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HOW TO STUDY AND TEACHING HOW TO STUDY
BY F. M. McMURRY
Professor of Elementary Education in Teachers College, Columbia University
TO MY FRIEND ORVILLE T. BRIGHT THIS VOLUME IS DEDICATED, AS A TOKEN OF WARM AFFECTION AND PROFESSIONAL INDEBTEDNESS
Some seven or eight years ago the question, of how to teach children to study happened to be included in a list of topics that I hastily prepared for discussion with one of my classes. On my later examination of this problem I was much surprised, both at its difficulty and scope, and also at the extent to which it had been neglected by teachers. Ever since that time the two questions, How adults should study, and How children should be taught to study, have together been my chief hobby.
The following ideas are partly the result of reading; but since there is a meagre quantity of literature bearing on this general theme, they are largely the result of observation, experiment, and discussion with my students. Many of the latter will recognize their own contributions in these pages, for I have endeavored to preserve and use every good suggestion that came from them; and I am glad to acknowledge here my indebtedness to them.
In addition I must express my thanks for valuable criticisms to my colleague, Dr. George D. Strayer, and also to Dr. Lida B. Earhart, whose suggestive monograph on the same general subject has just preceded this publication.
_Teachers College_, May 6,1909.
PRESENT METHODS OF STUDY; NATURE OF STUDY AND ITS PRINCIPAL FACTORS
I. INDICATIONS THAT YOUNG PEOPLE DO NOT LEARN TO STUDY PROPERLY; THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE EVIL
II. THE NATURE OF STUDY, AND ITS PRINCIPAL FACTORS
NATURE OF THE PRINCIPAL FACTORS IN STUDY, AND THEIR RELATION TO CHILDREN
III. PROVISION FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES, AS ONE FACTOR IN STUDY
IV. THE SUPPLEMENTING OF THOUGHT, AS A SECOND FACTOR IN STUDY
V. THE ORGANIZATION OF IDEAS, AS A THIRD FACTOR IN STUDY
VI. JUDGING OF THE SOUNDNESS AND GENERAL WORTH OF STATEMENTS, AS A FOURTH FACTOR IN STUDY
VII. MEMORIZING, AS A FIFTH FACTOR IN STUDY VIII. THE USING OF IDEAS, AS A SIXTH FACTOR IN STUDY IV. PROVISION FOE A TENTATIVE RATHER THAN A FIXED ATTITUDE TOWARD KNOWLEDGE, AS A SEVENTH FACTOR IN STUDY X. PROVISION FOR INDIVIDUALITY, AS AN EIGHTH FACTOR IN STUDY
XI. FULL MEANING OF STUDY; RELATION OF STUDY TO CHILDREN AND TO THE SCHOOL
PRESENT METHODS OF STUDY; NATURE OF STUDY, AND ITS PRINCIPAL FACTORS
INDICATIONS THAT YOUNG PEOPLE DO NOT LEARN TO STUDY PROPERLY; THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE EVIL
No doubt every one can recall peculiar methods of study that he or some one else has at some time followed. During my attendance at high school I often studied aloud at home, along with several other temporary or permanent members of the family. I remember becoming exasperated at times by one of my girl companions. She not only read her history aloud, but as she read she stopped to repeat each sentence five times with great vigor. Although the din interfered with my own work, I could not help but admire her endurance; for the physical labor of mastering a lesson was certainly equal to that of a good farm hand, for the same period of time.
This way of studying history seemed extremely ridiculous. But the method pursued by myself and several others in beginning algebra at about the same time was not greatly superior. Our text-book contained several long sets of problems which were the terror of the class, and scarcely one of which we were able to solve alone. We had several friends, however, who could solve them, and, by calling upon them for help, we obtained the "statement" for each one. All these statements I memorized, and in that way I was able to "pass off" the subject.
A few years later, when a school principal, I had a fifteen-year-old boy in my school who was intolerably lazy. His ambition was temporarily aroused, however, when he bought a new book and began the study of history. He happened to be the first one called upon, in the first recitation, and he started off finely. But soon he stopped, in the middle of a sentence, and sat down. When I asked him what was the matter, he simply replied that that was as far as he had got. Then, on glancing at the book, I saw that he had been reproducing the text _verbatim_, and the last word that he had uttered was the last word on the first page.
These few examples suggest the extremes to which young people may go in their methods of study. The first instance might illustrate the muscular method of learning history; the second, the memoriter method of reasoning in mathematics. I have never been able to imagine how the boy, in the third case, went about his task; hence, I can suggest no name for his method.
While these methods of study are ridiculous, I am not at all sure that they are in a high degree exceptional.
_Collective examples of study_
The most extensive investigation of this subject has been made by Dr. Lida B. Earhart,[Footnote: _Systematic Study in the Elementary Schools._ A popular form of this thesis, entitled _Teaching Children to Study_, is published in the Riverside Educational Monographs.] and the facts that she has collected reveal a woeful ignorance of the whole subject of study.
Among other tests, she assigned to eleven- and twelve-year-old children a short selection from a text-book in geography, with the following directions: "Here is a lesson from a book such as you use in class. Do whatever you think you ought to do in studying this lesson thoroughly, and then tell (write down) the different things you have done in studying it. Do not write anything else." [Footnote: _Ibid._, Chapter 4.]
Out of 842 children who took this test, only fourteen really found, or stated that they had found, the subject of the lesson. Two others said that they _would_ find it. Eighty-eight really found, or stated that they had found, the most important parts of the lesson; twenty-one others, that they _would_ find them. Four verified the statements in the text, and three others said that they _would_ do that. Nine children did nothing; 158 "did not understand the requirements"; 100 gave irrelevant answers; 119 merely "thought," or "tried to understand the lesson," or "studied the lesson"; and 324 simply wrote the facts of the lesson. In other words, 710 out of the 842 sixth- and seventh- grade pupils who took the test gave indefinite and unsatisfactory answers. This number showed that they had no clear knowledge of the principal things to be done in mastering an ordinary text-book lesson in geography. Yet the schools to which they belonged were, beyond doubt, much above the average in the quality of their instruction.
In a later and different test, in which the children were asked to find the subject of a certain lesson that was given to them, 301 out of 828 stated the subject fairly well. The remaining 527 gave only partial, or indefinite, or irrelevant answers. Only 317 out of the 828 were able to discover the most important fact in the lesson. Yet determining the subject and the leading facts are among the main things that any one must do in mastering a topic. How they could have
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