Dr. Paul Hart Speaks on Getting in the Zone: Revealing the Exceptional in All of Us (March 4, 2021)

Short-beaked Common Dolphin
Short-beaked common dolphin swimming in a pod.

 

So what is Kylie’s story? It seems that he visited the West coast of Scotland maybe around 16 or 17 years ago and somehow he got left behind by his pod. He was frequently seen at that time with a smaller animal which was presumed to be a calf and so early observers made the assumption that Kylie was female.  It turned out that Kylie was in fact a male short-beaked common dolphin and had often been seen with harbour porpoises, a smaller species hence the confusion about whether this was a mother and calf – but the name stuck and he is still known as Kylie!

So scientists had known for some time that some cetacean species have the ability to change their acoustic repertoire as a result of interactions with other species. This ability has mainly been observed in captive individuals and few cases have been reported for wild cetaceans so Kylie’s story provided the opportunity to study this ability in wild cetaceans.

A PhD student at a Scottish University, Mel Cosentino, set out to find what had been happening between Kylie and his porpoise friends.  Harbour porpoises produce entirely stereotyped narrow-band high-frequency echolocation clicks with peak frequencies around 130kHz. These Clicks are used for travelling, foraging, and communication purposes. Common dolphins’ echolocation clicks are widely understudied. Available data suggests these have peak frequencies below 67kHz. Common dolphins also produce other sounds for communication purposes, including whistles and barks.

These scientists set out to investigate what happened when these two species got together.

Vocalizations of both species were recorded when interacting as well as when seen alone. Using custom-built algorithms, individual dolphin and porpoise echolocation clicks were extracted, and several parameters estimated, including amplitude, and peak and centroid frequencies. The dolphin regularly produced clicks with peak and centroid frequencies over 100kHz, centred around 120kHz, when accompanied by the harbour porpoise, as well as when alone.

No changes in the porpoise acoustic repertoire were detected. The preliminary results of this study suggest the common dolphin changes its acoustic repertoire, likely as a result of the interaction with a harbour porpoise. This is the first time the common dolphins’ ability for production learning (in the wild or in captivity) has been reported.

What does any of this story about a dolphin’s abilities have to do with deafblindness, education, professional roles? We can draw out a number of points from this and then explore each in more detail…

  • Kylie has now become famous, not just on the little island where I live but in wider scientific circles. And he is viewed as a creature who is special and exceptional – and perhaps all short-beaked common dolphins can now be seen as exceptional.
  • It was this research team that revealed these exceptional abilities or to echo the title of this recent publication from the Nordic Cognition Network – revealed the hidden potentials. They set out to look for specific things and they found evidence of this. And although there was nothing in the literature about dolphins demonstrating production learning, they started with a belief that this might be so. That’s a lesson for us in our day to day interactions with children who are deafblind – if we want them to become our communication and language partners, we must first see them in that role; if we want to see ourselves as excellent communication partners, we must first see the child in front of us as an excellent communication partner.

These are the notes from Cecilia Robinson and not direct quotation from the presenter, Dr. Paul Hart.

The Story of Kylie

The presentation started with Paul telling us about Kylie, the dolphin, having been befriended by some porpoises after being left behind by his pod. A university student studied what happened between Kylie and his porpoise friends. Their vocalizations, both during interactions and when alone, were recorded. Then, Kylie’s and the porpoises’ echolocation clicks were extracted and analyzed. The study suggested that Kylie might have changed its acoustic repertoire as a result of the interaction with the porpoises.

What does this study tell us about exploring the hidden exceptional nature of each and everyone of us? Perhaps there is a lesson for us, especially in our day-to-day interactions with children who are deafblind.

If we, adults, want to be an excellent communication partner with a child who is deafblind, we must see the child in that role, that he/she is an excellent communication partner as well. It is our job to work with the child in order to see the possibility of his/her learning so that their potential can be recognized. Paul’s research indicates that individuals who are deafblind exhibit motivation to be understood by others. They may use signs and they adapt in order to help the communication partner understand them. In the United States, the ProTactile group shows that richer tactile language may emerge if the non-deafblind partner is aware of their ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development, a term coined by psychologist Lev Vygotsky) so that they can learn from the deafblind partner.  If we want to unleash a communication partnership to its full potential, we need to look at the idea of a Double-sided Zone of Proximal Development or Double-sided ZPD.

