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Establishing 1 to 1 activities

​During a debate about the aspects of Active Learning, I was asked if I have ever written anything about how I establish a productive 1:1 activity session with a learner who has.
My first thought was how that is impossible to fine many examples of 1:1 activity sessions in the books I have written.
My second thought was to realize that I have not written very much about my thought processes regarding how to set up the activity, the activity itself, and what happens after a session is finished.
 In this article, I will try to give an account about how I set up a 1:1 activity with learners. While I do not consider my ways to be the best of the only way to accomplish 1:1 activity, it is the way that I do it. I offer what I can to you and you may choose to use it.
The word ‘learner’ is used to characterise the child, teen, or adult. I consider all of us as being learners throughout our entire lifetime. My definition of life begins as a foetus and continues until we have taken out last breath regardless of our physical or mental capabilities. We are learners for our entire lifetime. We are never too old to learn.

Purpose of establishing 1:1 activities.

My main purpose with establishing 1:1 activities with learners is to promote the learner’s opportunity to learn. This implies that through one or more 1:1 activities, I try to:
1.       Establish an affective atmosphere with reciprocal acceptance between myself and the learner
2.       Establish an emotional relationship with the learner and discover how I can respond to his communication
3.       Demonstrate a time together that is completely dependent upon the learner’s terms. It is important to follow the learner’s lead, so they will be able to accomplish their intentions without being corrected or hindered in any way.
4.       Discover what the learner is interested in
5.        Introduce new activities
6.        Observe the learner’s way of functioning and by this determine the learner’s level of development
7.       End the 1:1 activity at an appropriate moment
8.       Provide a follow up session in which the experience is analysed, so that recommendations can be given to parents and other caregivers. I also offer to respond to any questions that anyone may have about the learner or the experience.

Preparation before establishing 1:1 activities

When I have an appointment with a family, I first write a letter to the parents detailing the appointment. I make sure to include my phone number, address, and alternate date if our appointed time becomes inconvenient for the family.
 I always arrive for the first visit empty handed. I have my employer’s business card with me, but I deliberately leave everything else in the car because I want to present myself as just another person, and not as someone who might have a higher status than anyone else.
Once I have arrived, I speak with the parents, and then I greet the learner who is the reason for my visit, and finally greet any other children or adults who are present. I then explain why I am there and indicate areas in which I may be able to offer help and advice.
 It is very important to me that this first conversation has a character of peace and confidence so that the learner can understand that this newcomer has been accepted by his parents and can be trusted.
When I notice that a relationship has been established, I ask the parents for their permission to work with the learner in a 1:1 activity. I explain that the purpose of the activity is to give me information that I can use to give better advice and guidance regarding the learner’s future learning. I also use this activity to get to know the learner and what he likes and dislikes.
Once I have the parents permission to work with their learner, then I tell them that I have a suitcase of toys and objects that I work with in the car (the age of the learner determines my choice of words). Now, it is time to get my supplies and the things that I need for the session from my car. Often I am asked where I prefer to work and whether or not the other children should leave us alone. If the learner is at an age where playing on the floor is natural, then I suggest the floor as the best place for us. The other children are always welcome to join us.
To set up, I place most of my objects from the suitcase in a ring around the place where I will sit. I make sure that they are also just within my reach so I will not have to get up to get anything that I might need during the session.
After I sit down, I place the learner between my legs. It does not matter if the learner can sit without support or not, I simply place him in a sitting position and provide whatever support needs with my body. In this position, I have physical contact with the learner’s body. He can lean on me whenever he needs support, and the parents and other observers can see everything that is taking place. Sitting in the same direction as the learner gives him the best opportunity to imitate the movements of my arms and hands.

First visit in a school or institution

When I meet staff at a school or an institution, I am usually first informed about the learner’s special problems, examples of such problems could be self-mutilation or tactile defensiveness which is a refusal to touch anything. I always ask for permission prior to establishing a 1:1 activity with the learner, and I invite everybody else to participate as observers. I also suggest that we talk after the activity to discuss what was experienced.

My Role

Before I begin the 1:1 activity with the learner, I already have an idea about the type of content that would benefit the learner most. But if the learner decides that the activity should go in a different direction than the one I intended, I will follow the learner’s lead and change my pre-conceived thoughts about the activity. I may have many roles during a 1:1 session, but my primary role is to observe what the learner is doing. Other roles include
1.       Setting up an environment that facilitates the learner’s opportunity to gain success from his activities
2.       Finding the objects that the learner needs or has pushed away while playing so that he can continue to be active.
3.       Comparing one activity or object with another
4.       Replying to the learner’s communications
5.       Remaining quiet while the learner is learning from the activity.

