Monthly Archives: February 2012

Repetition and Drill: why they are still necessary tools for learning

Ever heard a young child sing the ABCs or blithely recite a nursery rhyme, or a set of multiplication tables? The child owns that knowledge, often way before knowing much more than the sounds.   And adults encourage this repetition, what ever the language in the home.  Whether at home or in a daycare setting, many pre-school activities involve this working toward mastery, from the initial push-ups a child will do to strengthen his/her arms before one day taking off in a crawl to the running back to climb up the slide – then, yet again, coasting to the bottom.  And young children enjoy hearing a story over and over again until they too have memorized and are able to “read”  it on their own.

Somewhere though, between 1st grade and graduation the possibility of “winging it” takes over and this is when the school assigned writing exercises become an activity that some students dread. True, writing can be a slow process, due to the need for reviewing and revising.  But not everything needs to be redone.  In fact, some of the most difficult writing exercises involve a form of automatic writing; most tests require this quick and clear response to some type of prompt.  

How then, to be quick and clear? No getting around it- repetition and drill of basic skills for which there are so many templates that students need not even be aware they are repeating the same exercise, although in a slightly different form.

http://prek-8.com/english/writing/index.php   a great resource – free and downloadable for classrooms or those being home schooled. 

 

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What might really help?

I remember when the concept of distance education was being discussed in graduate school only from the potential to aid students in rural areas or students who might not otherwise have had access to teachers.  Many an hour was spent debating the merits of this “future form of teaching and learning” and this was only a little over a decade ago.  Today we take for granted the relative simplicity and beauty of communicating over distances thanks to personal technology. But with this growth in on-line learning has developed a new breed of student- the student who will buy a credit without doing the work. Of course, not all students who sign up for distance education plan on cheating, in fact, I think many do not even realize that this is what they are doing in asking a tutor to “just sit beside me and answer the questions when I take the test”.  Or am I still being willfully naive?

     A recent rash of requests to do just that – to either write the paper for a student, or to take the test for a student has made me wonder.  Though not yet an epidemic, is this the future of education?  And I know that there are “tutors” willing to do the full work for the student which says something else about the education system- too many underemployed.   

  Yes competition can be fierce. Today’s student is growing up tech savvy and a student’s discovering ways around a system is not something new.  What to me is new is that adults are often behind the student and encouraging the practice.  When we as tutors share knowledge in such a way that students, regardless of age or background, can feel empowered and able to use the skills and move beyond the basics to create their own set of “personal, practical knowledge”  then as tutors we will have achieved a basic goal of education: to encourage curiosity in others, to facilitate growth.  “Character education”, “problem solving skills” “lessons in empathy”, are the new buzz words and hardly a curriculum can be found that isn’t touting these phrases.  What might really help? Reading skills everyone, comprehension practice, readings from the literature of other countries/ other cultures/ other time periods.  Learning by doing happens when the words on the page have an effect on the reader and affect change.  Change is good – it is a part of growing.  I challenge you to find a classic, modern or traditional, or one of today’s “best sellers”, that doesn’t, in one way or another, through the story, further the development of all three.  Active reading is a wonderful key.

All about Libraries

  Did you know that one of the best places to find material for research projects is in a library?  Yes, because I am writing at my computer and you aren’t sitting right beside me, this becomes a rhetorical question, however, I mean it, literally.  So many students have shared with me the simple fact that “they hardly ever go” to a library anymore, and I know this affects their ability to discern useful material, select valid websites, and focus their writing within a category.  You see, with major search engines doing some of this work for the students,  many rely heavily on quick clicks and popular categories to link to fast homework help;  physically navigating a library takes time.  Getting children comfortable with the space can begin a lifelong appreciation for public spaces; particularly public spaces wherein the individual can find respite, camaraderie, knowledge, and history.

I know with March break looming many families who are not planning on leaving this city will be looking for activities that can be educational and cost efficient.  Do consider a trip to the library, and if you have not yet visited Toronto’s Research Library, located just north of Bloor on Yonge street, what a great time to go.  It is true, you will not be able to borrow books from this particular location, however the grandeur of the space makes the trip a positive experience.  http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?R=LIB018   And if you are not regularly visiting the downtown core, you now have a destination spot from where to continue, while playing tourist.

Another tip I share with students and their families is the Museum and Arts Pass available through various library branches.  This is an amazing deal http://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/new_to_canada/2010/02/take-a-break-and-visit-torontos-best-museums-for-free.html   At my local branch the evening these passes are distributed the lineup for the lottery is three persons thick! Check your local branch for dates and times.  http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/museum-arts-passes/conditions.jsp

I love hearing feedback from families who report not only did their younger children enjoy the trip to a library or attend a free feature, but that they as parents, had rekindled their interest in returning.   For junior and senior high school students libraries are great places to do volunteer work.   

http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/programs-and-classes/featured/march-break.jsp

One final tip, The Reference Library also has a mini-bookstore, staffed by volunteers.  This message today is a Thank You to the thoughtful volunteers who allowed me to quickly enter the store (they weren’t officially open for the day at that moment) and snag some great finds earlier this week.   I am always on the lookout for material I can share.  And should you have any books (in good condition) that you believe others could use, consider donating them by using the drop box near the store.  A great way to recycle while helping the Library raise funds.