learning

Sometimes understanding comes with time

Sometimes when you don’t understand something, it’s because you’re not ready for it yet. This can be particularly true of fiction and other narrative, but it can be true of almost everything.

Sometimes there are specific identifiable things you have to learn first. Sometimes you can go back and learn those things, and then the confusing thing will start to make more sense.

Sometimes it’s not a specific thing you don’t know. Sometimes it’s mostly just not being ready yet. Sometimes it’s just a matter of giving yourself time and experiencing more of life first. Some things that are incomprehensible at one point in your life start making sense when you revisit them later.

It’s worth keeping this in mind. You don’t have to do or understand everything all at once. It’s ok to give yourself time. Eg: If a book you think it’s important to read doesn’t make sense to you, it may be worth putting it aside for a few years and trying again later. A skill that seems impossible to acquire may become possible later. Or any number of other things.

Not everything is like that. Time doesn’t make everything make sense and it doesn’t make everything possible. (And people who say “you’ll understand when you’re older!” are almost always being inappropriately dismissive.) But it is true of a lot of things for a lot of people, and it is probably an experience you will have at some point.

Tl;dr Sometimes things that seem incomprehensible start to make sense as you gain more lived experience. It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything all at once, and you don’t have to understand everything all at once. Some things take time, and that’s ok.

Inclusive education: presence, participation, and learning

There are three components of inclusive education that matter a lot, which tend to get conflated:

  • Being present and welcome
  • Access to participation
  • Access to content

Being present and welcome means:

  • A person with a disability is in the room
  • Their right to be there is not questioned
  • People want them to be there
  • They’re seen as a student and treated as a peer by other students
  • They’re treated more or less respectfully
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re being taught the material, or that they’re meaningfully participating in educational activities

For instance:

  • A child with a disability may go to kindergarten, and spend a lot of time watching other children do educational activities.
  • Everyone might be very happy that they’re there.
  • Other children might like them, and play with them during recess or free play time.
  • They’re still left out of most activities
  • They’re still not being taught the same material as everyone else

Access to participation means:

  • When students are doing an activity, the disabled student isn’t left on the sidelines
  • They’re given something to do that makes them part of what’s happening
  • This doesn’t always give them access to the content, in and of itself.
  • They may or may not actually be learning the material the activity is supposed to teach.
  • They may or may not really be welcome in the classroom with their peers

For instance:

  • A group of third graders are being taught a lesson about sorting things into categories
  • The teacher draws a few giant Venn diagrams on big paper, with topic headings
  • The teacher writes a list of words on the board.
  • Students are told to draw those words, then tape them to the place in a Venn diagram category that they think it should go in
  • Then they’re given a list of words, and told to draw pictures of the words in the place in on the diagram that they think those things go
  • A disabled student’s aide gives them crayons and tells them to draw a couple of the pictures, then give them to the other kids to categorize
  • The typically-developing kids take the pictures and decide where to put them
  • Everyone is more or less happy with this. The student is participating and they are socially included.
  • But they’re not being taught the material about categorizing things. They’re just drawing pictures.

Access to content means:

  • The disabled student is taught the same material as other students
  • They’re given a way to engage with the material that they can understand
  • They learn the material, and develop their own thoughts on it
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re given a way to participate meaningfully in educational activities with peers
  • It also doesn’t necessarily mean that they are present or welcome

For instance:

  • A disabled student may attend a mainstream class, but be pulled out for one-to-one tutoring for most of their actual academic instruction.
  • If it’s good instruction, they’re getting access to the content.
  • But they’re not participating in educational activities with their peers.
  • They also may not really be welcomed in their mainstream class; people including the teacher may believe that they don’t have the right to be there (which is a factor that can lead to a lot of pull out instruction in and of itself).

This isn’t just about children, it’s true in every educational setting, including universities, grad school, and continuing education for adults.

