There is a very great difference between the kinds of motives or values chosen for derived attention, and their value varies in accordance with the following principles. Incentives should be closely connected naturally with the subject to which they are attached. They should be suited to the development of the child and be natural rather than artificial. Their appeal should be permanent, i.e., should persist in the same situation outside of school. They should really stimulate those to whom they are offered. They should not be too attractive in themselves. Applying these principles it would seem that derived interests that have their source in instincts, in special capacities, or in correlation of subjects are of the best type, while such extremely artificial incentives as prizes, half holidays, etc., are among the poorest.
The value of derived attention is that it gets the work done or the habit formed. Of course the hope is always there that it will pass over into the immediate type, but if it does not, at least results are obtained. It has already been shown that results may also be obtained by the use of forced attention, which is also derived. Both derived free attention and forced attention are means to an end. The question as to the comparative value of the two must be answered in favor of the derived free attention. The chief reasons for this conclusion are as follows. First, derived free attention is likely to be more unified than forced attention. Second, it arouses greater self-activity on the part of the worker. Third, the emotional tone is that of being satisfied instead of strain. Fourth, it is more likely to lead to the immediate attention which is its end. Despite these advantages of derived free attention over forced attention, it still has some of the same disadvantages that forced attention has. The chief of these is that it also may result in division of energy. If the means for gaining the attention is nothing but sugar coating, if it results in the mere entertainment of the worker, there is every likelihood that the attention will be divided between the two. The other disadvantage is that because of the attractiveness of the means used to gain attention it may be given just so long as the incentive remains, and no longer. These difficulties may be largely overcome, however, by the application of the principles governing good incentives. This must mean that the choice of types of attention and therefore the provision of situations calling them out should be in this order: immediate free attention, derived free attention, forced attention. All three are necessary in the education of any child, but each should be used in its proper place.
The conditions which insure the best attention of whatever type have to do with both physical and mental adjustments. On the physical side there is need for the adaptation of the sense organ and the body to the situation. For this adaptation to be effective the environmental conditions must be controlled by the laws of hygiene. A certain amount of bodily freedom yields better results than rigidity because the latter draws energy from the task in hand for purposes of inhibition. On the mental side there is need for preparation in terms of readiness of the nerve tracts to be used. James calls this "ideational" preparation. This simply means that one can attend better if he knows something of what he is to attend to. Experimental evidence proves without doubt that if the subject knows that he is to see a color, instead of a word, his perception of it is much more rapid and accurate than if he does not have this preparation. This same result is obtained in much more complex sensory situations, and it also holds when the situation is intellectual. Contrary to expectation, great quietness is not the best condition for the maximum of attention; a certain amount of distraction is beneficial.
The problem of interest and of attention, from the point of view of teaching, is not simply to secure attention, but rather to have the attention fixed upon those activities which are most desirable from the standpoint of realizing the aim or purpose of education. As has already been suggested, children are constantly attending to something. They instinctively respond to the very great variety of stimuli with which they come in contact. Our schools seek to provide experiences which are valuable. In school work when we are successful children attend to those stimuli which promise most for the formation of habits, or the growth in understanding and appreciation which will fit them for participation in our social life. We seek constantly in our work as teachers to secure either free or forced attention to the particular part of our courses of study or to the particular experiences which are allotted to the grade or class which we teach. One of the very greatest difficulties in securing attention upon the part of a class is found in the variety of experiences which they have already enjoyed, and the differences in the strength of the appeal which the particular situation may make upon the several members of the group. In class teaching we have constantly to vary our appeal and to differentiate our work to suit the individual differences represented in the class, if we would succeed in holding the attention of even the majority of the children.
Boys and girls do their best work only when they concentrate their attention upon the work to be done. One of the greatest fallacies that has ever crept into our educational thought is that which suggests that there is great value in having people work in fields in which they are not interested, and in which they do not freely give their attention. Any one who is familiar with children, or with grown-ups, must know that it is only when interest is at a maximum that the effort put forth approaches the limit of capacity set by the individual's ability. Boys concentrate their attention upon baseball or upon fishing to a degree which demands of them a maximum of effort. A boy may spend hours at a time seeking to perfect himself in pitching, batting, or fielding. He may be uncomfortable a large part of the time, he may suffer considerable pain, and yet continue in his practice by virtue of his great enthusiasm for perfecting himself in the game. Interest of a not dissimilar sort leads a man who desires position, or power, or wealth, to concentrate his attention upon the particular field of his endeavor to the exclusion of almost everything else. Indeed, men almost literally kill themselves in the effort which they make to achieve these social distinctions or rewards. We may not hope always to secure so high a degree of concentration of attention or of effort, but it is only as we approach a situation in which children are interested, and in which they freely give their attention to the subject in hand, that we can claim to be most successful in our teaching.
The teacher who is able in beginning reading to discover to children the tool which will enable them to get the familiar story or rhyme from the book may hope to get a quality of attention which could never be brought about by forcing them to attend to formal phonetic drill. The teacher of biology who has been able to awaken enthusiasm for the investigation of plant and animal life, and who has allowed children to conduct their own investigations and to carry out their own experiments, may hope for a type of attention which is never present in the carrying out of the directions of the laboratory manual or in naming or classifying plants or animals merely as a matter of memory. Children who are at work producing a school play will accomplish more in the study of the history in which they seek to discover a dramatic situation, by virtue of the concentration of attention given, than they would in reciting many lessons in which they seek to remember the paragraphs or pages which they have read. The boy who gives his attention to the production of a story for his school paper will work harder than one who is asked to write a composition covering two pages. Children who are allowed to prepare for the entertainment of the members of their class a story with which they alone are familiar will give a quality of attention to the work in hand which is never secured when all of the members of the class are asked to reproduce a story which the teacher has read.
It is necessary at times to have children give forced attention. There are some things to be accomplished that must be done, regardless of our success in securing free attention. It is entirely conceivable that some boy or girl may not want to learn his multiplication tables, or his words in spelling, or his conjugation or declension in French, and that all that the teacher has done may fail to arouse any great amount of interest or enthusiasm for the work in question. In these cases, and in many others which might be cited, the necessity for the particular habit may be so great as to demand that every pupil do the work or form the habit in question. In these cases we may not infrequently hope that after having given forced attention to the work of the school, children may in time come to understand the importance of the experiences which they are having, or even become interested in the work for its own sake. It is not infrequently true that after a period of forced attention there follows a time during which, on account of the value which children are able to understand as attached to or belonging to the particular exercise, they give free derived attention. Many boys and girls have worked through their courses in science or in modern languages because they believed that these subjects would prove valuable not only in preparing them for college, but in giving them a wider outlook on life. Their attention was of the free derived type. Later on some of these same pupils have become tremendously enthusiastic in their work in the fields in question, and have found such great satisfaction in the work itself, that their attention might properly be characterized as free immediate attention.
The importance of making children conscious of their power of concentrating their attention needs to be kept constantly in mind. Exercises in which children are asked to do as much as they can in a period of five or ten minutes may be used to teach children what concentration of attention is and of the economy involved in work done under these conditions. The trouble with a great many adults, as well as with children, is that they have never learned what it is to work up to the maximum of their capacity. All too frequently in our attempts to teach children in classes we neglect to provide even a sufficient amount of work to demand of the more able members of the group any considerable amount of continued, concentrated attention.
