[xmca] relationship building and the ZPD

From: Carrie Lobman (lobman@rci.rutgers.edu)
Date: Sun Feb 04 2007 - 17:20:27 PST


I have been collaborating for quite a while with
a special education preschool teacher/doctoral
student who currently works as a one-to-one
teacher for preschoolers with special needs who
are in general education settings. Barb has
trained at the East Side Institute for Group and
Short Term Psychotherapy where Lois Holzman is
the director. In the course of writing an article
together she has been writing about her work with
a four and a half year old girl that she recently
started working with. Here is her description of Annalee:

         Annalee is probably the most impaired
child I have worked with as special education
teacher. When I met Annalee she was four and a
half years old, yet she was not toilet trained,
she was in the scribble stage of drawing, she was
unable to name any colors, and she used 1 to two
word utterances to communicate. The paperwork
I received on Annalee describes in detail her
limitations in all developmental domains. She is
way behind her age level cognitively,
socially, emotionally, and in her gross motor,
fine motor and language development.
Additionally, her evaluation describes her
as oppositional and during my initial
conversations with both her grandmother (her
legal guardian) and her classroom
teachers they all focused on their concern
about her “not listening” and being disrespectful
and defiant. Everyone I spoke to before meeting
her agreed that they simply do not know what to do with her.

I have been fascinated by Barb's stories about
her work with Annallee. I think they have
something very interesting to say about
relationship building and the ZPD. She and I come
at this from a particular perspective and
therefore see certain things in this work. I
would be really interested what other members of
this list see when they read Barb's and Annalee's
story. Below you will find a five paragraph story
about the second day of their work together. I welcome any and all thoughts.

Carrie Lobman

I decided to begin our session today by taking
Annalee to the bathroom, because one of the
things I am supposed to be teaching her is to use
the bathroom. I reach for the key to the bathroom
from the teacher shelf in her classroom. “I have
it! Annalee shouts at me. “Wait,” I say calmly,
“How are we gonna walk in the hall?” “Listening!”
she replies. I don’t think I used that word
yesterday, but clearly Annalee has learned there
are certain things you say to make adults happy
and get what you want. She wants the key. I
decide to accept the offer. “Okay,” I say, “What
kind of hands?” “Holding!” Good. We join hands.
“Lets go. You can hold the key when we get into
the hall.” We walk, she grabs for the key. “Can I
have it? You say it, “Can I have it, please?””
Annalee says, “I have it please?” Okay. I give it
to her. We keep walking. I walk tippytoes and
then giant feet and announce what I am doing.
This is my walking-down-the-hall offer. Annalee
accepts my offer and copies me. It is a long
hallway. We get to the bathroom. Annalee goes to
put the key in the door. I reach to help her –
this is a hard task. “I DON’T NEED NO HELP!” she
shouts fiercely. Oh, wow, okay. Hi. I smile at
her and back off a bit. “Oh, you don’t? “ I ask.
It sure looks like she does! “No” she says,
slightly less fiercely. “Okay,” I say. “If you
change your mind, you can just say, “help me
please.” “No” she says. I shrug. She turns and
looks at me, we hold eye contact a few seconds
and she goes back to working on the door.

I realize as I watch her struggle just how often
I must step in and help or do things for kids. As
a preschool teacher I have always throught that I
have worked to foster children’s independence.
Yet, working with Annalee has taught me that the
preschool teacher performance I have been doing
all these years must have been way to heavy on
the helping and way to light on the creating an
environment for children to try to do things on
their own. It is near impossible for me in this
moment to restrain my urge to go offer
hand-over-hand assistance. I am certain in this
moment that it cannot just be that I want to help
her because her physical development is delayed
as compared to her age-mates. It must be the case
that my habit, my role has been to step in just
after I see a child struggling a little bit “too
much”. Struggling “too much” for my taste, I
realize now, not necessarily for theirs. As she
struggles with the key I think of all the times I
have stepped in with zippers and shoes and
lifting and who knows what else. All in the
interest of time, or in the interest of not
wanting a child to become TOO frustrated. What is
TOO frustrated? Why hasn’t my role been to wait
until children ask for help? I decide this is how
I want to perform being a teacher now. Waiting
will be my new performance. It is HARD to wait,
to stand by and see her struggle.

This has become a daily ritual for Annabel and I,
it is how we say hello each afternoon: I take her
to the bathroom. I cannot say how much I have
learned in these moments – sometimes minutes –
while I stand by as she struggles with the key.
First, as I said, I am so aware of how hard it is
for me to let her struggle, and it is hard not to
“hurry up” not to rush. Yet, what’s the rush? As
the special ed teacher I have the luxury of one
hour with her and if we spend 15-20 minutes on
our bathroom ritual it is really okay, no one is
checking up on us and besides using the bathroom
is one of her IEP goals. The pull to be the busy
New Yorker, the harried teacher, and the
overbearing adult is so strong, but I remind
myself it is okay. I can give Annalee these
moments to struggle with the door. Second, she
has an incredible ability to struggle and
struggle and struggle with the key. Sometimes she
seems self-conscious, “I don’t need no help!” she
reminds me even though I am five feet away. It
seems she knows we are creating a new performance
together. I am not playing my role correctly, I
am supposed to insist on helping then she can say
“no no no” and she can be the bad girl. She is
good at that; she is not good at using the key.
If I step in she can perhaps throw herself on the
floor as I saw her do yesterday with the
caregiver who picks her up. But that is not the
show we are putting on. We are creating a different performance here.

That first day I think maybe two minutes went by.
It felt like 10. I cannot stand it a second
longer, “I don’t need no help!” This time it is
me who says that, except actually I notice I am
singing. I start singing and dancing, saying the
words over and over in a jolly little tune I made
up or stole from somewhere. “Help me please”
Annalee suddenly says looking up at me. I barely
take a step before she shouts, “NO! I don’t need
no help.” An interesting predicament we are in.
First off, it appears that she actually may not
be able to get it open on her own and she does
want to open it. Second, it is actually my job
description to help her. Eventually we work out,
on my initiative that I can “help you by talking
only, no touching,” as I say to her. I walk her
through the process by pointing, gesturing and
describing what to do: “other way, turn it over, put it in, two hands now…”

We’re in. She uses the bathroom. She tells me, “I
don’t need no help” and at moments, “help me
please” several more times throughout the process
and again I work to give verbal directions only.
Hi Annalee, good to meet you, you are the girl
who does not need no help. Yet, in our getting to
know one another a bit on this first day alone,
in our struggling through the frustration and not
knowing how to do something together we also
created an environment where
the-girl-who-don’t-need-no-help asked for and
received help a few rimes. And, we created an
environment where I was able to be other then the
super-helper-hurried-teacher. Now, two months
later Annalee and I sing out song almost daily, mostly at her initiative.

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