Subsequently we found that there were other instances where Anil felt left out or that he was picked on. When they noticed his vulnerability, some of the boys did tease him (especially when they thought no one was watching). But angelic looks in five year olds can be warning signals. My co teacher and I were more observant of Anil’s interactions. Sure enough, we found that both parties needed some explicit teaching.
Anil couldn’t understand the subtleties in his peers’ interactions—when they joked or kidded around, he thought they actually meant what they said. He responded by asking, “But why?” The others thought this was funny and continued their jokes or idiomatic speech. This excluded Anil further, and he felt they were picking on him.
The speech therapist worked with Anil to understand and use common idioms. But our classroom became the practice ground. We set up role plays and used pictorial representations of idioms. In our everyday interactions, we asked our students to identify what we meant. (“I feel so blah!”) We borrowed joke books from the library and read aloud a few at lunch time everyday. The kids loved sharing those with their family.
We also discussed the difference between ‘kidding’ and ‘teasing.’ Anil learned that when his friends were kidding or joking, they weren't being mean. It helped him and the rest of the class to understand that ‘teasing’ hurt others’ feelings and there were consequences for teasing. Towards the end of the school year, Anil was able to participate and kid around with minimum support from the adults.
Take a minute to analyze one of your conversations with your friend, family member, child, coworker, boss…Do you converse with them in the same way? No way!
Let’s look at some the rules we follow in our coversation:
- take turns
- wait for the other person to finish before responding
- interrupt politely
- respond to what is being said (stay on topic)
- introduce a topic before expounding on it
- understand the variations between comments and questions
- answer questions
- clear doubts/misunderstanding
- ask for help
We are aware of
- cultural and language norms as we use appropriate forms of address (formal/informal)
- group dynamics as we adapt our language to the age of the speaker, our relationship with the speaker, and the setting
- what the speaker is really trying to say, and modify our responses…we read between the lines
- logical sequences in speech..our conversations and narrations make sense
What happens when there is a gap in the acquisition of these skills? Communication breaks down leading to behavioral challenges. In some children, the skills deficits are obvious. Parents and educators are able to identify the need for intervention at a young age...but there are a lot of children who fall between the cracks—everything seems so average...adults are more concerned with the behavioral challenges these children present. If you take a closer look, the behaviors occur because the child is unaware of the sophisticated language skills needed to negotiate his or her world.
There’s more to be said about pragmatics…