We seek in our work as teachers not only to secure a maximum of attention to the fields of work in which children are engaged, but also to arouse interests and enthusiasms which will last after school days are over. We think of interest often, and properly too, as the means employed to secure a maximum of attention, and, in consequence, a maximum of accomplishment. It is worth while to think often in our work in terms of interest as the end to be secured. Children should become sufficiently interested in some of the subjects that we teach to care to be students in these fields, or to find enjoyment in further work or activity along these lines, either as a matter of recreation or, not infrequently, as a means of discovering their true vocation in life. That teacher who has aroused sufficient interest in music to enable the student of musical ability to venture all of the hard work which may be necessary in order to become a skillful musician, has made possibly his greatest contribution by arousing interest or creating enthusiasm. The teacher whose enthusiasm in science has led a boy to desire to continue in this field, even to the extent of influencing him to undertake work in an engineering school, may be satisfied, not so much in the accomplishment of his pupil in the field of science, as in the enthusiasm which has carried him forward to more significant work. Even for children who go no farther than the elementary school, interest in history, or geography, in nature study, or in literature, may mean throughout the life of the individuals taught a better use of leisure time and an enjoyment of the nobler pleasures.
Successful teaching in any part of our school system demands an adjustment in the amount of work to be done, to the abilities, and even to the interest of individual children. Much may be accomplished by the organization of special classes or groups in large school systems, but even under the most favorable conditions children cannot be expected to work up to the maximum of their capacity except as teachers recognize these differences in interest and in ability, and make assignments and conduct exercises which take account of these differences.
1. Why do all children attend when the teacher raps on the desk, when she writes on the board, when some one opens the door and comes into the room?
2. Some teachers are constantly rapping with their pencils and raising their voices in order to attract attention. What possible weakness is indicated by this procedure?
3. Why do adults attend to fewer things than do children?
4. In what sense is it possible to attend to two things at the same time?
5. Why are children less able to concentrate their attention than are most adults?
6. Will a boy or girl in your class be more or less easily distracted as he gives free attention or forced attention to the work in hand?
7. What educational value is attached to an exercise which requires that a boy sit at his desk and work, even upon something in which he is not very much interested, for twenty minutes?
8. In what sense is it true that we form the habit of concentrating our attention?
9. Why is it wrong to extend a lesson beyond the period during which children are able to concentrate their attention upon the work in hand, or beyond the period during which they do concentrate their attention?
10. How is it possible to extend the period devoted to a lesson in reading, or in geography, or in Latin, beyond the time required to read a story or draw a map, or translate a paragraph?
11. Why is it possible to have longer recitation periods in the upper grades and in the high school than in the primary school?
12. Give examples from your class work of free attention; of forced attention; of free derived attention.
13. In what sense is it true that we work hardest when we give free attention?
14. In what sense is it true that we work hardest when we give forced attention?
15. Can you give any example of superficiality or inaccuracy which has resulted from divided attention, upon the part of any member of one of your classes?
16. Does free attention imply lack of effort?
17. Name incidents which you think might properly be offered boys and girls in order to secure free derived attention.
18. Can you cite any example in your teaching in which children have progressed from forced to free attention?
19. What interests have been developed in your classes which you think may make possible the giving of free attention in the field in question, even after school days are over?
20. How can you teach children what it is to concentrate their attention and the value of concentrated attention?
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IV. THE FORMATION OF HABITS
Habit in its simplest form is the tendency to do, think, or act as one has done, thought, or acted in the past. It is the tendency to repeat activities of all kinds. It is the tendency which makes one inclined to do the familiar action rather than a new one. In a broader sense, habit formation means learning. It is a statement of the fact that conduct is modifiable and that such modifications may become permanent.
The fact of learning depends physiologically on the plasticity of the nervous system. The neurones, particularly those concerned with intellectual life, are not only sensitive to nerve currents but are modified by them. The point where the greatest change seems to take place is at the synapses, but what this modification is, no one knows. There are several theories offered as explanations of what happens, but no one of them has been generally accepted, although the theory of chemical change seems to be receiving the strongest support at present. There can be no disagreement, however, as to the effects of this change, whatever it may be. Currents originally passing with difficulty over a certain conduction unit later pass with greater and greater ease. The resistance which seems at first to be present gradually disappears, and to that extent is the conduct modified. This same element of plasticity accounts for the breaking of habits. In this case the action is double, for it implies the disuse of certain connections which have been made and the forming of others; for the breaking of a bad habit means the beginning of a good one.
The plasticity of neurone groups seems to vary in two respects—as to modifiability and as to power to hold modifications. The neurone groups controlling the reflex and physiological operations are least easily modified, while those controlling the higher mental processes are most easily modified. The neurone groups controlling the instincts hold a middle place. So far as permanence goes, connections between sensorimotor neurone groups seem to hold modifications longer than do connections between either associative-motor or associative-association.
It is probably because of this fact that habit in the minds of so many people refers to some physical activity. Of course this is a misconception. Wherever the nervous system is employed, habits are formed. There are intellectual, moral, emotional, temperamental habits, just as truly as physical habits. In the intellectual field every operation that involves association or memory also involves habits. Good temper, or the reverse, truthfulness, patriotism, thoughtfulness for others, open-mindedness, are as much matters of learning and of habit as talking or skating or sewing. Habit is found in all three lines of mental development: intellect, character, and skill.
Not only does the law of habit operate in all fields of mental activity, but the characteristics which mark its operation are the same. Two of these are important. In the first place, habit formation results in a lessening of attention to the process. Any process that is habitual can be taken care of by a minimum of attention. In other words, it need no longer be in the focal point, but can be relegated to the fringe. At the beginning of the modification of the neurone tract focal attention is often necessary, but as it progresses less and less attention is needed until the activity becomes automatic, apparently running by itself. Not all habits reach this stage of perfection, but this is the general tendency. This lessening of the need for attention means that less energy is used by the activity, and the individual doing the work is less likely to be fatigued. In the second place, habit tends to make the process more and more sure in its results. As the resistance is removed from the synapses, and the one particular series of units come to act more and more as a unit, the current shoots along the path with no sidetracking, and the act is performed or the thought reached unwaveringly with very little chance of error. If the habit being formed is that of writing, the appropriate movements are made with no hesitation, and the chances that certain ones will be made the first time increase in probability. This means a saving of time and an increase in confidence as to the results.
A consideration of these characteristics of habits makes clear its dangers as well as its values. The fact that habit is based on actual changes which take place in the nervous system, that its foundation is physical, emphasizes its binding power. Most people in talking and thinking of habit regard it as something primarily mental in nature and therefore believe all that is necessary to break any habit is the sufficient exercise of will power. But will power, however strong, cannot break actual physical connections, and it is such connections that bind us to a certain line of activity instead of any other, when once the habit is formed. It is just as logical to expect a car which is started on its own track to suddenly go off on to another track where there is no switch, as to expect a nerve current traveling along its habitual conduction unit to run off on some other line of nervous discharge. Habit once formed binds that particular line of thought to action, either good or bad. Of course habits may be broken, but it is a work of time and must result from definite physical changes. Every habit formed lessens the likelihood of any other response coming in that particular situation. Every interest formed, every act of skill perfected, every method of work adopted, every principle or ideal accepted, limits the recognition of any other possible line of action in that situation. Habit binds to one particular response and at the same time blinds the individual to any other alternative. The danger of this is obvious. If the habits formed are bad or wasteful ones, the individual is handicapped in his growth until new ones can be formed. On the other hand, habit makes for limitation.
