SCHOOLS: by Elizabeth ClarkeNews Weekly
Constant practice needed to acquire basic skills
, September 15, 2012
I have often written about the need to return to teaching basic information. One part of basic teaching that has been done away with is rote learning. Before clever adults think “B-O-R-I-N-G”, let’s consider how necessary repetition is.
One of the most informative books I have read is Paul H. Mussen, John J. Conger, Jerome Kagan and Aletha C. Huston’s Child Development and Personality (New York, Harper & Row, 6th edition, 1984).
The authors state that “each new advance in cognitive functioning is dependent on the preceding phase and includes some of the prior competencies”.
They continue: “Mastering the piano is a nice example, for the growth of that skill is gradual and cumulative, each new improvement being built upon earlier achievements” (page 113).
And what does it take to master the piano? Practice, practice, practice!
Any traditional infants’ teacher would say the same thing about a child learning to read. Competencies or special skills need to be built into the brain through practice. Yet not one of the many books that I have studied over the last 20 years has stated the simple truths about infants learning to read.
The many skills needed to become a reader must be slowly built up in the brain. Reading is not a natural skill. Spoken words are abstracts according to the language of our culture. Spoken words are printed, using symbols which also are abstracts. To expect any kind of a result by starting at the end and working backwards beggars belief.
One author who preaches “read-by-reading” as the only way to teach reading recounts the story of an 11-year-old boy who couldn’t read because he had not “cracked the code”!
Something dawned when he was given a book, Bing, Bang, Bong. He would have had that kind of visual and auditory experience in the classroom in the 1950s in exercises which taught the code. He could have been saved years of non-reading misery. How ridiculous is it to recognise that the child must crack the code whilst denying the need to begin by teaching it!
There are various ways of rote-learning, and teachers in the old days used some chanting of spellings, tables, etc, as the fastest way of supplying the repetition the brain needs to embed basic information. Hopefully, most children were looking, hearing and articulating as they chanted.
Speaking anything out loud helps us to fix something in the mind. Repetition focuses attention, and attention/concentration is needed more than ever in today’s classroom.
There are of course other skills the child needs to become a good reader. None of these skills should be taken for granted, no matter how simple they appear to an adult brain.
The ability to read is a complex skill demanding the brain orchestrate many activities. As with any orchestral performance, practice makes perfect. Rote learning helps more than we realise.
Mrs Elizabeth Clarke, a former Queensland schoolteacher, has written articles on educational topics such as children’s brain development and teaching reading and phonics. Her article is reproduced from the Queensland DLP education committee’s publication, Education Uptake.