Join us for our first post in a new series from our founder, Nancy Rowe.
A teacher of mine once commented, "language begins with the idea in the mind of the child." I have never forgotten the truth of that moment.
What she was saying was that we can't teach a word unless the child first has the thought in their mind. Therefore, if we don't have vision before language, we end up with language in place of vision.
This means that some children can memorize familiar language, and repeat it as if they understand the meaning. However in reality, they have just memorized the context of the meaning.
An example is a child who says, "2 + 3 = 5" as he adds a vertical column of numbers, but then he has no idea how to do the math when the numbers are written as a horizontal problem. The language of "plus" doesn't translate to the vision of adding for him.
Memorization is the primary learning strategy of struggling learners.
The better their memory, the longer they can use this strategy successfully.
Typically, third grade is where struggling learners run out of memory and develop seemingly unexpected problems.
With fluency testing, we can predict these problems and with fluency training we can work to correct them.
Language Comes From Movement
The understanding of ourselves in relation to the world around us, called spatial language, is so critical for academic learning, particularly math: if children do not have experience with movement through space, they lack the foundation for learning and remembering spatial language.
I encourage parents to use Practical Life Learning to develop a foundation for spatial language. Practical Life Learning is a kinder, gentler way of saying "chores." In my office, I expect children to learn and remember the first rule of life: "First I work and get it done, then I go and have some fun." When they grumble I say, "What's the first rule of life?" And they have to tell me.
Practical Life Learning (a.k.a. chores) lays the foundation for spatial language along with teaching the rule of life. Folding laundry together lays the foundation for the mathematical understanding of fractions, algebra, and geometry!
Doing chores together — folding laundry, setting the table, making the bed, doing the dishes — develops sustained, self directed attention. It develops a child’s sense of obligation to work to completion. The word "while" is the most important word: Say, "you fold the towels while I fold the shirts" or "you put away the silverware while I put away the plates." Working together also develops the vocabulary of the task at hand. It develops the spatial knowledge of how to do the job. Phrases like “on the table, in the drawer, behind the door” are very important for young children who are learning about their visual space world and how to follow directions. (See our previous post about spatial language.)
Becoming an Independent Learner
Chores are goal-directed behavior. They teach sustained, self-directed attention and self-evaluation, two of the most important characteristics of independent learning. For example, when a child has to put away the clean silverware from the dishwasher, he can self-evaluate by seeing that the forks match the forks, the big spoons match the big spoons, etc. He can self-evaluate when the chore is done by seeing when the basket is empty.
Parents should help as needed, but not if the child is able to finish independently. When I ask a child a question and he tells me the answer, he is not only telling me, he is also telling himself. Leading with a question, like: "What goes here?" makes learning the child’s job. He is learning that it is his job to tell me — and tell himself — what to do.
On the other hand, when we as parents and teachers lead with directions, we are indirectly teaching children that it is someone else's job to tell them what to do. Children being children, they will take full advantage of this, and say, "Nobody told me I had to ..."
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