Double-sided ZPD

The Zone of Proximal Development, as described by Vygotsky (1999), is the distance between the actual and potential developmental levels of children. This gap is bridged with the help of more competent others. Other studies suggest that learning is “scaffolded” and when “guided participation” is provided, we can assume that the competent other, such as a communication partner, has an end-goal in mind for the child who is deafblind.

Zone of Proximal Development
Zone of Proximal Development

During an interaction, there is a ZPD for the individual who is deafblind and a parallel ZPD for the communication partner. The communication partner and the individual who is deafblind have to learn from one another (they learn from and about the person). This idea is the double-sided ZPD. New potentials of both partners can be revealed when they co-create new languages in the tactile medium.

NOTE: To learn more about the double-side ZPD visit the Deafblind Interaction area of this website.

Revealing Hidden Potentials, a publication from the Nordic Welfare Centre suggests that through interactions with people, a person’s cognition/potential can be revealed. This publication includes humor and playfulness when looking at the cognitive and communication potentials of a person who is deafblind.

The video clip of a female student painting Paul’s nails was shown. Paul indicates that the video shows the student’s and the teacher’s potentials, as well as the level of partnership during the activity.

Yesdy paints Paul's fingernails with help from her teacher.
Yesdy paints Paul’s fingernails with help from her teacher.

He also mentions a book called An Exceptional Fellow, written by a father whose son is deafblind. He describes his son as a swimmer, skier, an explorer, and so on. When the family moved to the United States, the son was the one who helped the family to make connections. This book may teach us what it means to be a teacher of a child who is deafblind.

We also viewed pictures of Paul with his nephews, Kayden and Dylan, the “exceptional fellows.” They did activities together such as flying a kite, exploring in the forest, walking up a hill during their adventures. These experiences helped the boys to build an identity of who they were, and Paul referred to the experiences as being “in the Zone” together.

When we get into the ZPD, we need to be truly present and available. This will allow us to become better communication partners by participating as a learner in addition to being a teacher. When we imagine ourselves as being capable of becoming an exceptional communication partner, we open ourselves to learning from children who are deafblind through our interactions with them. In this journey of learning together, the children reveal our exceptional nature and we, in turn, reveal their exceptional nature as well.

Mother and deafblind daughter explore a statue.
A young deafblind woman and her mother use their hands to explore a statue of a man.

 I am not a good signer. I used to think “How am I going to teach the students?” One of my students realized that I couldn’t sign; so, she tried to figure out how to communicate with me. I had to forget the lesson or the IEP and let the student talk to me. Finally, she had an intervener, and that’s when I was able to communicate with her. Over time, my student would look at me as she signed. She trusted me enough to see my poor signs. It was like the death of an old teacher, and I had an “equal partnership” with my student. It’s not about me knowing it all. It’s about a joined relationship.

Comments from Stephanie Mowery

 

An intervention – whose view is it? Double-sided Zone of Proximal Development is about the relationship between a learner and ourselves. Together, learning and modifying for each other; the learner shows us the way in, we can show them the way out. They become teachers for us. Haben Girma, the first Harvard lawyer who is deafblind, says that the sighted persons place their burden on us, deafblind individuals, to step out of their (world) role unless we are willing to do the same for them.

Comments from Heather Hickman

 

I was gone from teaching for about 5 years making pottery. When I came back to the field my sense of touch had gotten so careful during all those years. In the panel yesterday, you talked about if a teacher comes into the classroom in the morning feeling a certain way the deafblind person will pick up what the teacher if feeling through the hands. That happened to me when I went back Perkins. A student of mine used to do that when I greeted him, and he would tell me how I felt.

Comment from Barbara Miles

Panel Discussion with Paul Hart

What are your thoughts …

Stephanie Mowery: I used to want and expect “something” from my students. Now this has changed. Teachers should work on “serve and return.” Respect the students and believe that something good will happen. If we don’t come with expectations for the students to learn, we may leave the field. Believing in the student is important.

Paul Hart: To believe and have faith in the student is important. Our identity comes from people we interact with. It opens ourselves to learning from the students.

Nilam Agrawal: Thinking about the Zone of Proximal Development … the girl feeling your finger, Paul, she is communicating with you. There is constant interaction, bonding and trust. Communication is feeling that you’ve been listened. Letting a child know that they can trust us. Fluid communication. My daughter would cry when coming home from school. Being around is not enough. I learn that I have to pause and engage with my child. Crying is her communication. Everyone is trying to communicate, as Ms. Mowery said.

