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For "Reading" Read "Listening"
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Leslie W. Duffen
May/June 1979. p. 61-63.
|Reprinted with the permission of the author|
I have a daughter aged 11 called Sarah. Sarah's intellectual operating level can best be described by giving some examples.
Sarah can read the following sentences: "The soloist was not in a convenient position for seeing everyone in his audience." "Psychology is a science which seems to fascinate both the adult and the adolescent student" and she can spell correctly any of the words in these sentences.
She can multiply 78,657 by 59, add 98,211 to 64,599, take 74,112 from 83,271 and get the correct answers without the use of a calculator (though she can use one) or written tables. She can "plot the points (1, 3) (2, 5) (3, 1) (2, 4) on a graph and label them." She can "Shade in the region x < 3 and the region y > 4."
Similarly her physical abilities can best be described by saying that she can, for example, roller skate, swim, ride a bike, skip and is moving well through the Sunday Times B.A.G.A. gymnastic awards.
I teach maths in a County Secondary School and thus have some basis for comparison with many other children. I know a few fourth and fifth formers who are less well equipped to earn a living when they leave school than Sarah is now.
Sarah is small for her age with long, mostly blonde and usually untidy hair. Making all possible allowances for bias, I think that she is an attractive child, with a lovely smile and a happy, engaging disposition. You might, particularly if you were looking for it, notice that Sarah's eyes have a slightly oriental, slanting appearance. This is because Sarah is a child with Downs Syndrome or, in everyday terms, a mongol.
This article is an attempt to explain why Sarah is what she is today. To put this in perspective it may be necessary to say that only a few years ago children with her congenital potential handicap would have been described as "ineducable." Even today, in many ordinary schools and even ESN(M) schools the label "mongol" is sufficient, in itself, for a head teacher to refuse to accept a child so labelled and for this refusal to be regarded as justifiable by the LEA concerned.
I do not propose to enter into the barren argument about "environment versus heredity" apart from these few comments. The contribution to our intellectual development from our inherited or congenital ability is, for each individual, fixed. The contribution made by our environment is a variable of yet undetermined limits. No child has yet had, from birth, the optimum environment for maximum intellectual growth. Indeed we have, as yet, no conclusive, settled views on the form of this optimum environment, and we have absolutely no idea at all what the maximum long term effect of this optimum environment might be. The attempts to assign values of 60/40 or 80/20 to the relative effects of heredity and environment are even if they were convincing no comment at all on the possible relative effect of these factors, one a constant and the other a variable of unknown limits.
I am reasonably sure that Sarah's congenital ability to develop intellectually was probably above average for such children. This is based on no more than a general impression that she has always been physically, emotionally and intellectually quick to respond whereas such children often seem slow in their reactions. I can attach no quantitative value to her congenital ability and, even if this were possible, I could not explain its origin.
When I look at Sarah's upbringing however, I can see differences in her intellectual environment which provide a logical explanation, even if only partially, for her present state of development. It is on these differences and on their assimilation into a theoretical background that I now wish to concentrate.
The first of the differences is that Sarah has spent the vast majority of her time in the company of adults, or in the company of normal children with an intellectual development equal to or greater than her own. She has spent very little of her time with children with intellectual development less than her own.
We can learn only from someone who has something to teach us, someone who actually does know "better" than us. This seems to me to be one of the few indisputable facts about education. Many children in special schools spend much of their time in contact with children who have nothing to teach them, so they learn nothing for much of the time. Sarah went for one year to a diagnostic unit attached to an ordinary school. The teacher there was a wonderful person, as was the head teacher and the rest of the staff but, for much of the time, Sarah was in contact with other children who had nothing to teach her.
It will be clear that I am strongly in favour of integration as opposed to segregation. There are difficulties in integration, but all these difficulties can be overcome or ameliorated by extra staff, extra training etc. The basic weakness of special education, that children spend much of their time in contact with other children who have nothing to teach them, cannot be overcome. The arguments, in favour of special education, that small classes compensate for this factor will not stand up to any quantitative examination. The critical change in class size is not from 30 to 20 or 20 to 10, it is from 2 to 1. It is only in a 1:1 relationship that it is possible to ensure that a child is learning for the maximum possible time, which leads on to:
The second difference in Sarah's upbringing concerns learning time. The total amount of time that Sarah has spent learning, in a formal planned situation or in contact with anyone who has something to teach, has been very much greater than is usual in any child and a high proportion of that time has been spent in a 1:1 learning situation.
I should tike here to introduce the concept of "Individual Learning Time," hereafter abbreviated as ILT. I define ILT as the amount of time an individual spends in learning anything of positive value in successfully adapting to his particular adult environment. There will, of course, be an overall ILT and specific ILTs such as reading ILT, oracy ILT, maths ILT, etc.
It is probable that my interest in the importance of the use of time arose from my pre-teaching experience in industry. The use of time, operator time, or use of capital equipment time is measured, controlled and costed with care in any efficient industry. I have seen little of this concern with time in the school educational processes, at least as far as ILT is concerned. There is a small industry built up to deal with the difficulties of timetabling teaching time, but no such concern for ILT. It is difficult to draw an exact parallel with industry because manufacturing processes are concerned with inanimate objects with no freedom of choice, and no problems of motivation and personality. Nevertheless a comparison can be made between the functions of production management and production control in industry and timetabling teachers and control of ILT in schools. A major concern of production control is to ensure that components complete their production cycle in the shortest time by being worked on for the highest possible proportion of the available time. There is no equivalent for production control in school education.
