NUMBER 308• 9 JULY 2003 • COMPETENCY TODAY
INDEX OF QUOTESReferences
In attempting to structure the total environment as a curriculum for teaching competence, we are faced with the problem of connecting the goals and unique teaching methods of the child care worker with those of the classroom teacher and other key staff. In many ways, this is really a question of finding a language that all staff can share. What exactly do we mean when we talk about competence skills in different contexts? Is it possible to identify concrete skills involved in the various kinds of learning that take place outside the classroom as well as in it? Is there any connection between the way that the individual child learns to read and the way that he or she learns how to climb a tree or to get along in a group of peers?
In considering the child's capacity to learn in any situation, the teacher needs to make a conscious effort to deal with functioning in the present, avoiding diagnostic conclusions that emphasize difficulty in one area of development as the cause of learning problems. Emphasis on dealing with the cause of learning dysfunction may lock a teacher into an unproductive struggle with the past:
As the psychodynamic approach leads a teacher to substitute [for academic goals] work on deep underlying conflict, the learning disabilities approach pushes him to treat deep-seated (and still hypothetical) neurological problems. If a teacher permits this kind of goal substitution, he courts the very real risk of failing to help the child learn skills vital to feelings of self-worth and essential to achieving a meaningful life in society. The question of what a teacher can use in his work with an emotionally disturbed and/or learning-disabled child is left disturbingly open. . . . The conceptual purists offered me approaches that clashed at their most basic level. The "psychodynamic approach" suggested an absolute reliance on meeting the child's emotional needs and avoidance of creating reciprocal demands on the child. The "learning disability approach" set up vigorous perceptual training sessions whose justification was so abstract that demands needed to be handled quite bluntly as demands. What I needed were tools to handle a specific situation whose focus was in the present, not in the psychological or neurological past. And I needed tools which would make our efforts contribute toward reaching a preselected academic goal, not ones which would force us to select among divergent new goals [Gruber, 1975, p. 5].
From this point of view, the initial strategy for effective teaching throughout the therapeutic environment should be to disregard — at least temporarily-the labels and stereotypes which the children bear, so that all staff are free to analyze observable behavior and come to some conclusions about what is likely to work best with each child. In making such assessments, we can begin to build a common vocabulary of teaching by looking at the child's individual learning style. By learning styles we mean something more comprehensive than acquisition rate or overall temperament. We mean to suggest that the level of competence each child brings to learning is based on a particular balance of developmental strengths and weaknesses which can be observed, recorded, and augmented by various teaching strategies. Implicit in this notion is a view of the learning process which considers the child as a whole — as a unique system receiving, associating, and expressing through the constant interaction of five developmental modalities: perception, cognition, affective/emotional organization, language, and motor functioning.
Whatever the task, mastery is rarely the result of the discrete involvement of anyone of these modalities. In order to catch a ball or write one's name, one needs visual perception and motor facility. Speaking involves language, cognition, and motor functions. Playing a group game demands cognitive understanding, motor skills, perceptual coordination, and complex affective control. At the same time, each functional modality is comprised of identifiable and individually variable skills. It is the particular mix of these skills that determines learning "style." For example, the child with relatively superior motor skills will be most comfortable when he or she can manipulate objects or otherwise engage in bodily activity in the learning process; the child with primarily visual perceptual strength will tend to rely on an image of the problem even in abstract task situations; and so on. In the therapeutic environment — as the experienced child care worker, teacher, or therapist already knows — successful programming for the individual child involves taking into account a number of factors unique to each child as he or she interacts with the environment.
RICHARD SMALL and ROBIN CLARKE
Small, R.W. and Clarke, R.B. (1980) Schools as partners in helping. In Whittaker, J.K. Caring for Troubled Children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers pp. 158-160
Gruber, C. (1975)." A Case History of Multiple Learning Disorders." Unpublished paper, walker School, Needham, Mass.