Context and Meaning

When it comes to literacy there are many documents and studies on the importance of having context and meaning, for the words we are learning to read, and how those aid in our understanding of text but also comprehension as a whole. Context and meaning can be applied to many activities that are requested of children in schools and not just be connected to literacy.

I worked in a class for teenagers with disabilities in a school outside of this province many years ago. Ok…almost 25 years ago. At that time, I was completing my student practicum for the Developmental Service Worker diploma at Humber College.

The teacher was trying to engage his students in cleaning up the classroom. This involved duties like wiping down tables, organizing book shelves and vacuuming the carpet. This one young man was Deaf with a developmental disability. He did not want to push this vibrating machine around the floor, just for the hell of it. Did not.  Sometimes in classrooms when students refuse to follow instructions and complete tasks, behaviour programs come out, from star charts to more intrusive measures. This teacher was very creative. He walked over to the hole punch and removed the base. He scooped up all of the white dots and sprinkled them all over the floor. He took the vacuum and showed that the vacuum was sucking up the white dots and through American Sign Language and modeling explained, cleaning. The student walked over to the vacuum and vacuumed the carpet. He quite enjoyed it and was very satisfied by seeing the success of his work.  His teacher gave the activity, context and meaning.

It doesn’t matter what type of a disability a child has, or whether they communicate this question to teachers or not, I can tell you, that when children are given instructions at school, they are asking themselves, WHY. Why do I need to run 4 laps around the gym? Why do I need to cut this paper?  This overt purposeful planning of added communication, in my mind, doesn’t happen enough with kids with disabilities in schools. People tell them what to do, without explicitly explaining why they are doing it. And I can not scream this loud enough, visual supports are sooooo important. I really value my experience learning from the Deaf community in this context. They do such a great job of visual supports. It’s not viewed as a “crutch” the way some hearing people view it.

Context and meaning.

Next time your child is being viewed as “un-cooperative” at school, you may want to figure out if your child understands WHY they are being asked to follow a specific instruction. It may turn out that your child is not a sheep, and willing to just follow random instructions over and over again without any purpose, just for kicks.