Struggles with “Not”

Many of my students have difficulty learning the concept of “not.” If you show them four spoons and a plate, they can find the plate. If they have four spoons and a plate, they might not be able to show you which one is “not” a spoon. I have seen this problem in students who are on the object level of communications, use pictures or picture symbols, and who know how to read written words. True, some students have learned to follow “not” directions, but it is a struggle with many of the children I see each week.

This particularly interferes with some literacy activities that track progress. Some of my students will have success when the computer asks them which words are action words (verbs) but will be incorrect if it is turned around so that the question resembles “Which word is not an action word?” The last thing they heard was “action words,” so that is what many students will click on. The computer program interprets this as meaning that the student needs more assistance and practice with learning action words. Every program I’ve seen so far assumes that the problem is with the vocabulary they are assessing and not with the way the question is worded.

I am just mentioning this as a caution against using computer-generated results as a teacher’s only means of determining student strengths and academic needs. Academic software and Web sites are wonderful teaching tools, but they will never replace my observational skills. Language learning is a complicated process that must be generalized to a wide range of environments. Students who are learning a new concept, such as “not,” need to use it in different locations and activities (i.e. classroom, computer lab, cafeteria, gymnasium, home, etc.). Working together, teachers and speech therapists can help students to fill in the gaps in their understanding and use of language, including the pesky word, “not.”