Recently I watched a university intern working with a multiply disabled child at mealtime. The child did not reach for the mashed potatoes, but he opened his mouth each time the intern offered a bite. I asked my student to stop feeding him and to wait for his reaction. My intern said, “He won’t feed himself,” but she did stop feeding him. After almost two minutes the child reached for her hand and pulled it toward him. He wasn’t eating, but he was taking the first step in learning to eat.
In being effective, professionals must learn when to intervene and when to refrain from action. A skilled teacher knows that learning is an internal change that occurs when results follow action. Whether the learner is a young child with multiple disabilities or an older adult who is overwhelmed by the loss of vision, new learning requires action. This month’s Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) demonstrates that concept in a variety of ways.
A pair of articles from the Netherlands by Janssen, Riksen-Walraven, and Van Dijk describe the theory and application of an approach to encouraging interactions of young deaf-blind children with others. The competent communicator adjusts her communication to that of the child. By observing signals and allowing the child control of the interaction, the instructor makes it more likely that the child’s wishes will be reinforced and he will continue to communicate. The child must control the action. The second article by the same authors reports on a study of changes in responsiveness by deaf-blind children to staff members who were trained to observe the children’s signals and adapt to them. Most of the students produced more initiatives and independent actions when others attended to them without directing.
Although the third feature article describes a very different type of intervention, the results also suggest that encouraging initiative and intervention promotes learning. In a cooperative study of two groups of adults with diabetes and low vision, Trozzolino, Thompson, Tansman, and Azen used multiple measures to evaluate the success of a psychological and diabetic care intervention program. The authors found a relationship between the extent of depression and the reduction of blood glucose; in other words, people became less depressed as their glucose level improved. This may be a more complex example of the same factor that affected the deaf-blind children in the previous study; for these people, taking action with a positive result restored a sense of control.
The Practice Report for this month also supports the fact that active learning is an effective motivator. In Amato’s article about teaching braille to high school students, the learners are successful because they are actively involved in reading and writing braille. Even a student who failed at the braille test was “motivated to try again.” Action results in learning and ultimately it increases motivation to continue learning.
As professionals who teach, our roles may be more effective if we arrange the environment so that the learner can take action. Watching, waiting, and responding to the learner’s initiatives will be far more effective than directing and correcting. And, in a similar way, our own new learning must take place through taking action and experiencing results. As you read this month’s issue of JVIB, transform the ideas into action and observe the results; you may learn a new way of reaching your goals.
Jane N. Erin, Ph.D.
Editor in Chief Emerita
Essential Resources for Working with Persons Who Are Deaf-Blind
The Hand in Hand Series
Hand in Hand: Essentials of Communications and Orientation and Mobility for Your Students Who Are Deaf-Blind (Two-Volume Set): $69.95
Hand in Hand – Selected Reprints (paperback): $29.95
Hand in Hand – A Trainer's Manual (paperback): $29.95
Hand in Hand – It Can Be Done! (video): $49.95
Hand in Hand – Complete Set: $169.85
Also of Interest:
Independence Without Sight or Sound: Suggestions for Practitioners Working with Deaf-Blind Adults: $39.95
What Do You Do When You Meet a Deaf-Blind Person? Pamphlet (Pack of 25): $50.00
Order these titles and more online at:
www.afb.org/store or call 412-741-1398
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