Despite these dangers, habit is of inestimable value in the development of both the individual and the human race. It is through it that all learning is possible. It makes possible the preservation of our social inheritance. As James says, "Habit is the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent." Because of its power of limitation it is sometimes considered the foe of independence and originality, but in reality it is the only road to progress. Other things being equal, the more good habits a person has, the greater the probability of his doing original work. The genius in science or in art or in statesmanship is the man who has made habitual many of the activities demanded by his particular field and who therefore has time and energy left for the kind of work that demands thinking. Habit won't make a genius, but all men of exceptional ability excel others in the number and quality of their habits in the field in which they show power. As the little child differs from the adult in the number and quality of his habits, so the ordinary layman differs from the expert. It is scarcity, not abundance, of habits that forces a man into a rut and keeps him mediocre. Just as the three year old, having taken four or five times as long as the adult to dress himself, is tired out at the end of the task, so the amateur in literature or music or morals as compared with the expert. The more habits any one has in any line, the better for him, both from the standpoint of efficiency and productivity, provided that the habits are good and that among them is found the habit of breaking habits.
The two great laws of habit formation are the laws of exercise and effect. These laws apply in all cases of habit formation, whether they be the purposeless habits of children or the purposive habits of maturity. The law of exercise says that the oftener and the more emphatically a certain response is connected with a certain situation, the more likely is it to be made to that situation. The two factors of repetition and intensity are involved. It is a common observance that the oftener one does a thing, other things being equal, the better he does it, whether it be good or bad. Drill is the usual method adopted by all classes of people for habit formation. It is because of the recognition of the value of repetition that the old maxim of "Practice makes Perfect" has been so blindly adhered to. Practice may make perfect, but it also may make imperfect. All that practice can do is to make more sure and automatic the activity, whatever it is. It cannot alone make for improvement. A child becomes more and more proficient in bad writing or posture, in incorrect work in arithmetic and spelling, with practice just as truly as under other conditions he improves in the same activities. Evidence from school experiments, which shows that as many as 40 per cent of the children examined did poorer work along such lines in a second test than in the first which had been given several months earlier, bears witness to the inability of mere repetition to get "perfect" results. To get such results the repetition must be only of the improvements. There must be a constant variation towards the ideal, and a selection of just those variations for practice, if perfect as well as invariable results are to be obtained.
The amount of repetition necessary in the formation of any given habit is not known. It will, of course, vary with the habit and with the individual, but experimental psychology will some day have something to offer along this line. We could make a great saving if we knew, even approximately, the amount of practice necessary under the best conditions to form some of the more simple and elementary habits, such as learning the facts of multiplication.
One other fact in connection with repetition should be noted, namely, that the exercise given any connection by the learner, freely, of his own initiative counts more than that given under purposive learning. This method of learning is valuable in that it is incidental and often saves energy and possible imitation on the part of the child, but it has certain drawbacks. Habits formed this way are ingrained to such an extent that they are very difficult to modify. They were not consciously attended to when they were formed, and hence it is difficult later to raise them to the focal point. Hence it is best whenever habits are partial and will need to be modified later, or when the habits must later be rationalized, or when bad habits must be broken, to have the process focalized in attention. The methods of gaining attention have already been discussed.
In the second place, if the habit being formed is connected with an instinct, the element of intensity is added. This, of course, means that a connection already made and one which is strongly ready to act is made to give its support to the new connection being formed. Of course the instinct chosen for this purpose must be in accord with the particular habit and with the nature of the learner. They may vary from the purely personal and physical up to those which have to do with groups and intellectual reactions. The added impetus of the instinct hastens the speed of the direction or supervision. The psychology of the value of self-activity is operative. It should be borne in mind, however, that the two kinds of exercise must be of the same degree of accuracy if this better result in self-initiated practice is to be obtained.
Not only is it true that repetition makes for automaticity, but intensity is also an aid. Connections which are made emphatically as well as often tend to become permanent. This is particularly true of mental habits. There are two factors of importance which make for intensity in habit formation. First, the focalization of attention on the connections being made adds intensity. Bagley in his discussion of this topic makes "focalization in attention" a necessity in all habits. Although habits may be formed without such concentration, still it is true that if attention is given to the process, time is saved; for the added intensity secured increases the speed of learning. In certain types of habits, however, when incidental learning plays a large part, much skill may be acquired without focalization of attention in the process. Much of the learning of little children is of this type. Their habits of language, ways of doing things, mannerisms, and emotional attitudes often come as a result of suggestion and imitation rather than as a result of definite formation of the new habit.
The second great law of habit formation is the law of effect. This law says that any connection whose activity is accompanied by or followed by satisfaction tends thereby to be strengthened. If the accompanying emotional tone is annoyance, the connection is weakened. This law that satisfaction stamps connections in, and annoyance inhibits connections, is one of the greatest if not the greatest law of human life. Whatever gives satisfaction, that mankind continues to do. He learns only that which results in some kind of satisfaction. Because of the working of this law animals learn to do their tricks, the baby learns to talk, the child learns to tell the truth, the adult learns to work with the fourth dimension. Repetition by itself is a wasteful method of habit formation. The law of effect must work as well as the law of exercise, if the results are to be satisfactory. As has already been pointed out, it is not the practice alone that makes perfect, but the stressing of improvements, and that fixing is made possible only by satisfaction. Pleasure, in the broad sense, must be the accompaniment or the result of any connection that is to become habitual. This satisfaction may be of many different sorts, physical, emotional, or intellectual. It may be occasioned by a reward or recognition from without or by appreciation arising from self-criticism. In some form or other it must be present.
Two further suggestions in habit formation which grow out of the above laws should be borne in mind. The first is the effect of primacy. In everyday language, "first impressions last longest." The character of the first responses made in any given situation have great influence on all succeeding responses. They make the strongest impression, they are the hardest to eradicate. From a physiological point of view the explanation is evident. A connection untraversed or used but a few times is much more plastic than later when it has been used often. Hence the first time the connection is used gives a greater set or bent than any equal subsequent activity. This is true both of the nervous system as a whole and of any particular conduction unit. Thus impressions made in childhood count more than those of the same strength made later. The first few attempts in pronouncing foreign words fixes the pronunciation. The first few weeks in a subject or in dealing with any person influences all subsequent responses to a marked degree.
The second suggestion has to do with the effect of exceptions. James says, "Never allow an exception to occur" in the course of forming a habit. Not only will the occurrence of one exception make more likely its recurrence, but if the exception does not recur, at least the response is less sure and less accurate than it otherwise would be. It tends to destroy self-confidence or confidence in the one who allowed the exception. Sometimes even one exception leads to disastrous consequences and undoes the work of weeks and months. This is especially true in breaking a bad habit or in forming a new one which has some instinctive response working against it.
There has been a great deal of work done in experimental laboratories and elsewhere in the study of the formation of particular habits. The process of habit formation has been shown by learning curves. When these learning curves are compared, it becomes clear that they have certain characteristics in common. This is true whether the learning be directed to such habits as the acquisition of vocabularies in a foreign language or to skill in the use of a typewriter. Several of the most important characteristics follow.
In the first place it is true of all learning that there is rapid improvement at first. During the beginning of the formation of a habit more rapid advance is made than at any other time. There are two principal reasons for this fact. The adjustments required at the beginning are comparatively simple and easily made and the particular learning is new and therefore is undertaken with zest and interest. After a time the work becomes more difficult, the novelty wears off, therefore the progress becomes less marked and the curve shows fluctuations.
