibility, navigating change, learning from past mistakes and applying that to now and to future plans, using what you've learned.

Homeschooling has given us the opportunity to make the academics the background piece, with the relationship piece up front. I see over time that a de-emphasis on academics does not mean we skip academics or we de-value them. In fact, my girl is learning more this way. She's getting a two-fer. Seems like we, as parents and teachers, can provide an atmosphere where our kids with autism and Asperger's can get only the academics and skip the relationship stuff, or make the relationship stuff important with academics as a background piece, and give our kids both.

So, which would you rather do? Learn a new city by memorizing facts from the map or experientially and relationally by getting out and relating streets in context to an errand?


Catherine said...

This is a great post, Penny. I have been so happy with the difference homeschooling has made for my boys because they really are getting it all. And because they are more relaxed socially, everything else, (including academics) comes so much easier for them.

Kristenph said...

Wonderful, well-thought out post Penny. It has application to all of us, whether our children are autistic or not.

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