One survey found that only 15 percent of classes for elementary-school instructors offer lessons in how to teach direct instruction. Many specialists insist that kids learn to read English better using the whole-word method. But researchers have deep-sixed that notion again and again, as Mark Seidenberg showed a few years back in his marvelous Language at the Speed of Sight. The general expectation is that students will marvel their way into reading via assorted individual pathways.
As Seidenberg describes in his book, nationwide the phonics and whole-word camps have clashed over and over again, such that some districts use one method and some the other, with many alternating between the two. Some, of course, combine the approaches. Penicillin is clinical and one-size-fits-all; bed rest allows for improvisation and feels right.
But especially neat was watching the main jump—from p-i-g to understanding that the letters correspond to sounds that you link together into pig. Next, the book shows them words that rhyme: big , dig , wig. What about those words with irregular spellings?
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The book dribbles them in slowly but steadily. Many of the most common words are irregular— said , I , have , you —and so kids get lots of practice with them in the reading passages. And so my daughter learned to read, within about the stretch on the calendar it would take to watch all of Sanford and Son at a rate of one episode a day. Did my daughter, as the child of two hyper-literate people with doctorates, have some kind of leg up?
I doubt it. Then pass the word on.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. In such a scenario, children become much more proficient in the new language over the long term than adults.
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But if the amount of language children are exposed to is limited, as in classroom language learning, children are slow learners and overall less successful than teenagers or adults. How can we explain this apparent contrast?
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Researchers have argued that children learn implicitly, that is, without conscious thought, reflection or effort. And implicit learning requires a large amount of language input over a long period of time. As we get older, we develop the ability to learn explicitly — that is, analytically and with deliberate effort. Put differently, adults approach the learning task like scientists.
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This explains why more mature classroom learners have greater success: they can draw on more highly developed, efficient, explicit learning processes which also require more effort. When it comes to learning a language, however, it is not a question of either implicit or explicit learning. They can coexist, so it is more often a question of how much of each approach is used.
In our new study , we asked whether younger children who are generally thought to learn implicitly had already developed some ability to learn explicitly as well. We worked with over Year 4 children, aged eight to nine, in five primary schools in England.
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The children took a number of tests, including a measure of their language learning aptitude, which assessed their ability to analyse language language-analytic ability , to memorise language material memory ability and to handle language sounds phonological awareness.
Over one school year, the children participated in language classes for 75 minutes per week. For this purpose, they were divided into four groups. In other words, the children were encouraged to use their language-analytic ability, taking an explicit approach. In the other groups, language was taught in a way that is typically used at primary school, that is, entirely playfully with games, songs and worksheets.
This method is more likely to result in implicit learning. In the second half of the school year, all groups experienced the same type of language class: they all learned French, taught with a focus-on-form method.