It seems that I’ve wound down to about 1 insightful (not inciteful) post a week. All of the driving and being away from family is wearing me down in terms of new ideas for thought provoking posts. Fortunately, all of you are still visiting here and leaving me comments which give me things to think about. And while I’m driving I do get a good chance to think. The issue tends to be more one of having the mental energy to write. For this post, I have to thank Kim who left a comment below. Here is the excerpt of her comment that gave me some food for thought:
… I believe now, that some people need more help than repetition based on their motivation to learn how to do so. It is about 10% of the population and they need spelling guidelines, sadly, which most of us never needed to think about. Sorry to rant, but I just wanted to bring it up because dyslexics are often underrepresented in the homeschooling world.
As is quite often the case with me and a comment the things that come to mind are not really a response to the comment. More often than not my train of thought rebounds from the comment and heads off in a different direction. In my early career, synergy was a buzz word everyone was using to describe it.
I’m going to start by saying I have a very low opinion of repetition as a method of learning. I’m going to differentiate repetition from practice. Practice is trying to do something over and over again until you have mastered it. Repetition is doing something over and over again period. I don’t expect that my children (or anyone else’s) will learn from repetition. They do learn from practice. In this instance, I don’t expect Emma will learn to spell from us spelling for her over whatever period of time. Instead, by enabling her to communicate, we are giving her a skill that she will want to keep. Eventually she will be in a spot where we are not there to be a crutch to that skill. It may take her quite a while (possibly years), but she will work it out.
TBH, my spelling is brutal on first pass at a word. But, I’m a better than average speller because mispelled words do not look right to me. Some words take a half dozen changes before they do look right. I’ve read a few thousand books. I’ve seen nearly all of the words I use in writing in print thousands of times. Up until a certain point in my life if I wanted to write something I had to have a dictionary with me. And I’m confident that as long as my children develop a taste for reading they will be able to do the same thing I did.
For a moment allow me to digress into a little rant on repetition. In one of my programming classes, I would give the students the option of write a program called knight’s tour in lieu of other assignments. The object of the program is for it to be given a spot somewhere on the chess board and the program would find a path for the knight to move (the knight moves in an L) around the entire chess board using each square only once.
There are two approaches to solving that problem. The first is to evaluate the board and based on the things you know about the board and the movement of the knight. Using that knowledge you build into the program a set of rules it will use to determine which of the available moves is most likely to lead to a solution. There are a few sets of rules that work really well and a solution will be found on first try.
The second way is to have the program try randomly until it finds a solution. This does work eventually. It would probably take 5 to 10 minutes on the computers you are using. Among programmers this is called ‘brute force’ programming. And I believe that educational methods which rely primarily on repetition are brute force education. Nearly every math curriculum I’ve seen has been brute force.The thought behind it is that eventually the kid will learn it through sheer repetition. The curriculum itself makes no effort to accomodate itself to the learning needs, abilities or interests of the child.
The other thing that Kim mentioned was dyslexia. I have a few thoughts on learning disabilities (LD) in general. the first one I would like to tackle is ADD. Now, we have to realize up front that children are born with varying strengths and weaknesses. It’s one of the things that make us individuals. In those strengths and weaknesses there are going to be some who have weak control over their attention.
I had a student who I believe was ADD. During the first test I gave him, in the first 10 minutes or so he wrote like crazy on the test paper. Every once in a while he would stare off into the corner of the room for a few seconds while he thought about the question he was working on and then write some more. Somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, he looked off in the corner. As best as I could tell he did not move from that position for over an hour. After every other person had handed in their test, he was still there. I had to say his name 3 times to get his attention. Because of the expression on his face when he looked around, I’m as sure as I’m sitting here that until then he had no idea that any of his 40+ classmates had left. To the point where he stopped on the test, he got 100%. The remainder was blank.
8 months later he was in his fourth class with me. He didn’t miss a thing through any of my 2 hour classes. There were often times I would reexplain things for him or answer questions. I’m convinced that the main 2 differences were that he was interested in what I was teaching and that it was not repetitive. I did not teach the same things twice. It was a transformation that took time as well. Do I think he was ‘cured’? No. I’m sure that he still deals with his weak attention control today.
A second LD which is ‘growing’ is ADHD. I don’t know what your experience has been, but every child I’ve met who had been diagnosed as ADHD had a very active mind that was always on the go. I would expect that an ongoing diet of repetition is a brutal assault on an active mind. The second tidbit I have on ADHD comes from a workshop I attended 3 years ago on LD. There was a study which showed that up to a certain age (8-10) dyslexia was often misdiagnosed as ADHD.
Finally, I’d like to write my thoughts on dyslexia. First, I’m going to tell you some interesting facts about dyslexia and dyslexics. Then, I have a story and I’ll finish with some thoughts I have on the subject.
- NASA recruits dyslexics. The statistic I was given in the workshop mentioned above is that over 50% of their staff are dyslexic.
- A substantial number of children exihibit symptoms of dyslexia at ages 5-6.
- The majority of the children above (I believe about 2/3) lose the symptoms by age 8.
- I have a CD at home of a workshop given by a doctor specializing in learning disabilities. I’m going to paraphrase what she said regarding the studies she had participated in in the study of dyslexia:
Medically there is only one way that she had found that would differentiate between a young dyslexic and non dyslexic child. The fact that a young child showed symptoms of dyslexia was not an indication that they were dyslexic. The medical test consists of monitoring the child’s brain with an EEG while giving it a test. Not a medical test but a school test like spelling. What the EEG shows is the degree and type of stress the child experiences.
The story: A few weeks ago, Emma and I were drawing and writing on letter paper. The marker I was using was a black sharpie (permanent ink). Since we were making them for each other the last thing we did was fold them up so the other person could open it. When Emma opened the one I did for her she opened it up so that she was looking at the back of the sheet. Because I’d done it with the sharpie the ink had soaked through the paper and she could see what I had done. She looked at it for a few seconds and turned to Andrea and said, ‘it says …’ And she was right. Not only were the letters backwards, but the sentence went right to left. Until Andrea told her she had no idea that she was looking at the wrong side of the page. She’s 5. Am I concerned that she may be dyslexic? No.
I think that many children are able to do similar things when they are in that age range. IMO, dyslexia is only a disability in school. I believe that dyslexics can mentally flip things around on the fly and whether it is a b or a d does not slow them down. It’s when they are under pressure to pick the one that we recognize as being right that a problem surfaces. The fact that young children spell would ‘woulb’ doesn’t mean they don’t know how it’s spelled. It might say that they are brighter and more capable than we are.
And that is my 2 cents worth.