Today I introduce a book in a review about five books, but especially about one of them, Teacher. The author is Sylvia Ashton-Warner, an English woman who went to New Zealand to teach five-year old children for two years and, instead, stayed there for the rest of her life. The main story of the five books is of romance but perhaps the stronger story is of her work with the Maori children.
It is difficult to say who benefits most from that work—Ms. Ashton-Warner, the children, or the reader of the books. Ms. Ashton-Warner is a gifted writer; there’s no doubt about that. She was a gifted teacher, too, a teacher who instinctively understood that these children lived in a time and space, a world, entirely different from that she’d left behind. The rigid, proscribed and goal-driven methods of teaching would not, could not work within the Maori context. She must begin where these children were, and work from there. Not only that, she must do so for each child, not for the class as a whole. Each life, even by age five, was unique in experience and interpretation of reality.
Ms. Ashton-Warner listened to each child. She created a set of cards for each child. She asked the child for a word, then another. She added those words to that child’s set of cards. As time went on, they added more words; so grew each stack of cards. That set of words became that child’s Key Vocabulary. The Key Vocabulary was easily read; it rapidly became the basis of early writing. From that set of building blocks, work in other subject areas developed.
There’s not time and space here to do justice to Ms. Ashton-Warner’s insight and method. I encourage you to find and read a copy of Teacher. You will soon understand that this woman instinctively understood what most of us who love and work with people with autism learn as a way to teach them that quite often works, and works well. As one such parent, I can say only that I know this well. Before I read her book, I had done most of the things she did, and they worked for my son and me. I haven’t her talent as an author, but I can, and do, recommend a good story, a good read, and a good result when I see them!