Another characteristic of the learning curve is the presence of the so-called "plateaus." Plateaus show in the curve as flat, level stretches during which there has apparently been no progress. The meaning of these level stretches, and whether or not they can be entirely done away with in any curve, is a matter of dispute. These pauses may be necessary for some of the habits to reach a certain degree of perfection before further progress can be made. However this may be, there are several minor causes which tend to increase the number of plateaus and to lengthen the time spent in any one. In the first place an insecure or an inaccurate foundation must result in an increase of plateaus. If at the beginning, during the initial spurt, for instance, the learner is allowed to go so fast that what he learns is not thoroughly learned, or if he is pushed at a pace that for him makes thoroughness impossible, plateaus must soon occur in his learning curve. In the second place a fruitful cause of plateaus is loss of interest,—monotony. If the learner is not interested, he will not put forth the energy necessary for continued improvement, and a time of no progress is the result. The attitude of the learner toward the work is extremely important, not only in the matter of interest, but in the further attitude of self-confidence. Discouragement usually results in hindering progress, whereas confidence tends to increase it. The psychological explanation of this is very evident. Both lack of interest in the learning and the presence of discouragement are likely to result in divided attention and that, as has already been shown, results in unsatisfactory work. A third cause for plateaus is physiological. Not only must the learner be in the right attitude towards the work, but he must feel physically "fit." There seem to be certain physiological rhythms that may disturb the learning process whose cause cannot be directly determined, but generally the feeling of unfitness can be traced to a simple cause,—such as physical illness, loss of sleep, exercise, or food, or undue emotional strain.
The older psychology has left an impression that improvement in any function is limited both as to amount and as to the period during which it must be attained. The physiological limit of improvement has been thought of as one which was rather easily reached. The loss of plasticity of the nervous system has been supposed to be rather rapid, so that marked improvement in a habit after one has passed well into the twenties was considered improbable. Recent experiments, however, seem to show that no such condition of affairs exists. There is very great probability that any function whatsoever is improvable with practice, and in most cases to a very marked degree. To find a function which has reached the physiological limit has been very rare, even in experimental research, and even with extended practice series it has been unusual to reach a stage of zero improvement even with adults. Thorndike says, "Let the reader consider that if he should now spend seven hours, well distributed, in mental multiplication with three place numbers, he would thereby much more than double his speed and also reduce his errors; or that, by forty hours of practice, he could come to typewrite (supposing him to now have had zero practice) approximately as fast as he can write by hand; or that, starting from zero knowledge, he could learn to copy English into German script at a rate of fifty letters per minute, in three hours or a little more." It is probably true that the majority of adults are much below their limit of efficiency in most of the habits required by their profession, and that in school habits the same thing is true of children. Spurious levels of accomplishment have been held up as worthy goals, and efficiency accepted as ultimate which was only two thirds, and often less than that, of what was possible. Of course it may not be worth the time and energy necessary to obtain improvement in certain lines,—that must be determined by the particular case,—but the point is, that improvement; is possible with both children and adults in almost every habit they possess with comparatively little practice. Neither the physiological limit of a function nor the age limit of the individual is reached as easily or as soon as has been believed.
There are certain aids to improvement which must be used in order that the best results may be obtained. Some of them have already been discussed and others will be discussed at a later time, so they need only be listed here, the right physiological conditions, the proper distribution of the practice periods, interest in the work, interest in improvement, problem attitude, attention, and absence of both excitement and worry.
Habits have been treated in psychology as wholes, just as if each habit was a unit. This has been true, whether the habits being discussed were moral habits, such as sharing toys with a younger brother; intellectual habits, such as reading and understanding the meaning of the word "and"; or motor habits, such as sitting straight. The slightest consideration of these habits makes obvious that they differ tremendously in complexity. The moral habit quoted involves both intellectual and motor habits—and not one, but several. From a physiological point of view, this difference in the complexity of habits is made clear by an examination of the number of neural bonds used in getting the habit response to a given situation. In some cases they are comparatively few—in others the number necessary is astonishing. In no case of habit will the bonds used involve but a single connection.
Just what bonds are needed in order that a child may learn to add, or to spell, to appreciate music, or to be industrious, is a question that only experiment and investigation can answer. At present but little is known as to just what happens, just what connections are formed, when from the original tendency towards vocalization the child just learns to say the word "milk," later reads it, and still later writes it. One thing is certain, the process is not a unitary one, nor is it a simple one. Just so long as habit is discussed in general terms, without any recognition of the complexity of the process or to the specific bonds involved, just so long will the process of habit formation be wasteful and inefficient.
As a sample of the kind of work being done in connection with special habits, investigation seems to give evidence that in the habit of simple column addition eight or nine distinct functions are involved, each of which involves the use of several bonds. Besides these positive connections, a child in learning must inhibit other connections which are incorrect, and these must often outnumber the correct ones. And yet column addition has always been treated as a simple habit—with perhaps one element of complexity, when carrying was involved. It is evident that, if the habit concerned does involve eight or nine different functions, a child might go astray in any one. His difficulty in forming the habit might be in connection with one or several of the processes involved. Knowledge on the part of the teacher of these different steps in the habit, and appreciation by him of the possibilities of making errors, are the prerequisites of efficient teaching of habits.
In each one of the subjects there is much need of definite experimental work, in order that the specific bonds necessary in forming the habits peculiar to the subject be determined. The psychology of arithmetic, or of physics, or of spelling should involve such information. Meanwhile every teacher can do much if she will carefully stop and think just what she is requiring in the given response. An analysis of the particular situation and response will make clear at least some of the largest elements involved, some of the most important connections to be made. It is the specific nature of the connections to be made and the number of those connections that need emphasis in the teaching of habits. Not only must the specific nature of the bonds involved in individual habits be stressed, but also the specific nature of the entire complex which is called the habit. There is no such thing as a general curve of learning that will apply equally well, no matter what the habit. The kind of curve, the rate of improvement, the possibilities of plateaus, the permanence of the improvement, all these facts and others vary with the particular habit.
In habit formation, as is the case in other types of activity, we get the most satisfactory results only when we secure a maximum of interest in the work to be done. The teacher who thinks that she can get satisfactory results merely by compelling children to repeat over and over again the particular form to be mastered is doomed to disappointment. Indeed, it is not infrequently true that the dislike which children get for the dreary exercises which have little or no meaning for them interferes to such a degree with the formation of the habit we hope to secure as to develop a maximum of inaccuracies rather than any considerable improvement. The teacher who makes a game out of her word drill in beginning reading may confidently expect to have children recognize more words the next day than one who has used the same amount of time, without introducing the motive which has made children enjoy their work. Children who compare their handwriting with a scale, which enables them to tell what degree of improvement they have made over a given period, are much more apt to improve than are children who are merely asked to fill up sheets of paper with practice writing. A vocabulary in a modern language will be built up more certainly if students seek to make a record in the mastery of some hundreds or thousands of words during a given period, rather than merely to do the work which is assigned from day to day. A group of boys in a continuation school have little difficulty in mastering the habits which are required in order to handle the formal processes in arithmetic, or to apply the formula of algebra or trigonometry, if the application of these habitual responses to their everyday work has been made clear. Wherever we seek to secure an habitual response we should attempt to have children understand the use to which the given response is to be put, or, if this is not possible, to introduce some extraneous motive which will give satisfaction.
We cannot be too careful in the habits which we seek to have children form to see to it that the first response is correct. It is well on many occasions, if we have any doubt as to the knowledge of children, to anticipate the response which they should give, and to make them acquainted with it, rather than to allow them to engage in random guessing. The boy who in writing his composition wishes to use a word which he does not know how to spell, should feel entirely free to ask the teacher for the correct spelling, unless there is a dictionary at hand which he knows how to use. It is very much better for a boy to ask for a particular form in a foreign language, or to refer to his grammar, than it is for him to use in his oral or written composition a form concerning which he is not certain. A mistake made in a formula in algebra, or in physics, may persist, even after many repetitions might seem to have rendered the correct form entirely automatic.
