Re: [xmca] relationship building and the ZPD

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Sun Feb 04 2007 - 17:45:05 PST

Thank you Carrie. And a wonderful piece of literature as well.
Nothing to add, but I am sure I've been there. :-)
At 08:20 PM 4/02/2007 -0500, you wrote:
>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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