Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Initial learning

One of the chapters in my book is on ‘The importance of initial learning’.

I believe there are two broad categories of learners. About 80% of children do not question and learn whatever the teacher teaches or somehow figure out how to read using patterns and analogies. About 20% of kids are those that are logical thinkers who question everything they learn. When what they are taught does not make sense or does not agree with what has been learned earlier they shut down or disengage from learning to read.

Children come to primary one with what they have learned from kindergarten and from parents, siblings and friends and from videos, Televisions etc.

Children use what they already know to support the buildup of new information. They effectively learn and retain information by making connections between a prior knowledge and new information.

The best-known theory to explain the transfer of learning is suggested by Thorndike in the 'Theory of  identical elements.' This theory implies that transfer of learning would take place only if two activities contained similar or common elements.

From my own experience of having taught more than 50 children since 2004 I can confirm Thorndike’s theory to be accurate for all my students. However, why does it not affect the other 80% of kids who go to the same class as the children I have been teaching? I believe they learn using patterns and analogies. This is something for scientists to figure out.

Meanwhile, I believe all the students I have taught and a vast majority of children who are classified as dyslexic are confused when new learning cannot be connected to prior learning.

I assess my students on their prior knowledge by asking some basic questions and I have been able to tell parents that I will be able to get their child to read at grade level within four months. I am able to assess what it is that is hindering their learning to read in English just by asking them to sounds out the sounds represented by consonants.

Through a few minutes assessment, I am able to determine that my students are smart kids who have shut down because they are confused. It is easy to determine if their prior knowledge is accurate or inaccurate. It is the prior inaccurate knowledge that hinders their learning to read in English.

On my first day with my students, I explain why they are unable to read in English but are able to read in Malay. Then I get them to override what they have learned wrongly with the correct information. This usually takes about one month and when they finally understand they start reading/ learning at a fast rate.

The ease or difficulty of getting them to override the wrong teaching with correct teaching depends on when they come to me for tuition. It is easier if they come when they are in grade one or two.

What is baffling is that Thorndike had explained the transfer of learning as early as 1913 and yet this is not known by educators today. 

It has been more than one hundred years since Thorndike explained the theory of transfer learning and educators are still groping in the dark.

Parents with kids in primary one or two who can speak English at grade level but are unable to read at grade level may contact me for a free assessment via Skype.

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