Try Again: Mercy is Necessary to Learner Safety

“Retesting clearly works, so I give endless chances. If you’re willing to work, there’s always mercy. You can try again.”

— Craig B. Smith

Craig invites students to learn without adding fear to a subject that already creates its own. He recognizes that students who are emotionally distressed—anxious, angry, or depressed—are cognitively impaired and don’t learn well, so he fosters a challenging and yet nurturing climate of learner safety to dramatically reduce learning risk.

Based on his extraordinary perceptive capacity and ability to ward off compassion fatigue, he has mastered the art of shaping the social, emotional, and cognitive context, in creating a figuratively “clean, well-lighted place” where the whole student can flourish. This is learner safety.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (pp. 50 – 52)

If you’re going to test, then retesting is essential to learner safety. Not offering retesting is ableist and exclusionary to those of us with spiky profiles.

Craig maintains that slow students are not less intelligent students. They simply assimilate at a slower pace, so his focus is on student effort rather than aptitude. That ability to resist making discriminating judgments of students’ abilities is a skill, but it’s also a moral capacity, and one that many teachers don’t have the discipline to develop.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (p. 48)

Not offering retesting fails the imperative to encourage learning.

The moral imperative to grant learner safety is to act first by encouraging the learner to learn.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (p. 45)

Learning is invited, not commanded.

We need to remind ourselves that we don’t command learning, we invite it. The climate we create feeds the desire and motivation to learn. In an ideal setting, learner safety is a mutual giving and receiving of ideas, observations, questions, and discussion. If leaders are to meet learners where they are, you may need to back up and begin by supplying the inclusion safety that’s been absent. I have yet to see learner safety where inclusion safety is absent. One builds on the other.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (p. 46)

Testing creates a hostile, uninviting climate fraught with inequity and incompatible with many divergent bodyminds.

Standardized testing is a plague on the school system that does little to hit its intended goals. If we are to measure success of our students, then we’re on the wrong path. Traditional standardized testing simply reflects the inequities present in society.

If standardized testing must remain, why not cater it to the elements we need to promote in schools? Why not have standardized testing that measures students’ intrinsic motivation to learn?

Or how valued they feel as individuals in their classrooms?

Just as scientists measure soft skills in research studies, we could redefine the testing scenario to one that provides actual information that’s valuable to schools.

Source: Primer: A Guide to Human Centric Education

Don’t make testing more fearful and inequitable by not offering retesting.

In every learning context, consciously or not, we assess the level of interpersonal risk around us.

A hostile learning environment, whether at home, school, or work, is a place where fear elicits the self-censoring instinct and shuts down the learning process.

Learners rarely put forth the effort to learn unless learner safety is in place. It’s a “build it and they will come” principle. If you don’t build it, they may still come, but they won’t learn.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (pp. 44–47)

Spiky Profiles, Peripheral Minds, and Evolutionary History

In that same interview, when he was asked about what would happen to society if autism was eliminated, he said, “That goes to the larger issue that we wrestle with all the time around [artificial intelligence]. Part of what makes us human are [sic] the kinks. They’re the mutations, the outliers, the flaws that create art or the new invention, right? We have to assume that if a system is perfect, then it’s static. And part of what makes us who we are, and part of what makes us alive, is that we’re dynamic and we’re surprised.”

Source: Garcia, Eric. We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation (p. 22). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.

Via:

That quote appears in Eric M. Garcia’s new book “We’re Not Broken” and brings to mind my blog post “Cognitive diversity exists for a reason.

One of the quotes featured in that post reminds me of the spiky profiles of neurominorities.

“there are no superior genes, only genes that provide advantages with a tradeoff for other disadvantages” (Kozubek in Scientific American, 2016)

Source: Is Autism a Stress Adaptation? – The Peripheral Minds of Autism

Our spiky profiles are much about tradeoffs.

There is consensus regarding some neurodevelopmental conditions being classed as neurominorities, with a ‘spiky profile’ of executive functions difficulties juxtaposed against neurocognitive strengths as a defining characteristic.

