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August 11, 2008

Shadow time: A learning curve about learning

Shadow Time

Jonah is currently asleep on my lap, so I have some time to share a fun story about how important it is to understand the current knowledge and skill level of your student when teaching new material.

Apparently, newborns still need practice on improving their vision -- Jonah's eyes were cross-eyed for the first couple of weeks and they say that he was only able to focus on objects about a foot away, with particular affinity to high-contrast visual cues like black and white patterns which are easy to see. When playing with Jonah on the floor one day when he was just two weeks old, I noticed his eyes transfixed on the wall and well focused. I quickly realized that he was enjoying watching my shadow cast by the warm sunshine streaming in our window. I got quickly excited about the opportunity to play with him, which had not yet presented itself during his hours of exclusively sleeping, eating, crying, and diaper changing during the first two weeks. I made shapes with my hands on the wall and kept him interested for long periods. Shadows make perfect high-contrast patterns to visually stimulate him. "Shadow Time" quickly became one of my favorite afternoon routines.

Eventually, I began to look around the room for other objects that would have interesting shaped shadows. I eventually grabbed Lambkin, Jonah's favored stuffed toy to date. Jonah's eyes quickly fixated on the Lambkin-shaped shadow. I wasn't sure if he recognized the shape or not. He focused on the shadows only, so he did not know I was holding the toy just a few inches away. This is where our experiment went a little wrong. I decided that I wanted to teach Jonah about abstract representations of objects, of which shadows are an impressive example. So, I slowly moved Lambkin, the object, into Jonah's field of vision. His eyes clearly changed focus onto Lambkin rather than the shadows, and he stared for a while. Then, I removed Lambkin and held her so that her shadow was cast on the wall again. Jonah's eyes clearly returned to the wall. I wasn't sure if he understood what was happening, so this is where my experiment went painfully wrong. I gathered two other stuffed animals (Pinks, a pink bear, and Zaru, a stuffed monkey) and repeated the same process -- show Jonah the shadow, then show him the actual object, alternating between our three stuffed animals. Soon into this phase of the lesson, Jonah belted out crying. As an over-exuberant educator, I think I blew his mind with a concept vastly above his cognitive abilities.

For the time being, Shadow Time is back to its heyday of using only hands to make fun moving patterns devoid of any deeper meaning. We'll move on to abstract representations once Jonah masters some stepping stone tasks like recognizing that his hands belong to him.

August 5, 2008

Got baby pictures?

Swaddled

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