Overview of the van Dijk Curricular Approach

by Stephanie Z.C. MacFarland on Nov 30, 2000
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Stephanie Z.C. MacFarland, Ph.D.

Philosophical Basis

A) The Whole Child Approach

  1. " I" & "you," encounter each other in "WE." This is the philosophical premise that van Dijk espouses as "A living along with the child: How can I experience with him so I can better understand his meanings, values, and choices."
  2. This encounter is a basic form of dialogue between the two involved which gradually becomes more sophisticated based upon the learners overall development and specifically in terms of his/her language development or communication system. Most importantly, it always will have the foundation of a secure mutual exchange between one human being and another.
  3. Three important considerations to always keep in mind throughout the approach are turn-taking (reciprocation), evoking communicative signals, and distancing.

Van Dijk's Learning Theory for Learners who are Deaf/Blind

A) 10 Theoretical Principles (see below)

Learner Outcome Characteristics and Instructional Strategies

A) Learner outcome: Development of initial attachment and security

1. Resonance phenomenon strategies:

a) Resonance takes place at a pre-conscious level (reflexive reactions to stimuli, a reverberation of physical, vocal, and/or affective behaviors).

b) Resonance activities encourage the learner to shift self-stimulatory behaviors to behaviors that involve other persons and objects.

c) The teacher follows (joins in) the learners behavior and begins to lay the foundation for turn-taking interactions. Rapport and trust are developing.

d) Example: The child is banging on a drum with her hands, and the teacher joins in by banging on the drum with her hands. The child stops; the teacher stops. The child begins; the teacher begins.


B) Learner Outcome: Development of near and distance senses in relation to the world near senses (touch, smell, taste) and distant senses (hearing and vision)

1. Co-active movement strategies:

a) Co-active movement is an extension of resonance, but the difference is that the learner is more conscious of the "turn-taking" aspect and the person involved in the dialogue (interchange).

b) The teacher follows the learner's movements in a reciprocating fashion. Also, the learner may follow a teacher initiated movement. The learner soon discovers that: "When I do this; s/he does it too!" and learns that s/he has some control over his/her world.

c) Co-active movements are expanded to chains of movements, which have obvious starting and ending points. The learner practices the chain until s/he knows it. For example, the chain can be a task sequence (i.e., steps in dressing) or a motor circuit that the learner completes in designated rounds.

d) The evoking of signal behavior: 
  • change the chain by changing or eliminating the learner's favorite movement.
  • observe the learners reaction to the change.
  • the learner initiates his own signal in response to the change during this arousal state.
  • this arousal state is the crucial time for the teacher to give the learner reinforcement (within 5 seconds!!).
  • the reinforcement is always unique to the learner and the reinforcement should be as natural as possible. For example, after the learner signals, the reinforcement is restoring the chain (continuing with the co-active movement sequence).
  • extrinsic reinforcement: When a natural reinforcer is not strong enough for the learner, the teacher should add and carefully choose an extrinsic reinforcer (e.g., the learner imitates the gesture for "bicycle " so together they get the bike and the learner rides the bike).

2. Co-active manipulation strategy:

a) Co-active manipulation involves hand-under-hand or hand-over-hand instruction during the learner's daily living routine (e.g., meals, grooming, games, washing the dishes, etc.).

b) Co-active manipulation is gradually lessened (distance is taken) as the learner gains more security and independence in his/her daily routine.

3. Representational reference strategies:

a) Representational reference is an essential part of symbol development. Often it occurs with co-active manipulation. The learner and partner encounter a common thing without actually having a referent (a name) to that "thing"; communication still takes place. They find communicative sense: they look together at the thing; together they may touch it or point to it. This act of "reference" is a social one in that a mutual reference is established for communicating.

b) Activities are developed in structured daily settings such as during the learner's bath, grooming and dressing times where representational reference is used to help the learner understand his/her own body image. Also, representational reference strategies can be used during play and transition periods where many opportunities occur to share interesting "things" (e.g., that ivory soap floats in the bath water).

4. Imitation instructional strategies:

a) Imitation strategies are a higher order and extension of co-active movement strategies. The learner can follow the actions of the teacher, (or peer, parent, etc.) without any physical support (except in the case where a learner is totally deaf-blind with whom co-active manipulation must be provided as an initial imitative model). There are two basic levels of imitation:

  • Parallel Imitation: The teacher chooses movements from the learner's repertoire of movements. The teacher makes the learner very aware that s/he must imitate what the teacher does (initial teaching may involve co-active manipulation and/or physical cues). The imitation is immediate and parallel: very little time elapses between the movement the teacher initiates and what the learner imitates.
  • Deferred Imitation: A temporal distance is gradually introduced. Precision of imitation is not the focus: the focus is the learner's observation and internalization of the teachers demonstrated actions. The teacher begins with gross symmetrical movements and progressively adds fine asymmetrical movements to be imitated.

b) Imitation strategies can be incorporated into daily activities, for example dressing, pouring drinks, setting the table, playing with makeup (when age and situational appropriate). The teacher should involve peers as much as possible. The teacher creatively plans activities where learners interact and imitate one another.