I suggest that, if a study were made of the correlation between individual attainment on the one hand and factors such as teaching method, type of school, congenital ability (but how would you measure it?) size of class, social background etc., and ILT on the other hand, then the one factor which would show a high positive correlation in all cases would be ILT. This may seem a statement of the obvious but, in spite of that, the planning of our school educational processes rnakes no attempt to maximise ILT, and ILT levels are greatly below the maximum available.
For example, if a child in a primary school has a reading ILT of 30 minutes for each school day, then that will amount to only about 1% of the child's available ILT throughout the year. It is necessary to be quite rigorous about the meaning of ILT; it does not correspond to teaching timetabled time in any way. If the timetabled reading lesson per day were 40 minutes, then only the exceptional child would have a reading ILT of 30 minutes. The least well motivated, most backward child might well have a reading ILT of only 5 minutes for each school day, giving a reading ILT throughout the year of about 0.2%. Is it any wonder that some children don't learn to read?
During the school holidays, and at week-ends Sarah has, and has had for many years, an overall formal planned ILT of about 20%. Disregarding the ILT she has at school, Sarah has an additional ILT at home in every school day of about 10%. When Sarah was learning to read and speak she averaged, at the later stages, a language development ILT, in formal planned lessons of about 15%, in addition to informal ILT from contact with other people. Children like Sarah placed in a hospital and then in a special school with similar children might well have a total language development ILT of less than 0.1% for the first 10 years of their lives. Is it surprising that many such children do not learn to read or even speak well?
I will give just two examples of the effect that planning for maximum ILT might have on teaching. In the reception class of a primary school - before the achievement of literacy - a good case could be made for changing the role of the teacher into that of an organiser of 1:1 learning time, with the help of parents and friends. This would provide the maximum ILT for all the children in the class, since, before the achievement of literacy, ILT derives entirely from person to person contact. The second example follows directly from the first. Until children are freed from the dependence on person to person contact for ILT, which can best be done by the achievement of literacy the total possible ILT will be severely limited by the available persons able to teach. Once a reasonable level of literacy has been reached the total possible ILT is limited only by the number of waking hours in a day. This would add extra emphasis to the vital necessity for the earliest possible achievement of high levels of literacy in all children, which leads on to:
The third, continuing and most important, difference in Sarah's upbringing has been the concentration above all else on the development of language and the use of reading as the most effective verbal input to this development.
I ought perhaps, at this stage, to disclaim any potential credit for having in any sense planned Sarah's education. What happened, happened by chance and was developed in a pragmatic way. My wisdom, if any, is the wisdom of hindsight. It was pure chance that made me teach Sarah to read, and a pragmatic outlook, combined with a fortunate ignorance of accepted theory, which led me to use reading as a means of developing language, including speech. It was the apparent effect of this developing language on Sarah's intellectual responses that made me devote more and more time to language development. It is only after these experiences, and after studying accepted beliefs on the development of reading, language and intelligence, that I came to consider what modifications were necessary for these experiences to be assimilated into existing theory.
The first modification is entirely a matter of definition. If reading is defined as a "psycho-linguistic guessing game" then, by definition, reading is placed outside the intellectual range of anyone without quite advanced levels of language and intellectual development. If reading is defined as "a learned response, largely of recognition, to a visual signal" and listening as "a learned response, largely of recognition, to an auditory signal" then both reading and listening can be seen as primary verbal inputs to the development of language, and both are within the intellectual range of children with little or no language and intellectual development.
I have found it helpful when discussing these matters to suggest "For 'reading' read 'listening'," hence the title of this article. By this I mean that the validity of some statements about reading can be tested, simply by substituting the word "listening" for the word "reading." If the modified statement seems illogical, then the original statement was probably illogical, given the definitions of reading and listening that I suggested above.
Examples are: "The linguistic abilities of the child are also important in learning to read (listen)."
"A child needs a fair vocabulary before reading (listening) can usefully be started."
"The ability to read (listen) is largely dependent on the skill in the spoken language the learner already possesses."
The following schematic embodies these ideas.
The central area of "verbal language development" could equally well be labelled "increase in intellectual attainment" or "increase in absolute intelligence" or "cognitive growth" which brings me to the second and major modification.
"Intelligence," however defined and measured does increase absolute terms at a rate directly proportional to retained educational input. It would take a great deal of time and space for me to develop this statement to the extent it needs, but I will take just one example, one commonly used in "Intelligence" tests.
Given a series such as:
and a request, given in writing, to state the next two numbers in the series, the response might be, in order of retained educational input:
"I can't read it."
"I can read the words and the numbers, but I don't know what you mean by 'series'."
"I can understand the question and I know what you mean by series but I can't say what the next two numbers are."
"The next two numbers would be 21, 28."
"The next numbers can be any numbers you like until you define the function."
It is this last response that I hope will make my point. I would not like to suggest that the people who set this test, and accept the penultimate response as correct, are stupid, just that they have a low level of retained mathematical educational input!
The third modification is not new; but I am firmly convinced that the unpopular view (to Piagetian proponents) that the major role in the increase in absolute intelligence must be assigned to the rate and degree of language development, is the correct one. The existing state of verbal language development is what enables the individual to extract the maximum intellectual growth from any experience, verbal or non verbal.
There are two final points I should like to make.
A comment often made to me is that it is unkind to talk to parents of children like Sarah, about Sarah, because it may arouse too high expectations for their own children, which will inevitably be disappointed in many cases. This comment is entirely justified. It may well be unkind to the parents and, consequently, to me, but I think it is probable that too high expectations will be better for any child, given the necessary action, than too low expectations.
Secondly, the basic weakness of the arguments in this article is that they are based on the performance of one child. I do not dispute this and I hope that some research will soon be started which will provide more convincing evidence.