Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Join the association

A Russian discovered something interesting about 110 years ago. He was studying the salivary (spit) glands of dogs. Pavlov noticed that his dogs would start producing saliva way before they saw or smelled food. This happened because the dogs heard the very distinct (to them) boot sounds of the lab assistant that brought them their food. This somehow became distorted in the pages of history to the ringing of a bell. The same boot sounds at other times would also produce the saliva. The dogs learned that boot sounds meant food and made a connection. That connection stayed even when there was no food forthcoming. How could this ever be useful to people?

A professional journal article described a developmentally challenged person would only eat for one particular staff member. This became a problem when the staff member took off for the weekend, a holiday, or a vacation. A clever psychologist paired a succession of staff members with the preferred staff person, and the developmentally challenged person soon accepted a bunch of staff persons to provide food.

Certain levels of spinal cord injuries cause paraplegia and a loss of bladder control. Someone discovered that these paraplegics could empty their own bladders before they had accidents by applying a mild electric shock on the area outside the body that was above the bladder. These folks carried a small device that applied the shock. Before long, many paraplegics discovered that all they had to do was move their hand to area of their body above the bladder, and they would urinate without using the electric shock. There was an association between the movement and emptying of the bladder. Now, think about association learning and education.

One problem with learning to read is learning the sounds that go with letters. Some letters have multiple sounds that change depending on the other letters nearby. Thinking about the rules for word sounds might make an educated person become tongue-tied. Few of us think about the rules after a solid reading education. Some folks find it difficult or impossible to learn the rules involved in the sounds that letters make. Whole word reading may be a way to overcome it, even though some phonological dictators (nice double entendre there) would disagree.

Many less able children at the appropriate age can identify a picture of a dog, and say dog. Learning to read the word dog is an altogether different story. Suppose you repeatedly pair the printed word with the picture? What happens if you fade the picture (progressively make it less and less clearly visible)? It can be done by copying it, then copying the copy until it becomes almost unrecognizable, while maintaining the visible "strength" of the printed word beneath it. You can even use action pictures to teach action words. Sure the technique has its limitations. It also has the potential for teaching something that might have otherwise been "unteachable."

Another important skill that can be taught by association is multiplication facts. A bunch of teachers do not approve of this. You can do it at home and they will never know. Produce pages that contain basic math facts from multiplication tables. Mix up the calculations so that the children do not learn them in order. Now, give them a calculator. That is correct, a calculator. Few things equal a calculator for teaching math facts. Have them use the calculator to solve the problems. Do it over and over again with different pages and problems in different order. Give them a break every 30 to 45 minutes to stand-up and walk around. Set a timer for about five minutes, and then get them back to work. Work on it all weekend. They use the calculator on the first weekend day (Saturday). On Sunday start them with the pages and without the calculator. Check their work. Note the ones that they got wrong, and use them on new pages of problems to work with the calculator. Do it again next weekend. Be certain to provide some fun activities like a trip to the movies on the second weekend. You child has a great chance of learning the multiplication tables (multiplication facts) without stress this way and it is all because you joined the association.

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