5. Drawing instructional strategies:

a) Drawing promotes the use of residual vision and allows the learner to have a communicative medium that is clear for the learner and the teacher. Drawing encourages active rather than passive behavior from the learner, and it provides a static communicative referent.

b) Drawing is used in various ways throughout the learners program. Drawing is always implemented within the context of daily events for the individual learner. The choice and use of colors in drawing can be very important for building the learner's memory. Some examples of drawing incorporated within the program for a learner are:

  • co-actively tracing objects with the learner's finger or with a marker for the development of a conceptual object of reference for a particular activity or thing.
  • drawing familiar objects based upon their main attributes (e.g., the specific color, shape, characteristics (markings/patterns)) to be used as daily-event references for the learner's personal "calendar".
  • using drawn reference cards illustrating movements that the learner imitates or a series of pictorial steps that direct the learner to accomplish a task. 1. The learner who is totally blind may use raised, two dimensional drawings and/or objects or forms that have a meaningful connection to the activity or thing of reference.

c) The teacher is consistent in how s/he and the learner draw together and only changes the drawing to a more complicated level when sure that the learner is ready.

6. Vibrational-sound induced strategies:

a) These strategies are designed to encourage auditory conditioning and auditory attentive behaviors in the context of functional activities as well as natural settings. These vibrational-sound induced strategies are often combined with co-active movement sequences, co-active manipulation, representational reference, and/or imitation strategies.

b) Vibrational-sound can be integrated into an activity in a variety of ways: the teacher's voice, audio-tape with amplifiers, drums, special flooring that conducts sound through vibration, or a FM receiver.

C. Learner Outcome: Development of the ability to structure his/her world

1. Discrimination instructional strategies (i.e., sorting, comparing, ordering, grouping, and choosing):

a) When the learner is at a pre-symbolic language level with very little interactive skills, basic discrimination strategies are used to teach the learner to be aware of objects in his/her near and far environments. With the initial use of contrasting functional objects, the learner interacts with objects in a meaningful way and learns that the objects have distinct attributes which can be compared, sorted, and chosen. For example, during circle time, the learner is presented a large pillow to sit on and a hairbrush. The learner should be able to choose the pillow based upon past experience and recognition of the contextual function of the pillow.

b) As the learner progresses, the teacher uses pragmatic and academic discrimination strategies. These strategies are implemented in a more pragmatic context such as setting the table, sorting washed clothes, choosing a snack from choice cards, or grouping photo's of family-members vs school-members. In a more academic context, the learner may use discriminatory skills to sort, compare, order, and/or choose letters/words from a language experience story.

2. Characterizing strategies:

a) Characterizing strategies assist the learner to build a repertoire of communicative referents. By choosing a meaningful characteristic of a frequently encountered activity or entity, the teacher assists the learner to associate communicative meaning with events and things in the learner's world. Characterizing the learner's world is a way to talk about his/her world, structure his/her world, remember his/her world, and to anticipate what his/her world is about. People, animals and objects, events, time, and emotions can be characterized by the learner.

b) Encouraging the learner to realize and use a characteristic referent can be accomplished through (1) a natural gesture, (2) an associative object (objects of reference), (3) a smell, (4) a taste, (5) a texture, (6) a sound, (7) a picture (drawing), (8) a 3 dimensional model, and/or (9) a written, spoken, and or fingerspelled word. For example, characterizing the teacher by a pendent is possible if she consistently wears the same one, or characterizing orientation and mobility by the wrist watch the instructor consistently wears.

c) Characterizing strategies are especially important for the development of symbolic language. The distancing principle (i.e. shaping and fading) must be incorporated in the strategies as the learner progresses and the teacher must be very aware about the learner's preferred learning modality(s). For example, the same blue tote bag for swimming can be gradually associated to a drawn representation where the blue color of the bag is emphasized for swim day on the learner's schedule.

3. Sequential memory strategies:

a) The co-active movement sequences previously mentioned are one means of providing an opportunity for memory development. The teacher uses schedules (often referred to as calendar, sequence or memory boxes) and the diary (or memory book) to help the learner understand and remember certain time sequences. Through schedules and diaries, the teacher can help the learner comprehend the beginning and the end of an event task, or activity; the schedule of events for the day; and, the special experiences that have passed or will occur in the near future.

1) Schedules: Schedules come in various sizes and shapes depending upon the learner's preferred learning modalities. Schedules are pivotal within the learners daily program in that they provide a consistent framework that can be progressively and flexibly augmented by the teacher to build many skills and concepts (e.g., communication and language skills, organizational skills, and concepts of symbols, time, space and distance).

2) The diary is a means for the learner to record special thoughts, memories of past events, things or people, special occasions to come, and emotions, again in the learner's preferred medium. The learner always has the opportunity to refer back to his/her diary alone or together with the teacher or peers.

b. Sequential memory strategies work concurrently with characterizing activities, and drawing activities.

