Engage: Empowering Group Education
A group of five learners sit at a table with me. I have materials set out for the learners to explore. There is no right or wrong way for the learners to use the materials, but there are established boundaries for the group and what is not acceptable to do with the materials. Outside of that, the goal here is for the learners to use the materials in front of them in any way that stays within the boundaries.
This time, I have a jug of bubbles, a pitcher of water, straws, and a container for each learner as they sit around a table. Even though these learners have seen bubbles before, the goal for group exploration is for everyone to explore materials as creatively as they choose. Containers are in the middle of the table where each learner can reach them. I do not encourage or discourage the learners to participate, rather make it clear that they can take a container if they so choose. I demonstrate my idea for using the materials by pouring some bubbles into the container and using the straw to blow bubbles. I will monitor the amount of liquid that is used, not in an effort to avoid all mess, but rather so that I can help learners to understand the results of their actions if they spill or do not have enough water. Learners have ample time and freedom to explore, however, I provide structure to avoid chaos and work to reiterate the boundaries of the group.
Some learners eagerly jump in and try adding different amounts of water and bubbles. Some stir the bubbles to see how fast they have to go to make bubbles in the container. Another watches the instructor and other peers to investigate how they are using materials but chooses not to actively participate. Yet another is copying my actions exactly and I am able to acknowledge this exploration but also invite them to try something that someone else is doing.
I am happy to see that everyone is a part of the group in some way, even if it is just being an observer. I know that observation is a critical part of exploration. Some learners will watch something and quickly jump in while others need to watch things over and over again before feeling comfortable enough to explore.
I also know that bubbles and water is a very simple activity. However, the active exploration and creativity that comes from the learners during this activity is often an overlooked foundational element. Many children with challenges don’t explore in this way naturally during their development. These learners benefit from practicing authentic investigation of something new and if it were a more complicated task, they would lose that practice time.
Through Direct Coaching of social skills, learners develop an understanding of how their actions impact those people around them. What happens if someone takes something that is mine? What happens if I want something that someone else has? What happens if we run out of the item that I wanted? What can I do if my first idea doesn’t work? What will other people be doing with the materials? These are all questions learners begin to ask themselves and the group, thus creating an authentic learning experience.