Tl;dr Inclusion in school has many components. Three of them are being present and welcome, having a way to participate in educational activities with peers, and having access to the content being taught. All three of these things are important. Solving one problem doesn’t always solve the other two. It’s important to keep paying attention, and to work towards making sure students are welcome, that they are able to participate, and that they are learning the content being taught.

Executive dysfunction and teachers

we-aint-borntypical asked: Sorry if this is late, but how do I tell my teachers about my executive dysfunction and how it affects my ability to do assignments?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing you can do is accept that the problem is real, and that it’s ok to need help.

It can be hard to accept that executive dysfunction is real. It can be very tempting to feel like if we just try harder or wait long enough, it will somehow work out. And some percentage of the time that does work — which can make it seems like it will *always* work if we try hard enough. But it doesn’t work that way, and expecting it to causes a lot of problems.

Executive dysfunction means that sometimes there are insurmountable barriers to doing things completely independently. Sometimes this can happen with things that our culture says are easy and that you may not have heard of anyone having trouble with. It can be hard to come to terms with that. It gets easier with practice.

More directly about managing relationships with teachers, I’ve found two things helpful: I try to err heavily on the side of asking for help as soon as I’m feeling stuck, and I also try to select instructors based on understanding and/or cognitive compatibility.

If you’re facing an assignment and can’t figure out how to make progress on it, it’s good to err on the side of asking for help immediately. This can be hard to do, especially if you feel ashamed or like you don’t have a good reason. It’s actually ok though, and it gets easier with practice.

It’s normal to need help sometimes, even if the reasons you need it are unusual. All teachers have students who need help. Good teachers understand this and consider needing help normal. (Not all teachers are good, but many are). A lot of teachers care about helping their students, and it’s usually a lot easier for them to do that if you ask sooner rather than later. (It also saves you the time you’d waste trying to do something impossible through sheer force of will.)

If you can, it helps to explain in concrete terms what you are having trouble with, and what you think would help. (If you don’t know what would help, the concrete request might be “Can we meet to talk about this assignment?”). I think that it usually helps to err on the side of talking about concrete problems rather than abstract concepts like executive dysfunction.

For instance, I think “I’m having trouble getting started on this assignment. Could you help me narrow down my topic?” is usually more effective than “Executive dysfunction makes this assignment hard for me, what should I do?”. That said, if the latter is the only way you can ask for help in a particular situation, don’t wait until you know a better way. It’s ok to ask for help imperfectly; it’s ok to need help even if you’re not sure what help you need.

Not all teachers will be good at helping you. Some won’t be willing, some some won’t know how. Some will be inconsistent. But a good percentage of teachers *are* skilled at helping. If you have a choice about who your teachers are, it’s good to err on the side of picking teachers who are good at helping.

Also, some teachers are going to be inherently more cognitively compatible with you than others. Different teachers do instruction and assessment differently. If you have a choice, it can be good to err on the side of taking classes with teachers who give assignments that are more reliably possible for you.

Aside from attributes of teachers — asking for help effectively is a set of skills. One of those skills is the emotional skill of feeling ok about the fact that you need help. Another is assessing what’s going on and figuring out what your needs are. Another is expressing it to teachers in a way that they can understand and act on readily. And there are other skills I’m not sure how to explain. No one is born knowing how to do these things, and they all get easier with practice.

tl;dr Executive dysfunction makes school complicated. Taking classes with teachers who teach in a way that makes cognitive sense to you can help, when you have a choice. It can be hard to ask for help, and hard to feel ok about needing help. That’s a set of skills, and it gets a lot easier with practice.

It’s ok to do things you suck at

If you give yourself permission to suck at things, you open up the possibility of learning new skills and becoming good at stuff you’re not naturally good at.

The only way to get good at most things is to start out doing them badly and gradually learn the skills needed to do them well.

You don’t have to know what you’re doing (beyond basic stuff like safety). You don’t have to be talented. You don’t have to be aesthetically pleasing. You can do things and flat out suck at them over and over and have that end up being a good thing.

