Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Children Learn - Reading


Competence Models
p. 128  "It is certain that a child is greatly inspire and helped to learn by what are often called competence models--people who can do things better than he can.  But we ought to remind ourselves now and then that sometimes a competence model can be altogether too competent. . . No doubt it is exciting and inspiring for a child interested in athletics, or music, or dancing, or art or drama, or whatever, to see, once in a while, adults who do those things superbly well.  But as day-to-day examples, these experts are probably much less useful to a child than slightly older, slightly bigger children who do things slightly better than he can."

This is why having a big family can be so beneficial to children.  All but the oldest have a string of competency models that are just slightly above them.  How can I provide my oldest with less intimidating competence models than myself and dad?  Suzuki group lessons are a great opportunity for this in music.

The hard sell
p. 130  Beware of the temptation of the "hard sell."  "Children learn very early to be wary of too much adult enthusiasm."  Just leave the new materials or games lying somewhere and let the children approach them at their own leisure.

Encourage the spirit of independence in learning.
p. 132  When children reject our teaching. . . "Far from having decided that reading was not worth knowing, she probably wanted to learn to read very much.  What she rightly resented was my taking it upon myself to teach her without being asked.  When she learned to read, it was going to be by her own choosing, at her own time, and in her own way.  This spirit of independence in learning is one of the most valuable assets a learner can have, and we who want to help children's learning, at home or in school, must learn to respect and encourage it.

We don't forget the things we learn for our own reasons
p. 134  "The things we learn because, for our own reasons, we really need to know them, we don't forget."

Children learn by testing hunches over and over until they come to a knowledge of a thing.
p. 138  "Children's first hunches about anything are extremely faint and tentative, the merest wisps of intuition that a certain thing may be so.  Each time children test one of these faint hunches and have it confirmed by experience, the hunch becomes a bit stronger.  What we might call a 5 percent hunch becomes a 10 percent, the 10 percent, a 20 percent, and so, slowly, all the way to the point where they will say with conviction that they know that such -and-such is true."

But we can put an abrupt end to this process by constant testing and quizzing
p. 140  "Knowing this about children's hunches makes me understand more clearly than ever why, and how, our constant checking up on children's learning so often prevents and destroys learning, and even in time most of the capacity to learn. In How Children Fail, I said that the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied and into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don't know.

Another reason: "Asking children questions about things they are only just beginning to learn is like sitting in a chair which has only just been glued.  The structure collapses.  Under pressure, children stop trying to confirm and strengthen their faint hunches.  Instead, they just give them up."

How much time is wasted "learning reading skills" and being tested on them, compared to time spent reading?
"I later knew a boy, taught at home by his parents (both of whom worked during the day), who did not begin to read until after he was eight.  When he was eleven he moved to a new town and wanted to go to school so that he could meet some other children, and also find out something about what school was like.  The school gave him the usual reading tests, on which he scored at the twelfth-grade level.  But of course he didn't have to spend hours a day being taught reading skills and being tested to be sure he had learned them.  He could use that time to read."

I find myself constantly tugging myself back from the edge of anxiety about Jonathan and the fact that he has been slower to read than many of his peers.  I need stories like this to confirm my faith that he will ultimately read when he is ready.

Children are not railroad trains.  Time and sequence is irrelevant to the learning process.
p. 155  "Timetables!  We act as if children were railroad trains running on a schedule.  The railroad man figures that if his train is going to get to Chicago at a certain time, then it must arrive on time at every stop along the route.  If it is ten minutes late getting into a station, he begins to worry.  in the same way, we say that if children are going to know so much when they go to college, then they have to know this at the end of this grade, and that at the end of that grade.  If a child doesn't arrive at one of these intermediate stations when we think he should, we instantly assume that he is going to be late at the finish.  But children are not railroad trains.  They don't learn at an even rate.  They learn in spurts, and the more interested they are in what they are learning, the faster these spurts are likely to be."

"Not only that, but they often don't learn in what seems to us a logical sequence, by which we mean easy things first, hard things later.  Being always seekers of meaning, children may first go to the hard things, which have more meaning, are (in Papert's word) less dissociated from the world--and later from these hard things learn the "easy" ones.  Thus children who read well certainly know a lot of "phonics," but they have probably learned at least as much phonics from words as they have learned words from phonics.   No one taught me that the letters PH say the sound "fff."  I figured it out, probably from hard words like "photograph" and "telephone."

Children do not need to be made to learn. . .
p. 157  "Children do not need to be made to learn, told what to learn, or shown how.  If we give them access to enough of the world, including our own lives and work in that world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to us and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than we could make for them."

This is hard doctrine to swallow, I know.  But deep down inside me I know it's true because it's true of me!  I learned how to read because my grandmother read fairy tales to me over and over again.  And I just figured it out!  On my own!  

Round pegs for round holes
p. 170  "When the then Labour Party prime minster James Callaghan said in a major public speech on education that what Britain needed was "round pegs for round holes," it was clear that this educational revolution had come to an end, and for just the same reasons that had put an end to all earlier revolutions of the same kind.  Needless to say, what children were or might be learning was not one of those reasons"

Back to cassette tapes
p. 172  "In many elementary school classrooms children dictate stories, directly or through a tape recorder, to their teacher, who writes out the stories and returns them to their authors.  For many children, these stories are much more exciting to read than some old book.  By such means many children who had not been at all interested in learning to read have become interested."

What a wonderful idea for a Christmas present!  I think I'm going to get Jonathan some cassette tapes.  I remember when I was a kid, hiding out in my room and making recordings of my own stories, game shows, etc.  It's a great outlet for creativity!!!

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