D. Learner Outcome: Development of natural communication systems

1. Conversational communication strategies:

a) Conversational communication strategies are integrated throughout the learner's total programming. The teacher must plan the daily activities/tasks and organize the learning environments so as to integrate meaningful communication opportunities for the learner. Within these meaningful opportunities, the teacher must provide clear communicative forms that represent clear functions (i.e., reasons to communicate) so that the learner can eventually, connect the meaning between the two (form & function) and generalize its meaning across varying contexts. The teacher encourages a communicative dialogue within the context of the activity or situation at hand.

2. Anticipatory communication strategies: 

a) Anticipatory communication strategies are founded upon routine. For example, when a familiar activity is changed, purposely or coincidentally, the learner has the opportunity to express his/her awareness that something is different. The teacher must be alert to the learner's anticipatory state so as to take the opportunity to expand the learner's understanding of this particular situation. The teacher can incorporate pleasant and, curiosity-provoking conditions into an activity to elicit anticipatory behavior (e.g., finding something unexpected when going for a walk). 

b) Anticipation is one of the most essential components in developing language in the van Dijk approach. Anticipation building is integrated in most all program activities.

3. Symbolic communication strategies:

a) These strategies are the bridge between the learner's use of natural symbols and truly symbolic language. The teacher uses fading and shaping procedures to refine natural symbols to drawings, to written words, to the fingerspelled words, to formal signs, and/or to speech that are of the language of the learners culture.

b) Through the integrated use of the learners learning modalities--visual (e.g., drawing), auditory (e.g., listening to the teacher's directions), tactual (e.g., feeling objects and raised drawings), motor (e.g., signing), and/or visual- auditory (e.g., written word after speech), the learner can remember natural symbols and more easily retrieve them across different situations.

c) Symbolic communication strategies help the learner use problem solving behavior in regard to the constructs of language. Using meaningful experiences, the teacher develops reading and comprehension lessons for the learner. For example, while at the pet store, the teacher plans that the learner may feet some of the fish and birds. During the experience, the teacher makes two braille reference cards with the learner with small bagged samples of bird feed and fish food attached to each card. Gradually, the actual bird and fish food would be faded out and the braille words would remain. Also, the teacher would use this pet store experience in another lesson at school.

d) The teacher must be very aware of how the learner is communicating. The teacher may ask: Is the learner using natural gestures spontaneously and in a generalized way? Is learner imitating a series of detailed actions without repeated prompts or an immediate model? Is the learner showing problem-solving behavior in the ways s/he tries to communicate with others?

van Dijk's Theoretical Principles

All children partially or totally deprived from birth of hearing and vision demonstrate behaviors that neurologically coincide with the subcortical organization of the central nervous system (CNS). This subcortical organization is plastic and can be influenced to stimulate and develop higher levels of cortical organization in the CNS.

The integration of the various sensory pathways of hearing, vision, touch, taste, and proprioception is an activity of the higher cortical organization of the CNS. This integration of the various sensory pathways allows the child to more clearly perceive the world around him.

The development of the child's initial concepts of the environment is based upon motor patterns that are involved in the handling of things-of-action: most things-of-action hold certain attributes that promote specific motor functions and therefore lead to concept formation.

The development of attachment and security through intimate human contact is essential for object formation and subsequent symbol formation: A nurturing, social interaction between the child and the teacher allows for the sharing of a situation in reference to "the world of things". This intimate contact is accomplished through imitative (co-active) movements between the child and a consistent partner (response-contingent interaction).

Development can be seen as the progressive distancing between the child and the world-of-action, and the principle of analogous function (the principle that a learned skill progressively can become more internalized and integrated with similar skills through different analogous processes). Distancing and analogous function are a means by which the child gradually leaves concrete understandings and iconic representations of the world and moves toward conceptual understandings and schematized representations of the world.

The child becomes conscious that he is the center of the movement: he is acting upon the environment and incorporating experiences of the ordering of time and space. Thus the child learns to structure his world.

In the child's structuring of his world, the building of anticipatory situations leads to expectations and provokes a stronger reaction and association to the expected and unexpected sequential event.

Through functional, pragmatic associations between the child and his world of events, the child attains a repertoire of natural symbols: signs, signals, gestures, and referential objects, which become differentiated, gradually generalized, and spontaneously used in other environments.

The child's use of this repertoire of natural symbols is a form of pragmatic communication. What is essential is a "shift-of-function" of this repertoire toward symbol consciousness-language.

The shift-of-function occurs by an inner organismic schematizing activity which is a means of transforming natural referents to depictive and denotative functions of symbols. The child at this level demonstrates behaviors that neurologically coincide with higher level cortical organizations of the CNS.

Summary thesis: The theory outlined above purports to show that a developmental inter-relationship exists between the neurological state of the sensory deprived child and the external influences of the child's environment. And it is that inter-relationship that leads the child out of a closed, limited world of interaction to an open, functional world of interaction.


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