If you try something new, and find that you suck at it at first, that doesn’t always mean you’re doing something wrong. Usually, it means that you’re doing something *hard*.

Being willing to do hard things is good. Being willing to suck at things until you get enough practice to do them well is how you get to be good at stuff.

You don’t have to know what you’re doing (beyond basic stuff like safety). You don’t have to be talented. You don’t have to be aesthetically pleasing. 

tl;dr It’s ok to do stuff you suck at. Sucking at something is often a necessary step in learning to do it well.

Math without handwriting?

 said to :

Do you or your followers know any math programs for people with hand pain? It’s very painful for me to handwrite, but I can’t understand math without doing problems over and over.

I’m not sure what to suggest; hopefully other people who read this will have ideas.

It might depend somewhat on what your goals are. Are you trying to gain a deeper understanding of math? To pass a particular class? To memorize certain calculations? To learn how to use applied math to solve physics problems? The answers might be different.

One thing to look into is using math computing software that calculates complex things. 

(Eg: Mathematica or Sage.) If you want to use applied math for complex things, that will eventually be necessary to use software anyway, and it might be necessary or helpful now if you can’t learn math in the usual way by writing out tons of problems. 

It’s not the same, and you probably couldn’t learn the same aspects of math that you’d learn by doing all of the problems yourself, but you’d learn other things that are worth knowing. (Similarly to how something is lost by using calculators, but something is gained too.)

There are probably other options that are closer to learning math by using paper and pencil, but I don’t know what they are. 

Does anyone else know good options for learning math for people who have hand pain or otherwise can’t readily use paper and pen to work out problems?

Getting people to explain things

If you don’t understand something, it helps to say so explicitly. 

One phrase that helps is “I don’t understand; can you try using different words?”

That helps because you’re saying that:

  • You don’t understand
  • You want to understand
  • The things you’re saying are not arguments or responses, they are requests for clarification
  • If they explain in different words, you might understand

Even if all of that is obvious to you, it’s not necessarily obvious to the person you’re talking to. Often, people do not consider the possibility that what they are saying might be confusing, even when they are entirely willing to explain differently when you ask.

People with disabilities learn and think

People with disabilities are capable of learning things on purpose, because they’re interested in what they’re learning. That’s true of people with all kinds and degrees of disability. Everyone cares about things, everyone thinks, any everyone learns.

And yet, education for people with disabilities often starts from the assumption that disabled folks have no intrinsic motivation to learn. That, before you can start to teach anything, you have to identify a reinforcer for the target behavior. And that it should be the same across subjects, and that it needn’t have any relation to what you’re trying to teach.

So, instead of starting by teaching reading, you might start by identifying an effective reinforcer, and using it to reinforce reading behavior. For example, stickers. Or giving a jellybean each time someone reads a page. Or high fives. 

In a technical sense, finding a book that someone enjoys is also, according to behaviorist theory, finding an effective reinforcer for reading behavior. But it’s not at all the same as using an unrelated reinforcer to teach reading.

Finding a book that interests a person you’re teaching to read communicates why reading is worthwhile. Using an unrelated reinforcer to get them to cooperate with reading lessons may work, but it doesn’t communicate the value of reading. In fact, it actively demonstrates that you’re assuming that they will not value reading and that it’s not worth trying to convince them that reading is worthwhile. 

The same is true of communication lessons. Identifying a reinforcer and using it to reinforce speaking behavior can get someone to cooperate with rote speech lessons, but it can’t teach them what symbolic communication is. Figuring out what someone wants to say, and giving them a reliable way to say it, can. So can making sure that you listen to communication someone already has, and making it clear that you respect them. (If you refuse to learn their language, you’re teaching them that their communication doesn’t matter. Which is the opposite of helpful.) Behaviorist approaches something accomplish that, but only as a side effect. You can teach communication better if you teach it directly, rather than as a side effect of reinforcing speaking or pointing behavior. 

People with disabilities care about things, and want to learn. The assumption that we don’t is deeply degrading.