In matters of habit it does not pay to take it for granted that all have mastered the particular forms which have supposedly been taught, and it never pays to attempt to present too much at any one time. More satisfactory work in habit formation would commonly be done were we to teach fewer words in any one spelling lesson, or attempt to fix fewer combinations in any particular drill lesson in arithmetic, or assign a part of a declension or conjugation in a foreign language, or to be absolutely certain that one or two formulas were fixed in algebra or in chemistry, rather than in attempting to master several on the same day. Teachers ought constantly to ask themselves whether every member of the class is absolutely sure and absolutely accurate in his response before attempting new work. It is of the utmost importance that particular difficulties be analyzed, and that attention be fixed upon that which is new, or that which presents some unusual difficulty.
As has already been implied, it is important not simply to start with as strong a motive as possible, but it is also necessary to keep attention concentrated during the exercises which are supposed to result in habit formation. However strong the motive for the particular work may have been at the beginning, it is likely after a few minutes to lack power, if the particular exercise is continued in exactly the same form. Much is to be gained by varying the procedure. Oral work alternated with written work, concert work alternated with individual testing, the setting of one group over against another, the attempt to see how much can be done in a given period of minutes,—indeed, any device which will keep attention fixed is to be most eagerly sought for. In all practice it is important that the pupil strive to do his very best. If the ideal of accuracy or of perfection in form is once lost sight of, the responses given may result in an actual loss rather than in gain in fixing the habit. When a teacher is no longer able to secure attention to the work in hand, it is better to stop rather than to continue in order to provide for a given number of repetitions. Drill periods of from five to fifteen minutes two or three times a day may almost always be found to produce better results than the same amount of time used consecutively. Systematic reviews are most essential in the process of habit formation. The complaint of a fifth-grade teacher that the work in long division was not properly taught in the fourth grade may be due in considerable measure to the fact that she has neglected at the beginning of the fifth grade's work to spend a week or two in careful or systematic review of the work covered in the previous year. The complaint of high school teachers that children are not properly taught in the elementary school would often be obviated if in each of the fields in question some systematic review were given from time to time, especially at the beginning of the work undertaken, in any particular subject which involves work previously done in the elementary school. During any year's work that teacher will be most successful who reviews each day the work of the day before, who reviews each third or fourth day the particularly difficult parts of the work done during the previous periods, who reviews each week and each month, and even each two or three months, the work which has been covered up to that time. When teachers understand that the intervals between repetitions which seem to have fixed a habit may only be gradually lengthened, then will the formation of habits upon the part of boys and girls become more certain, and the difficulties arising from lapses and inaccuracies become less frequent.
As has been suggested in previous discussions, it will be necessary in habit formation to vary the requirements among the individuals who compose a group. The motive which we seek to utilize may make a greater appeal to one child than to another. Physiological differences may account for the fact that a small number of repetitions will serve to fix the response for one individual as over against a very much larger number of repetitions required for another. It is of the utmost importance that all children work up to the maximum of their capacity. It is very much better, for example, to excuse a boy entirely from a given drill exercise than to have him dawdle or loaf during the period. In some fields a degree of efficiency may be reached which will permit the most efficient children to be relieved entirely from certain exercises in order that they may spend their time on other work. On the other hand, those who are less capable may need to have special drill exercises arranged which will help them to make up their deficiency. The teacher who is acquainted with the psychology of habit formation should secure from the pupils in her class a degree of efficiency which is not commonly found in our schools.
1. In what sense is it true that we have habits of thought?
2. What habits which may interfere with or aid in your school work are formed before children enter school?
3. Why is it hard to break a habit of speech?
4. Distinguish among actions to which we attribute a moral significance those which are based upon habit and those which are reasoned.
5. Professor James said, "Habits are the stuff of which behavior consists." Indicate the extent to which this is true for the children in your classes.
6. In how far is it advantageous to become a creature of habit?
7. Which of our actions should be the result of reason?
8. Should school children reason their responses in case of a fire alarm, in passing pencils, in formal work in arithmetic? Name responses which should be the result of reason; others which should be habitual.
9. Why do we sometimes become less efficient when we fix our attention upon an action that is ordinarily habitual?
10. Why do children sometimes write more poorly, or make more mistakes in addition, or in their conjugations or declensions, at the end of the period than they do at the beginning?
11. How would you hope to correct habits of speech learned at home? What particular difficulty is involved?
12. When, are repetitions most helpful in habit formation?
13. When may repetitions actually break down or eliminate habitual responses?
14. How may the keeping of a record of one's improvement add in the formation of a habit?
15. What motives have you found most usable in keeping attention concentrated during the exercises in habit formation which you conduct?
16. The approval or disapproval of a group of boys and girls often brings about a very rapid change in physical, moral, or mental habits on the part of individual children. Why?
17. Why should drill work be discontinued when children grow tired and cease to concentrate their attention?
18. Why should reviews be undertaken at the beginning of a year's work? How can reviews be organized to best advantage during the year?
19. What provision do you make in your work to guard against lapses?
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V. HOW TO MEMORIZE
There is no sharp distinction between habit and memory. Both are governed by the general laws of association. They shade off into each other, and what one might call habit another with equal reason might call memory. Their likenesses are greater than their differences. However, there is some reason for treating the topic of association under these two heads. The term memory has been used by different writers to mean at least four different types of association. It has been used to refer to the presence of mental images; to refer to the consciousness of a feeling or event as belonging to one's own past experience; to refer to the presence of connections between situation and motor response; and to refer to the ability to recall the appropriate response to a particular situation. The last meaning of the term is the one which will be used here. The mere flow of imagery is not memory, and it matters little whether the appropriate response be accompanied by the time element and the personal element or not. In fact, most of the remembering which is done in daily life lacks these two elements.
Memory then is the recall of the appropriate response in a given situation. It differs from habit in that the responses referred to are more often mental rather than motor; in that it is less automatic, more purposeful. The fact that the elements involved are so largely mental makes it true that the given fact is usually found to have several connections and the given situation to be connected with many facts. Which particular one will be "appropriate" will depend on all sorts of subtle factors, hence the need of the control of the connection aeries by a purpose and the diminishing of the element of automaticity. As was said before, there is no hard and fast line of division between habit and memory. The recall of the "sqrt(64)" or of how to spell "home" or of the French for "table" might be called either or both. All that was said in the discussion of habit applies to memory.
This ability to recall appropriate facts in given situations is dependent primarily on three factors: power of retention, number of associations, organization of associations. The first factor, power of retention, is the most fundamental and to some extent limits the usefulness of the other two. It is determined by the character of the neurones and varies with different brains. Neurones which are easily impressed and retain their impression simply because they are so made are the gift of nature and the corner stone of a good memory. This retention power is but little, if at all, affected by practice. It is a primary quality of the nervous system, present or absent to the degree determined by each individual's original nature. Hence memory as a whole cannot be unproved, although the absence of certain conditions may mean that it is not being used up to its maximum capacity. Change in these conditions, then, will enable a person to make use of all the native retentiveness his nervous system has. One of the most important of these conditions is good health. To the extent that good blood, sleep, exercise, etc., put the nervous system in better tone, to that extent the retentive power present is put in better working order. Every one knows how lack of sleep and illness is often accompanied by loss in memory. Repetition, attention, interest, vividness of impression, all appeal primarily to this so-called "brute memory," or retentive power. Pleasurable results seem not to be quite so important, and repetition to be more so when the connections are between mental states instead of between mental states and motor responses. An emphasis on, or an improvement in, the use of any one of these factors may call into play to a greater extent than before the native retentive power of a given child.
