Over the last few decades, there have been very big changes in classroom attitudes – at least, in this part of the world. Many teachers are of the opinion that academic rigour stifles self-expression, and in an attempt to foster creativity in their students, they have systematically dismantled structured teaching.
This might work for some students. Yet, many students do not do well in this new environment, do not learn well using this new method. Yes, I do focus on kids with Aspergers, but they are not the only ones who are having difficulties. Many ‘normal’ kids find this ‘unstructured’ method of teaching makes learning more difficult. The Aspie kids get completely lost in it.
Let me give you an example:
During a series of grade 3 art classes, the teacher played different types of music. The assignment was to ‘paint’ the music while the students were listening to it. I thought this was the height of idiocy: no skills were being taught, and precious school time was being wasted. But it was explained to me that I was being boorish, that this ‘exercise’ is scientifically designed to stimulate different areas of the brain to synthesize information, which is what kids at this age need more than anything else.
Please, do not misunderstand me. I don’t have anything against art classes in general: to the contrary. My mother teaches art, and I have a deep love for it. However, I think that kids actually get more enjoynment out of art if they are actually taught about it. They will derive pleasure from drawing if some of the rules of proportion, or different fun techniques are broken down into steps for them, so they can master the skills. Once they have understood the rules, it will be more fun to ‘bend’ them to express their own artistic talents (and no, I don’t mean after years of study….rather, teach a specific skill, rules that govern it, and how to bend them and have fun with art).
Well, my son was in this particular art class. He was in it because that teacher had gone to receive specific training on how to teach kids with Aspergers. And then she got angry with an Aspie kid for ‘not being able to paint the music’ he was listening to?????
Of course, what she was expecting was just non-sensicals colourful swirls – but she would never tell the students that. With a prim smile, she insisted they ‘paint what the music makes them see’. Questions of ‘How?’ were met with ‘That is up to YOU!’
Just before setting marks onto the report card, she called me to warn me that my son is about to fail art… Let’s just say that I found it somewhat difficult to keep my temper. (The problem was the frustration he experienced in being asked to complete a task he did not have the tools to perform, asking for help and being denied it, then penalized for failing by a bad mark.)
I explained to her that in that case, by her own standard, my son should have received an A+ for his artwork: the music did not make him ‘see’ anything, so that is what he painted. Or did not paint. Either way, the result was accurate, and that he made a bold artistic statement by leaving the page blank. Quite literally, he ‘drew a blank’! In other words, I tried to ‘out-pretentious’ her. It did not work – I’ve never been very good at it.
However, the teacher said that if my son does 3 of these paintings and hands them in by Monday, he will not fail art. So, we were left with the task to ‘paint music’. My son and I talked about it, and it became clear that his frustration level was higher than usual. But I came up with a solution I am still proud of!
Selecting a Physics textbook which had a good, simple explanation of ‘sound waves’, we read it over together and I explained all the diagrams to him. Now, here was ‘sound’, represented visually!!!! We were making progress. Yet, many Aspies are sticklers for rules – my son could not paint the different types of music the same way!!! And I was ready…
Rummaging around in the basement, I dusted off our old logic analyzer and brought it up. Then I set up the display to emulate an oscilloscope, and we played the different types of music. It worked! The different sound waves made the oscilloscope display different curves. Lifting his brush, and dipping it into the green paint (the display was green), my son went and happily painted the different types of music!
His teacher was thrilled! She told him she knew that if he tried, he could paint music! He told her they were ‘music waves’ and that he saw them. I did not tell her that he saw them on an oscilloscope screen – somehow, I did not think that would please her. Why spoil her pleasure?