Examples of 1:1 activity sessions

Learners are unique with their own personality and different levels of social and emotional attachment. They also have individual capabilities and preferences regarding their activities. All 1:1 sessions also become unique and develop their own personality. I have chosen some examples that I would like to use to describe how 1:1 sessions may be designed.

Case Study: Line

Line is 9 years old. She is blind and developmentally delayed without verbal language. Her parents shared with me that she almost always leaves the room when other people are present and Line does not want to touch anything. When I approached Line, I only said hello and that I would like to play. I did not touch her in any way. I sat at the dinner table and invited Line to sit next to me. I opened my suitcase and took a few objects from it. I placed them on the table and started playing a grasping-letting go game. While I play, Line sat next to me waving her hands. I interpreted this behaviour to mean that she would not like to be involved in what was going on.
After playing by myself for 10 minutes, Line stands up and walks into the adjoin kitchen. I decided not to call her or bring her back. I did not make any attempt to try to persuade her to return. Instead, I decided to continue playing the grasping-letting go game to give Line time in which she may choose to return.
I was able to see Line standing in the kitchen waving her hands. I continued to play for another 10 to 15 minutes in this manner. At this time, Line returned and sat next to me. I want to establish a natural atmosphere with Line without verbal communication, so I continue playing my grasping-letting go game which I slowly developed to a character of putting things in certain spots instead of just letting go. I play for another 15 minutes in this manner. Then I begin to talk to myself saying, “I must soon begin to put together all my things. I will have to take the ferry home soon, but I still have some time to play a little more.” I play for another 2 minutes and then repeat my sentence about packing my things. Then Line stands up and comes close to me.  She signals that she would like to sit on my lap. I accept this, and she sits down. Once there, she begins to move side to side while waving her arms. At first I think I should move with her, but after trying that, I understand that I should remain motionless and let Line use my body as she desires. After moving a little while longer, she leans on me placing her head on my shoulder and begins to lick my neck. A little while later I say “Now I have to pack.” Line stands up and sits on her chair, staying there until I am ready to leave.
From my observations, I concluded that Line is developed to a 2 year old level in gross motor and to a 3-4 month level in fine motor, and emotional level of a baby. I also learned that it is easy to make contact with her if there are not any demands placed upon her.
During other 1:1 activity sessions, Line begins to touch objects and gradually she goes through all the small steps of fine motor development as described in the books “Early Learning – Step by Step”, “The Fiela Curriculum” and the Functional Scheme. (See the bibliography).

Case Study: Kurt

I planned to demonstrate a 1:1 activity as part of a lecture series on Active Learning with a learner. I met Kurt for the first time during this seminar. Kurt is 9 years old and blind. He came walking into the room holding his father’s hand.
Before sitting on the Resonance Board (Nielsen,2001), I have placed a lot of objects, which can be used for different activities of various degrees of difficulty, around the board. These activities could be more or less constructive, and also can give various sensory experiences to learners. Once it is all arranged so that I can reach everything, I sit myself on the Resonance Board.
I greet Kurt and invite him to sit between my legs. By sitting this way, we are both facing the audience so that they may observe all of our activities.
 I take an object and hold it close to Kurt’s right hand. He grasps it, moves it from hand to hand several times, and takes it to his mouth without licking or biting it. He turns it around, touches the surface and it looks like he is familiarizing himself about the size and the shape of the object. Then he places the object on the floor just in front of him.
I then take another object, and hold it close to his right hand. He grasps it and is now active with this object in the same pattern that he used with the first object.
 He continues to be active for the first 15 minutes of the 1:1 activity as described above using approximately 15 different objects that I have provided for him. Once he is done with orientating himself with an object, he places it in front of him. I observe hem and refrain from talking so that I do not interrupt him with my words.
When I do talk, my comments are very neutral, i.e. they do not have any valuating either about Kurt’s activities or the quality of the objects. Kurt’s facial expressions indicate that he does not find the objects very exciting.
The next object that I gave him is a syringe. While giving it to him, I squeeze it lightly so that a sound is heard.
 He begins by moving the syringe from hand to hand and taking it to his mouth. Now and then, He squeezes it. After squeezing it, he becomes totally absorbed in experimenting with what he can do with the syringe. One of the things that he does is squeeze it while he has it in his mouth. This motion adds to his spit to his experiments.
As he becomes more active, I become more passive. I am careful not to say anything at all. While he is playing, I begin to think that he will soon need another object that can be compared with the syringe. This second object should also make special sounds when it is squeezed so that both the texture and the sounds scan be compared.
Lilli Nielsen, PhD, Denmark