Paul Hart: Trust and be trusted. Early trust is when you know that you will be listened to, you will be cared for. Babies learn to trust at an early age when we listen to them and be with them. This may be hard for teachers without an agenda or a curriculum. Listening to Barbara Miles talk about her experience with an individual who is deafblind. She said that the greatest pleasure was being able to share an experience with someone.

Heather Hickman: An intervention – whose view is it? Double-sided Zone of Proximal Development is about the relationship between a learner and ourselves. Together, learning and modifying for each other; the learner shows us the way in, we can show them the way out. They become teachers for us. Haben Girma, the first Harvard lawyer who is deafblind, says that the sighted persons place their burden on us, deafblind individuals, to step out of their (world) role unless we are willing to do the same for them.

Deanna Peterson: As teachers, we need to have high standards and goals for ourselves. We need to be together with our students and let them take us to where they want. Paul gives us the language so that we can do just that.

Paul Hart: The individual who signs in space and has no vision … Dr. Nicholas indicates that we have the sense of touch and we can share this modality; we can interact together and allows for the richness to explore together. To become best communication partners, we need to respect the partner who is deafblind.

Stephanie Mowery: I am not a good signer. I used to think “How am I going to teach the students?” One of my students realized that I couldn’t sign; so, she tried to figure out how to communicate with me. I had to forget the lesson or the IEP and let the student talk to me. Finally, she had an intervener, and that’s when I was able to communicate with her. Over time, my student would look at me as she signed. She trusted me enough to see my poor signs. It was like the death of an old teacher, and I had an “equal partnership” with my student. It’s not about me knowing it all. It’s about a joined relationship.

Paul Hart: From a conference years ago, our school curriculum was different from England and Scotland. A person from Denmark didn’t understand why we had different curricula. He acted confused and said that they had one curriculum, and it’s called The Child.

Barbara Miles: Several things that went right to my heart: the centrality of the children. The last time I was in Texas I showed videos, and I showed them over and over. Looking at our interactions with the child says so much. Then you said, I sometimes think we’re rushing to get them into our world…..but no, we have to enter their world. I loved you starting with the dolphins and porpoises. You are such a creative thinker, and you bring it into your teaching. It makes me think how important storytelling was. I was gone from teaching for about 5 years making pottery. When I came back to the field my sense of touch had gotten so careful during all those years. In the panel yesterday, you talked about if a teacher comes into the classroom in the morning feeling a certain way the deafblind person will pick up what the teacher if feeling through the hands. That happened to me when I went back Perkins. A student of mine used to do that when I greeted him, and he would tell me how I felt. The sensitivity of the hands is so amazing and the sense of touch. I love the stories, thank you for them.

Paul Hart: I like that you started with the centrality of children, but it could have been adults or anyone. When I go out with nephews I feel like I am bringing the same skill set that I use with my deafblind students. I suppose it is an attempt to just see the individual in front of you. Barbara, you will remember from your visit to Scotland, we have developed a lot around the arts. It became deliberate to hire people who had background as artist, musician. My colleague David McClusky, he just sees another musician whenever they (deafblind students) step into the room. It becomes an improvisation. I think that unleashes a lot of creativity. We develop a relationship around what they have a passion for. Both of you come into that interaction as equals. We learn from each other.

Barbara: One story, from when I was in Nepal I visited a family that had two deafblind kids. There home was 1 room and they ate sitting on the floor and dipped bread into the pot. It was a very tactile culture and the kids were totally included. I think that touch is a cultural thing. In northern European cultures (touch is) not so much, but in South America there is a lot.

Nilam Agrawal: It is important that the teacher and parent are together in support of child and have a smooth communication between us as well as with the child. We look at the child as an individual with their own skills and tools.  We keep expanding our goals.

Paul Hart: I think whoever is involved in the child’s life … that sharing is so important. Not so many people will be fluent in the child’s language. The child needs a community of practice around him/her. Home influences school and vice versa. I think deafblind (education) has much to teach the wider educational world because we have a person-centered approach for deafblind. If we could bundle that up and give it to the rest of the world it would be a better place. John McInnes (parent and educator from Canada) gave us the basis for our approach many years ago, and it works hard to see the individual and how to adapt. 

Kate Hurst: Checkout the Deafblind Interaction tab on the website. Information is being built as we speak. Chris Montgomery, who is taking the lead on this content, is teaching me a lot. Check it out. Paul, Barbara and others’ interviews have been posted on the website.