The following points highlight the nine methods of teaching the educable mentally retarded children. The methods are: 1. Individualisation 2. Learning by Doing 3. Need for Learning Readiness 4. Repetition 5. Short Periods 6. Concrete Problems 7. Graded Curriculums 8. Projects 9. Teaching the Trainable Mentally-Retarded.
Method # 1. Individualisation:
Considering, first of all, special methods in the education of the Educable. Mentally-Retarded, it is immediately apparent that the dominant theme in the teaching … approaches has to be the individualization of education. This does not mean that the children should receive individual instruction though this becomes possible…with small classes, and may in fact prove necessary.
It implies rather, that each child is allowed to proceed at his own rate of learning according to his own unique growth pattern. Group activities are not thereby excluded nor is it desirable that they should be. These children need opportunities for group participation so that they may develop correct social attitudes.
Method # 2. Learning by Doing:
Another basic principle of special education is that the children should learn by doing. Activity methods are employed which put the emphasis on learning through experience. The mentally handicapped child, whose shortcomings lie in the area of relational and abstract thought, will always have difficulty in learning where he is required to play a passive role, and where the methods of communication is largely verbal.
His intellectual deficit is such that he will always tend to learn more easily where ideas are expressed in concrete situations which he can relate to the world as he knows it. So far as possible our teaching must be through materials that make the maximum appeal to his senses – If to auditory and visual percepts can be added tactile and kinesthetic, the learning process is considerably reinforced. Implicit is the idea of activity methods in the involvement of the total personality of the child.
Method # 3. Need for Learning Readiness:
Again, it is important in introducing academic work to the mentally handicapped, that we take cognizance of the concepts of maturation and learning-readiness. These children have the ability to learn to read, to write and to count, provided that the way is prepared for the introduction of these subjects through appropriate readiness programmes.
We must however, be prepared to wait until the child is intellectually and psychologically ready to accept the challenge which they present. In effect this means that mentally retarded children will be considerably older than ordinary children before making a beginning to these activities. However, the maxim of “making haste slowly” is more than justified.
Method # 4. Repetition:
Since mentally handicapped children do tend to have poorer memories than ordinary children, teaching method must provide for a considerable amount of repetition if learned material is to be retained. This, however, is no justification for rote learning procedures devoid of insight. Understanding should always precede measures designed to improve retention. Even in the case of mentally retarded, if they are well-motivated and the material is interesting and has meaningful associations, the memory span can be much increased.
Method # 5. Short Periods:
Although the mentally retarded child has limited powers of concentration, and for this reason formal teaching periods should be kept fairly short, at the same time it is remarkable how long he can persevere when he finds the subject stimulating. We should not see in this an invitation to sugar-coat the unpalatable pill of knowledge, but rather a challenge to our understanding of his needs and genuine interests.
Method # 6. Concrete Problems:
It is also true to say that mentally retarded children do show lack of imagination and foresight and consequently have difficulty in transferring the learning experience of one situation to a similar but new and an unfamiliar one. Real life problem should be introduced whenever possible so that the immediate application of what is to be learned can be more easily appreciated.
Method # 7. Graded Curriculums:
Since these children learn more slowly than the average child the work undertaken in the basic subjects of reading and arithmetic must be carefully graded to ensure steady progress and allow of feelings of success. This raises many difficulties for the teacher since the text-books in current use are designed for ordinary children and are much too steeply graded and often too sophisticated for the mentally retarded child.
There is a great need for the production of special books for slow-learning children, and until these are forthcoming the special class-teacher may well have to make an effort to create her own materials. This is not an impossible task especially in the early stages of teaching a subject, though it does become onerous as the child becomes more proficient.
Method # 8. Projects:
One of the most fruitful approaches to the teaching of mentally retarded children is through introduction of Projects or Centres of Interest. There is still a great deal of controversy as to how this can best be done without serious disruption of the basic subject programme.
Perhaps the best arrangement is that which involves a core programme of language and number, together with a peripheral programme which includes all those subjects such as Geography, History and Nature Study, which are normally regarded as giving the child an increasing awareness and understanding of his environment.
Within this peripheral area Projects can be developed which provide, ample scope for activity methods and at the same time, by a process of integration, supplement rather than detract from basic subject teaching. The topics around which Centres of Interest grow and develop should not be introduced by the teacher but arise naturally out of classroom situations where the child’s curiosity is aroused and the desire for further information is clearly manifested.
The point of origin may be a story, a poem, a song, a film, or a picture in the newspaper. The source is not important. What matters is that the teacher does not let the moment pass, but seizes on it and through careful planning and guidance helps it to develop in the hands of the children.
Within this situation are created the opportunities for the acquisition of knowledge and the pursuit of aesthetic and creative urges which are normally presented in the ordinary school in a formal way. The favourable teaching accorded to the special class, and within it the educable mentally retarded thrives and blossoms.
Method # 9. Teaching the Trainable Mentally-Retarded:
Much of what has been said is pertinent also to the education of the Trainable Mentally-Retarded group of children. At this point, however the importance of warm pupil-teacher relationships needs to be stressed. An understanding of the nature and needs of these children and a willingness to meet them provide the necessary basis for the development of suitable methods. Needless to say, we cannot aim so high in our ultimate objectives and our methods will on the whole have a more practical orientation.
Less emphasis will be given to the teaching of academic subjects and more time devoted to the development of sensory-motor, self – care and daily living skills. A more definite timetable will also be necessary with short periods of activity and more frequent changes of subjects since this group of mentally handicapped children do tend to tire fairly quickly.
There is also a need for much more patient repetition and practice of learned processes, and firm consolidation of each step before moving forward. Infinite patience is demanded of the teacher in achieving the desired pattern of repetition, success and praise. Only by repeated demonstration, example and practice can thus be achieved.
Again, the methods which are used should be clearly related to the real-life experiences and everyday needs of the children. Arithmetic should, for example, be restricted to the handling of simple coins, while in reading the vocabulary build-up should be related to meaningful situations in the child’s social environment. Many simple social activities can be dramatised in the classroom to give practice in the use of these skills.
While emphasis is given to group work in pursuance of our aims of social adequacy, nevertheless a great deal of individual work has to be done with these children. Although generally they belong to one category they are from homogeneous in respect of personality development. Individual study of each child is necessary, and the mapping out of individual programmes related to different aspects of personality growth is sometimes forced on the teacher by the wide range of differences.
Reference has already been made to programmes of sensory training and the need to relate learning experience to the life of the child. In this respect it is possibly a mistake to adopt any one method of teaching in the education of mentally handicapped children.
Structural approaches and materials, as for example in the Montessori Method, are not without value, but it would seem to be infinitely more desirable that the child should enrich his experience and increase his skills through real life activities rather than through formalised and largely artificial situations.
This point gains significance when we remember the mentally retarded child’s difficulties in making generalisations from particular experiences. He should learn what we want him to learn by actually doing the thing that is to be learned. Intermediary steps, requiring the transfer of learning from one situation to another, should form no part of the education of the Trainable Mentally-Retarded child.
A regular programme of activities that makes minimal demands of intellectual resources and stresses, instead, the need for increasing control of limbs of movement and of emotions serves to give the handicapped child the security he needs. If this is organised by a sense of vocation for this type of work, then the optimum conditions have been created to enable the Trainable Mentally-Handicapped child to win through to self-respect and increasing self-reliance.