The power to recall a fact or an event depends not only upon this quality of retentiveness, but also upon the number of other facts or events connected with it. Each one of these connections serves as an avenue of approach, a clew by means of which the recall may operate. Any single blockade therefore may not hinder the recall, provided there are many associates. This is true, no matter how strong the retentive power may be. It is doubly important if the retentive power is weak. Suppose a given fact to be held rather weakly because of comparatively poor retentive power, then the operation of one chain of associates may not be energetic enough to recall it. But if this same fact may be approached from several different angles by means of several chains of associations, the combined power of the activity in the several neurone chains will likely be enough to lift it above the threshold of recall. Other things being equal, the likelihood that a needed fact will be recalled is in proportion to the number of its associations.
The third factor upon which goodness in memory depends is the organization of associates. Number of connections is an aid to memory—but systematization among these connections is an added help. Logical arrangement of facts in memory, classification according to various principles, orderly grouping of things that belong together, make the operation of memory more efficient and economical. The difference between mere number of associations and orderly arrangement of those associations may be illustrated by the difference in efficiency between the housekeeper who starts more or less blindly to look all over the house for a lost article, and the one who at least knows that it must be in a certain room and probably in a certain bureau drawer. Although memory as a whole cannot be improved because of the limiting power of native retentiveness, memory for any fact or in any definite field may be improved by emphasizing these two factors: number of associations and organization among associations.
Although all three factors are operative in securing the best type of memory, still the efficiency of a given memory may be due more to the unusual power of one of them than to the combined effect of the three. It is this difference in the functioning of these three factors which is primarily responsible for certain types of memory which will be discussed later. It must also be borne in mind that the power of these factors to operate in determining recall varies somewhat with age. Little children and old people are more dependent upon mere retentiveness than upon either of the others, the former because of lack of experience and lack of habits of thought, the latter because of the loss of both of these factors. The adult depends more on the organization of his material, while in the years between the number of the clews is probably the controlling factor. Here again there is no sharp line of division; all three are needed. So in the primary grades we begin to require children to organize, and as adults we do all we can to make the power of retention operate at its maximum.
Many methods of memorizing have been used by both children and adults. Recently experimental psychology has been testing some of them. So far as the learner is concerned, he may use repetition, or concentration, or recall as a primary method. Repetition means simply the going over and over again the material to be learned—the element depended upon being the number of times the connection is made. Concentration means going over the material with attention. Not the number of connections is important, but the intensity of those connections. In recall the emphasis is laid upon reinstating the desired connections from within. In using this method, for instance, the learner goes over the material as many times as he sees necessary, then closes the book and recalls from memory what he can of it.
The last of the three methods is by far the best, whether the memory desired be rote or logical, for several reasons. In the first place it involves both the other methods or goes beyond them. Second, it is economical, for the learner knows when he knows the lesson. Third, it is sure, for it establishes connections as they will be used—in other words, the learning provides for recall, which is the thing desired, whereas the other two methods establish only connections of impression. Fourth, it tends to establish habits that are of themselves worth while, such as assuming responsibility for getting results, testing one's own power and others. Fifth, it encourages the use of the two factors upon which memory depends, which are most capable of development, i.e., number and organization of associations.
In connection with the use of the material two methods have been employed—the part method and the whole method. The learner may break the material up into sections, and study just one, then the next, and so on, or he may take all the material and go through with it from the beginning to the end and then back again. Experimental results show the whole method to be the better of the two. However, in actual practice, especially with school children, probably a combination of the two is still better, because of certain difficulties arising from the exclusive use of the whole method. The advantages of the whole method are that it forms the right connections and emphasizes the complete thought and therefore saves time and gives the right perspective. Its difficulties are that the material is not all of equal difficulty and therefore it is wasteful to put the same amount of time on all parts; it is discouraging to the learner, as no part may be raised above the threshold of recall at the first study period (particularly true if it is rote memory); it is difficult to use recall, if the whole method is rigidly adhered to. A combination of the two is therefore wise. The learner should be encouraged to go over the material from beginning to end, until the difficult parts become apparent, then to concentrate on these parts for a time and again go over from the beginning—using recall whenever possible.
A consideration of the time element involved in memorizing has given use to two other methods, the so-called concentrated and distributive. Given a certain amount of time to spend on a certain subject, the learner may distribute it in almost an infinite number of ways, varying not only the length of the period of practice, but also the length of time elapsing between periods. The experimental work done in connection with these methods has not resulted in agreement. No doubt there is an optimum length of period for practice and an optimum interval, but too many factors enter in to make any one statement. "The experimental results justify in a rough way the avoidance of very long practice periods and of very short intervals. They seem to show, on the other hand, that much longer practice periods than are customary in the common schools are probably entirely allowable, and that much shorter intervals are allowable than those customary between the just learning and successive 'reviews' in schools." This statement leaves the terms very long and very short to be defined, but at present the experimental results are too contradictory to permit of anything more specific. However, a few suggestions do grow from these results. The practice period should be short in proportion as these factors are present: first, young or immature minds; second, mechanical mental processes as opposed to thought material; third, a learner who "warms up" quickly; the presence of fatigue; a function near its limit. Thus the length of the optimum period must vary with the age of the learner, the subject matter, the stage of proficiency in the subject, and the particular learner. The same facts must be taken into consideration in deciding on the optimum interval. One fact seems pretty well established in connection with the interval, and that is that a comparatively short period of practice with a review after a night's rest counts more than a much longer period added to the time spent the evening before.
There are certain suggestions which if carried out help the learner in his memorizing. In the first place, as the number of associates is one factor determining recall, the fact to be remembered should be presented in many ways, i.e., appealing to as many senses as possible. In carrying this out, it has been the practice of many teachers to require the material to be remembered to be acted out or written. This is all right in so far as the muscular reactions required are mechanical and take little attention. If, on the other hand, the child has to give much attention to how he is to dramatize it, or if writing in itself is as yet a partially learned process, the attention must be divided between the fact to be memorized and its expression, and hence the desired result is not accomplished. Colvin claims that "writing is not an aid to learning until the sixth or seventh grade in the schools." This same fact that an association only partly known is a hindrance rather than a help in fixing another is often violated both in teaching spelling and language. If the spelling of "two" is unknown or only partly known, it is a hindrance instead of a help to teach it at the same time "too" is being taught. Second, the learner should be allowed to find his own speed, as it varies tremendously with the individual. Third, rhythm is always an aid when it can be used, such as learning the number of days in each month in rhyme. Fourth, after a period of hard mental work a few minutes (Pillsbury thinks three to six) should elapse before definitely taking up a new line of work. This allows for the so-called "setting" of associations, due to the action of the general law of inertia, and tends to diminish the possibility of interference from the bonds called into play by the new work. Fifth, mnemonic devices of simple type are sometimes an aid. Most of these devices are of questionable value, as they themselves require more memory work than the facts they are supposed to be fixing. However, if devised by the learner, or if suggested by some one else after failure on the part of the learner to fix the material, they are permissible.
Memory has been classified in various ways, according to the time element, as immediate and permanent. Immediate memory is the one which holds for a short time, whereas permanent memory holds for a long time. People differ markedly in this respect. Some can if tested after the study period reproduce the material with a high degree of accuracy, but lose most of it in a comparatively short time. Others, if tested in the same way, reproduce less immediately, but hold what they have over a long period. Children as a whole differ from adults in having poorer immediate memories, but in holding what is fixed through years. Of course permanent memory is the more valuable of the two types for most of life, but on the other hand immediate memory has its own special value. Lawyers, physicians, politicians, ministers, lecturers, all need great power of immediate memory in their particular professions. They need to be able to hold a large amount of material for a short time, but then they may forget a great deal of it.