A definition has emerged for psychologists and educators which positions neurodiversity ‘within-individuals’ as opposed to ‘between-individuals’. To elucidate: the psychological definition refers to the diversity within an individual’s cognitive ability, wherein there are large, statistically-significant disparities between peaks and troughs of the profile (known as a ‘spiky profile’, see Fig. 1). A ‘neurotypical’ is thus someone whose cognitive scores fall within one or two standard deviations of each other, forming a relatively ‘flat’ profile, be those scores average, above or below. Neurotypical is numerically distinct from those whose abilities and skills cross two or more standard deviations within the normal distribution.

Most humans are average in all functional skills and intellectual assessment, some excel at all, some struggle in all and some have a spiky profile, excelling/average/struggling. The spiky profile may well emerge as the definitive expression of neurominority, within which there are symptom clusters that we currently call autism, ADHD, dyslexia and DCD; some primary research supports this notion. In the future, these may shift according to our educational and occupational norms such as social demands, sedentary lifestyles, literacy dependency and automation of gadgets. To elucidate, although there are clear biological markers for those with a spiky profile which lead to observable, measurable psychological differences, there is nothing innately disabling about those differences when we consider a traditional, tribe-based community of humans. Within the biopsychosocial model of neurodiversity, understanding work-related intervention and treatment becomes more about adjusting the fit between the person and their environment than about treating a disorder. Critical review of the extant biopsychosocial research supports the social model proposition that the individual is not disabled, but the environment is disabling.

Source: Neurodiversity at work: a biopsychosocial model and the impact on working adults | British Medical Bulletin | Oxford Academic

We’re the kinky outliers, the peripheral minds. We’ve always been here, living and working the edges, creating dynamism and surprise, “bringing value to cooperative goals”.

This theory proposes that throughout history we evolved working together in villages and communities. The core majority were a group of similar-minded individuals that could get along easily and keep the peace. They evolved to process and prioritize information for sociability. They were adept at imitation, following the crowd and working with others. Because we know from the work of Dr. Fisher and Dr. Michael Lesser that these personalities were dispersed in such a way as the periphery were the more rare personality types. More interested in things and tinkering, exploring, telling stories and taking up causes. These different groups, or personalities, processed information uniquely and had different priorities and motivations. They were innovators, explorers, protectors, leaders, scientists, geeks, artists and creatives (Lesser and Kapklein, 2003). These neurodiverse outliers processed and experienced the world very differently than the more sociable core. However, because of both the core and the diverse Peripheral Minds we thrived with each unique personality bringing value to cooperative goals (Bergmüller et al., 2010; Smaldino et al., 2013).

Source: Is Autism a Stress Adaptation? – Peripheral Minds of Autism

Throughout our history, we have always had communities and villages with a core majority group of stabilizing, social, community-oriented individuals, and we always had the periphery minds, the outliers, those who needed to take in more information from their environments. The hyper-aware and vigilant; the innovators, the explorers, the protectors, the athletes, the hunters, the scientists, the geeks, the artists and the creative.

Source: Theory of Peripheral Minds of Autism – Peripheral Minds of Autism

The Five Neurodivergent Love Languages

Over on my personal blog, I wrote about “The Five Neurodivergent Love Languages” and their role in teams.

Neurodivergent people, working together, can fill the gaps in each other’s spiky profiles. Go team. Members of the Neurodiversity ERG at Automattic help each other out during synchronous, meatspace meetups, which can be very stressful.

Support swapping can happen during parallel play, making for a nice moment of converging love languages.

Infodumping, parallel play, support swapping, and “look, cool rock” are languages of teamwork and collaboration too, especially in distributed work cultures and “communication is oxygen” cultures. If only there were a distributed and work-appropriate equivalent for “Please Crush My Soul Back Into My Body”.

Source: The Five Neurodivergent Love Languages – Ryan Boren