Friday, August 26, 2011

Five Things that Resonated With Me at the Linda Burkhart P.O.D.D. Workshop This Week

I had the amazing experience of not only attending a workshop delivered by Linda Burkhart this week but also of being able to do a morning long consultation with her related to one of my students.  It was an amazing learning experience and I'm excited to start using P.O.D.D. communication books with my students.  I could see within minutes of her working with the student we did the consultation around how having this method of communication is going to open up a whole new world for this student.  I'm sure that I will be writing more about this as we go through the process of figuring out how to use this tool with our students.  Right now I'm just very excited.

There is much to say and think about but I think I will start with a "Friday Five" and just go with five things that resonated with me during this learning experience...
  1. "Input before Output": In order for students to learn we need to provide the input before the output and sometimes we need to provide the input for a very long time.  When we are teaching students to use an alternative communication system we need to talk to them using that system.  Traditionally we have been providing intervention based on what we expect a child to understand but a child can only know what we have presented to him/her so it becomes a catch 22.  Bottom line is what a child will do is dependent on what we given and show them.  The caution here is that when we test children to find out what they are capable of we are testing what they have been exposed to but we are not testing what they are capable of.  We need to be careful not take the test results and set things up in a way that doesn't allow us to explore what they are capable of.  It's logical... but we don't necessarily do it.  I know there are places where I need to be far more cognizant of this.
  2. Independence vs Autonomy: At one point during the workshop Linda talked about the difference between "independence" and "autonomy".  Independence means being able to do something alone while autonomy is about having the freedom to determine one's own direction.  You can be autonomous without being independent.  You can be independent without having autonomy.  Bottom line for me is that autonomy is a far more important goal than independence for my students.  It is also a far more important goal for my own personal development as there are times that I need to be interdependent as opposed to independent to achieve my goals.  I have been focusing on autonomy but defining the difference and making it more explicit helps to focus what my job is.
  3. Assume Competence: This is something that I believe deeply in - yet at the same time I find myself getting knocked down a peg or two often on this one.  I see again and again how my ableist views can come in play on an unconscious level regularly.  Seeing my student so quickly pick up the process needed to communicate with a P.O.D.D. book made me realize that I need to diligent in this area.  I can see what he is capable of goes way beyond what I've been assuming.  We really have no idea what our students are capable of and we can so easily limit what they are exposed to by making the wrong assumptions.
  4. Scaffolding Process: This P.O.D.D. system is such a perfect example of the scaffolding process and I found myself thinking about it a lot as we went through this workshop.  What we do and set up around a child affects how a child grows and develops.  If we can meet them just a bit above where they are and challenge them forward they will respond.  These books are amazing in that the idea is that we model receptive language above the expressive language the child is using.  This is done naturally if we communicate with our voices... but without us modeling the communication system a student is using we are not doing the same thing for them. 
  5. Understanding of How Language Works (Pragmatic Branch Starters):  This was the key to understanding this whole system as it is based on pragmatic branch starters (the reasons we use language) and it gives the student autonomy around choosing which branch to start from.  From there some of the things we are doing are similar to what we have done in the past.  The difference is related to who decides what we talk about.  This system gives that responsibility to the student... which is exactly what I had been looking to do.
I'm very excited about this and can't wait to get started.  I'm sure I will be posting updates as we go along.  If you ever get a chance to hear Linda J. Burkhart speak I would recommend that you go.  Although she speaks mostly about students with multiple complex disabilities what she has to say is so applicable to all students.  She resonates respect for all people.  Truly amazing experience!