Memory is also classified according to the arrangement of the material as desultory, rote, and logical memory. In desultory memory the facts just "stick" because of the great retentive power of the brain, there are few connections, the material is disconnected and disjointed. Rote memory depends on a special memory for words, aided by serial connections and often rhythm. Logical is primarily a memory for meanings and depends upon arrangement and system for its power. Little children as a class have good desultory memories and poor logical memories. Rote memory is probably at its best in the pre-adolescent and early adolescent years. Logical memory is characteristic of mature, adult minds. However, some people excel in one rather than another type, and each renders its own peculiar service. A genius in any line finds a good desultory memory of immense help, despite the fact that logical memory is the one he finds most valuable. Teachers, politicians, linguists, clerks, waiters, and others need a well-developed desultory memory. Rote memory is, of course, necessary if an individual is to make a success as an actor, a singer, or a musician.
According to the rate of acquisition memory has been classified into quick and slow. One learner gets his material so much more quickly than another. Up to rather recent years the quick learner has been commiserated, for we believed, "quickly come, quickly go." Experimental results have proved this not to be true, but in fact the reverse is more true, i.e., "quickly come, slowly go." The one who learns quickly, provided he really learns it, retains it just as long and on the average longer than the one who learns much more slowly. The danger, from a practical point of view, is that the quick learner, because of his ability, gets careless and learns the material only well enough to reproduce at the time, whereas the slow learner, because of his lack of ability, raises his efficiency to a higher level and therefore retains. If the quick learner had spent five minutes more on the material, he would have raised his work to the same level as that of the slow one and yet have finished in perhaps half the time.
All through the discussion of kinds of memory the term "memory" should have been used in the plural, for after all we possess "memories" and not a single faculty memory which may be quick, or desultory, or permanent. The actual condition of affairs is much more complex, for although it has been the individual who has been designated as quick or logical, it would be much more accurate to designate the particular memory. The same person may have a splendid desultory memory for gossip and yet in science be of the logical type. In learning French vocabularies he may have only a good immediate memory, whereas his memory for faces may be most lasting. His ability to learn facts in history may class him as a quick learner, whereas his slowness in learning music may be proverbial. The degree to which quickness of learning or permanence of memory in one line is correlated with that same ability in others has not yet been ascertained. That there is some correlation is probable, but at present the safest way is to think in terms of special memories and special acquisitions. Some experimental work has been done to discover the order in which special memories develop in children. The results, however, are not in agreement and the experiments themselves are unsatisfactory. That there is some more or less definite order of development, paralleling to a certain extent the growth of instincts, is probable, but nothing more definite is known than observation teaches. For instance, every observer of children knows that memory for objects develops before memory for words; that memory for gestures preceded memory for words; that memory for oral language preceded memory for written language; that memory for concrete objects preceded memory for abstractions. Further knowledge of the development of special memories should be accompanied by knowledge as to how far this development is dependent on training and to what extent lack of memory involves lack of understanding before it can be of much practical value to the teacher.
Just as repetition or exercise tends to fix a fact in memory, so disuse of a connection results in the fact fading from memory. "Forgetting" is a matter of everyday experience for every one. The rate of forgetting has been the subject of experimental work. Ebbinghaus's investigation is the historical one. The results from this particular series of experiments are as follows: During the first hour after study over half of what was learned had been forgotten; at the end of the first day two thirds, and at the end of a month about four fifths. These results have been accepted as capable of rather general application until within the last few years. Recent experiments in learning poetry, translation of French into English, practice in addition and multiplication, learning to toss balls and to typewrite, and others, make clear that there is no general curve of forgetting. The rate of forgetting is more rapid soon after the practice period than later, but the total amount forgotten and the rate of deterioration depend upon the particular function tested. No one function can serve as a sample for others. No one curve of forgetting exists for different functions at the same stage of advancement or for the same function at different stages of advancement in the same individual, much less for different functions, at different stages of advancement, in different individuals. Much more experimental work is needed before definite general results can be stated.
This experimental work, however, is suggestive along several lines, (1) It seems possible that habits of skill, involving direct sensori-motor bonds, are more permanent than memories involving connections between association bonds. In other words, that physical habits are more lasting than memories of intellectual facts. (2) Overlearning seems a necessary correlate of permanence of connection. That is, what seems to be overlearning at beginning stages is really only raising the material to the necessary level above the threshold for retention. How far overlearning is necessary and when it becomes wasteful are yet to be determined. (3) Deterioration is hastened by competing connections. If during the time a particular function is lying idle other bonds of connection are being formed into some parts or elements of it, the rate of forgetting of the function in question is hastened and the possibility of recall made more problematic. The less the interference, the greater will be the permanence of the particular bonds.
A belief maintained by some psychologists is in direct opposition to this general law that disuse causes deterioration. It is usually stated something like this, that periods of incubation are necessary in acquiring skill, or that letting a function lie fallow results in greater skill at the end of that period, or briefly one learns to skate in summer and swim in winter. To some extent this is true, but as stated it is misleading. The general law of the effect of disuse on a memory is true, but under some circumstances its effect is mitigated by the presence of other factors whose presence has been unnoted. Sometimes this improvement without practice is explained by the fact that at the last practice period the actual improvement was masked by fatigue or boredom, so that disuse involving rest and the disappearance of fatigue and boredom produces apparent gain, when in reality it but allows the real improvement to become evident. Sometimes a particular practice period was accompanied by certain undesirable elements such as worry, excitement, misunderstandings, and so on, and therefore the improvement hindered or masked, whereas at the next period under different conditions there would be less interference and therefore added gain. All experimental evidence is against the opinion that mere disuse in and of itself produces gain. In fact, all results point to the fact that disuse brings deterioration.
In the case of memory, as has already been described in habit formation, reviews which are organized with the period between repetitions only gradually lengthened may do much to insure permanence. It is entirely feasible to have children at the end of any school year able to repeat the poems or prose selections which they have memorized, provided that they have been recalled with sufficient frequency during the course of the year. In a subject like geography or history, or in the study of mathematics or science, in which logical memory is demanded, systematic reviews, rather than cramming for examinations, will result in permanence of command of the facts or principles involved, especially when these reviews have involved the right type of organization and as many associations as is possible.
It is important in those subjects which involve a logical organization of ideas to have ideas associated around some particular problem or situation in which the individual is vitally interested. Children may readily forget a large number of facts which they have learned about cats in the first grade, while the same children might remember, very many of them, had these facts been organized round the problem of taking care of cats, and of how cats take care of themselves. A group of children in an upper grade may forget with great rapidity the facts of climate, soil, surface drainage, industries, and the like, while they may remember with little difficulty facts which belong under each of these categories on account of the interest which they have taken in the problem, "Why is the western part of the United States much more sparsely populated than the Mississippi Valley?" Boys and girls who study physics in the high school may find it difficult to remember the principles involved in their study of heat if they are given only in their logical order and are applied only in laboratory exercises which have little or no meaning for them, while the same group of high school pupils may remember without difficulty these same laws or principles if associated round the issue of the most economical way of heating their houses, or of the best way to build an icehouse.
There has been in our school system during the past few years more or less of a reaction against verbatim memorization, which is certainly justified when we are considering those subjects which involve primarily an organization of ideas in terms of problems to be solved, rather than memory for the particular form of expression of the ideas in question. It is worth while, however, at every stage of education to use whatever power children may possess for verbatim memorization, especially in the field of literature, and to some extent in other fields as well. It seems to the writers to be worth while to indicate as clearly as possible in the illustration which follows the method to be employed in verbatim memorization. As will be easily recognized, the number and organization of associations are an important consideration. It is especially important to call attention to the fact that any attempt at verbatim memorization should follow a very careful thinking through of the whole selection to be memorized. An organization of the ideas in terms of that which is most important, and that which can be subordinated to these larger thoughts, a combination of method of learning by wholes and by parts, is involved.
It is not easy to indicate fully the method by which one would attempt to teach to a group of sixth-grade boys or girls Wordsworth's "Daffodils." The main outline of the method may, however, be indicated as follows: The first thing to be done is to arouse, in so far as is possible, some interest and enthusiasm for the poem in question. One might suggest to the class something of the beauty of the high, rugged hills, and of the lakes nestling among them in the region which is called the "Lake Region" in England. The Wordsworth cottage near one of the lakes, and at the foot of one of the high hills, together with the walk which is to this day called Wordsworth's Walk, can be brought to the mind, especially by a teacher who has taken the trouble to know something of Wordsworth's home life. The enthusiasm of the poet for the beauties of nature and his enjoyment in walking over the hills and around the lakes, is suggested by the poem itself. One might suggest to the pupils that this is the story of a walk which he took one morning early in the spring.
The attempt will be made from this point on to give the illustration as the writer might have hoped to have it recorded as presented to a particular class. The poet tells us first of his loneliness and of the surprise which was his when he caught sight for the first time of the daffodils which had blossomed since the last time that he had taken this particular walk:
"I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze."
You see, he was not expecting to meet any one or to have any unusual experience. He "wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills," and his surprise was complete when he saw suddenly,—"all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils, beside the lake, beneath the trees." You might have said that they were waving in the wind, but he saw them "fluttering and dancing in the breeze."
The daffodils as they waved and danced in the breeze suggested to him the experience which he had had on other walks which he had taken when the stars were shining, and he compares the golden daffodils to the shining, twinkling stars:
"Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the Milky Way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay; Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance."
The daffodils were as "continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way." There was no beginning and no end to the line,—"They stretched in never-ending line along the margin of a bay." He saw as many daffodils as one might see stars,—"Ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance."
The poet has enjoyed the beauty of the little rippling waves in the lake, and he tells us that
"The waves beside them danced; but they Outdid the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed,—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:"
The daffodils have really left the poet with a great joy,—the waves beside the daffodils are dancing, "but they outdid the sparkling waves in glee," and of course "a poet could not but be gay in such a jocund company." Had you ever thought of flowers as a jocund company? You remember they fluttered and danced in the breeze, they lifted their heads in sprightly dance. Do you wonder that the poet says of his experience, "I gazed—and gazed,—but little thought what wealth the show to me had brought"? I wonder if any of you have ever had a similar experience. I remember the days when I used to go fishing, and there is a great joy even now in recalling the twitter of the birds and the hum of the bees as I lay on the bank and waited for the fish to bite.
And what is the great joy which is his, and which may belong to us, if we really see the beautiful things in nature? He tells us when he says
"For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils."
There are days when we cannot get out of doors,—"For oft, when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood,"—these are the days when we recall the experiences which we have enjoyed in the days which are gone,—"they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude." And then for the poet, as well as for us, "And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils."
Now let us get the main ideas in the story which the poet tells us of his adventure. "I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills," "I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils," they were "beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze." They reminded me as I saw the beautiful arched line of "the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way," because "they stretched in never-ending line along the margin of a bay"; and as I watched "ten thousand" I saw, "tossing their heads in sprightly dance." And then they reminded me of the waves which sparkled near by, "but they outdid the sparkling waves in glee," and in the happiness which was mine, "I gazed—and gazed,—but little thought what wealth the show to me had brought." And that happiness I can depend upon when upon my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, for "they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude," and my heart will fill with pleasure and dance with the daffodils.
These, then, are the big ideas which the poet has,—he wanders lonely as a cloud, he enjoys the great surprise of the daffodils, the great crowd, the host, of golden daffodils, fluttering and dancing in the breeze; he thinks of the stars that twinkle in the Milky Way, because the line of daffodils seems to have no beginning and no end,—he sees ten thousand of them at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance. And as he looks at them he thinks of the beauty of the sparkling waves, and thinks of them as they dance with glee, and he gazes and gazes without thinking of the wealth of the experience. But later when he writes the poem, he tells us of the wealth of the experience which can last through all of the days when he lies on his couch in vacant or in pensive mood, for it is then that this experience flashes upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude, and his heart fills with pleasure and dances with the daffodils.
Now let us say it all over again, and see how nearly we are able to recall the story of his experience in just the words that he used. I will read it for you first, and then you may all try to repeat it after me.
The teacher then reads the whole poem through, possibly more than once, and then asks all of the children to recite it with him, repeating possibly the first stanza twice or three times until they get it, and then the second stanza two or three times, then the third as often as may be necessary, and finally the fourth. It may be well then to go back and again analyze the thought, and indicate, using as far as possible the author's own words, the development of ideas through the poem. Then the poem should be recited as a whole by the teacher and children. The children may then be left to study it so that they may individually on the next day recite it verbatim. The writer has found it possible to have a number of children in a sixth grade able to repeat the poem verbatim after the kind of treatment indicated above, and at the end of a period of fifteen minutes.
1. Distinguish in so far as you can between habit and memory.
2. Name the factors which determine one's ability to recall.
3. How can you hope to improve children's memories? Which of the factors involved are subject to improvement?
4. In what way can you improve the organization of associations upon the part of children in any one of the subjects which you teach? How increase the number of associations?
5. What advantage has the method of concentration over the method of repetition in memorization?
6. Give the reasons why the method of recall is the best method of memorization.
7. If you were teaching a poem of four stanzas, would you use the method of memorization by wholes or by parts? Indicate clearly the degree to which the one or the other method should be used or the nature of the combination of methods for the particular selection which you use for the purposes of illustration.
8. How long do children in your classes seem to be able to work hard at verbatim memorization?
9. Under what conditions may the writing of the material being memorized actually interfere with the process? When may it help?
10. Why may it not be wise to attempt to teach "their" and "there" at the same time?
11. What is the type of memory employed by children who have considerable ability in cramming for examinations? Is this type of memory ever useful in later life?
12. What precaution do we need to take to insure permanence in memory upon the part of those who learn quickly?
13. What is meant by saying that we possess memories rather than a power or capacity called memory?
14. Do we forget with equal rapidity in all fields in which we have learned? What factors determine the rate of forgetting?
15. Why should a boy think through a poem to be memorized rather than beginning his work by trying to repeat the first two lines?
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VI. THE TEACHER'S USE OF THE IMAGINATION
Imagination is governed by the same general laws of association which control habit and memory. In these two former topics the emphasis was upon getting a desired result without any attention to the form of that result. Imagination, on the other hand, has to do with the way past experience is used and the form taken by the result. It merges into memory in one direction and into thinking in another. No one definition has been found acceptable—in fact, in no field of psychology is there more difference of opinion, in no topic are terms used more loosely, than in this one of imagination. Stated in very general terms, imagination is the process of reproducing, or reconstructing any form of experience. The result of such a process is a mental image. When the fact that it is reproduction or reconstruction is lost sight of, and the image reacted to as if it were present, an illusion or hallucination results.