to the same response.
The word "f^ag"
equals spoken "flag."
equals spoken "flag."
Discuss Lesson 3
22 INTRODUCTORY PSYCHOLOGY I'OR TEACHERS
The ability to pronounce the word when one sees it in written form
is fundamentally the ability to read. (Of course, the reading of a
well-trained person involves much more than pronouncing one word
at a time in response to its written form. Smooth reading with ex-
pression is due to the development of these fundamental processes so
that they operate smoothly and automatically together with the devel-
opment of other habits dealing with expression and the like.)
What the teacher must do then is to form a connection between this
situation (the word "flag") and the desired response (saying '"flag").
This is what she does in the method outlined in Lesson 2. i. e.,
1. Writes sentences on board.
2. Asks for recognition.
3. Demands recall.
This it is clear on a little consideration is the wise course of proce-
dure. For at first the child has no response at all to the written words,
"We have a big flag." The white chalk marks on the board mean noth-
ing to the child. They mean, indeed, much less to the child than
Chinese symbols do to you, the reader, for the child does not even
know that they stand for spoken words — for objects and actions. But
the teacher writes the words, "We have a big flag" on the board and
pronounces the sentence to the class. Thus a weak link is formed be-
tween the sight of the whole sentence and its sound.
Then the child is asked to pick the sentence out from others. This is
not so difficult as recalling it would l>e. We all know it is easier to
recognize a face as having been seen before than to give the name be-
longing to the face. Even a faint connection between situation and
response will lead to recognition.
.A.nd, of course, every such recognition strengthens the connection.
After some drill the teacher can successfully ask what would have been
useless before, that is, that the child recall what a given sentence says ;
i. e., respond to the question, "What does this say?" pointing at the
same time to the written sentence. With recall the last step is reached
and only more drill is needed. Then the child can read.
Reading is then at bottom, the moving of the muscles of the throat in
response to certain curlicues on a page or blackboard. The proper
control of these muscles is learned before school age. The joining them
up with the new situation, the curlicues, is the task of the teacher of
The object of a school lesson seems then to be the formation of a con-
nection between a given situation and a desired response. An approved
primary method is so constituted that it leads naturally from a state in
which -there is no connection, thru a stage where there is slight con-
LESSON 5 23
nection, and finally to a stage where a fairly strong connection is estab-
lished and made stronger by drill.
Two principal points have been made in the course so far. First, you
have seen what psychology is and what psychologists are attempting
to do. And second, you have been shown that all behavior can be re-
duced to two very broad conceptions of "situation" and "response."
Hand in at the next class-hour the best definitions you can prepare
of the three words, "psychology," "situation" and "response."
OBJECT of LESSONS 5 TO 20.
With the foregoing statement before us of what a school lesson is
aimed to accomplish we are now ready to commence an analytical study
of the learning process. Very simple tasks of learning will be assigned
and thru careful recording of notes about how the task was accom-
plished many of the fundamental principles of learning will come to
The next class-hour will be devoted to such an experiment. Read
over the instructions in Lesson 5 up to the heading: "Instructions for
writing up the results." But do not practice the experi)nent. If you do
you are quite likely to get results at the next class-hour which will be
LESSON 5— HOW DOES ONE LEARN TO SAY THE
The first laboratory assignment in a new course of study must neces-
sarily be very simple, else the beginning student will be swamped with
all the details confronting him. Consequently, we shall study here
what is apparently a simple problem, i. e., the processes involved in
learning the alphabet — particularly in learning to say it backwards.
But altho the assignment in one sense is very simple, yet in another
sense it is most profound. No one can list all the processes that are
involved here nor understand any of them absolutely.
The student commencing this course should carry with him much ot
the spirit of the early pioneer. He is embarking on a cruise of explora-
tion in which some of the landmarks are known and chartered for him
but most of the smaller points of interest are not charted and still re-
main to be discovered. This course in educational psychology will
afiford every student many opportunities for discovering facts and prin-
ciples regarding the learning process not now recorded in any textbook.
Consequently attack this seemingly trivial assignment in the spirit c\\
exploration and with the determination to discover new things.
24 INTRODUCTORY PSYCHOL,OGY FOR TEACHERS
1. Problem. What happens when you recite (i) the alphabet for-
wards ten times, and (2) the alphabet backwards ten times?
2. Apparatus. A watch with a second hand. (If you do iwt have
such a watch, obtain one from the instructor.)
3. Procedure. Two persons will work together; one will be the
subject (person to do the reciting) and one will be the experimenter.
When both are ready the Experimenter will watch the second hand and
when it reaches 58 on the dial will call out, "Get ready," and when it
reaches 60 will say ''Go." Subject will then recite the alphabet as fast
as possible. When the Subject reaches the letter "Z" the Experimenter
notes the number of seconds that have elapsed and records it in his notes.
The Experimenter will find it necessary to have before him the alphabet
written out so that as the Subject recites he mav follow with his eye
and note any mistakes in the Subject's recitation.
After each of the 10 trials, the Experimenter should record (a) the
time required by the Subject to recite the alphabet, (b) any mistakes
in doing so, (c) any changes in method he may note, (d) any other
Having finished the above, repeat the whole procedure but this time
recite the alphabet backwards, instead of forwards. The Experimenter
should write out the alphabet backwards in order to aid him in catching
the mistakes of the Subject. The Experimenter will not prompt the
Subject except to say, "No," when the Subject gives a wrong letter.
As before, the Experimenter will record (a) the time required by the
Subject to recite the alphabet backwards, (b) any mistakes in doing
so, (c) any changes in method, (d) any other interesting facts.
(Finish the above before reading further.)
INSTRUCTIONS FOR WRITING UP THE EXPERIMENT.
If possible both partners should arrange to prepare the assignment
together. If this is not possible, then the Subject should secure a copy
of the Experimenter's notes. Both should prepare this assignment and
hand it in at the next class-hour.
Ho7V to plot a learning curve. Refer to the curves shown in Plate I,
as a model. In those curves twenty trials are shown, whereas yours
will record but ten trials. The curves of no two person are alike, con-
sequently yours will not agree exactly with the two given in Lesson i.
Plot the data you have secured in the two parts of the experiment.
Do as follows: — Secure a sheet of co-ordinate paper. Draw a line
across the bottom of the sheet about a half inch from the bottom. Draw
another line at right angles to this base line along the left-hand side of
t!,c >^cet, about a half inch from the edge of the paper. At intervals of
LESSON 5 25
about one-fourth inch number consecutively from i to 10 underncatli
the base line. Number the lines along the vertical line consecutively
from I up as far as the paper permits. Call the base line "o."
The numbering along the base line represents the successive trials from
I to 10. The numbering along the vertical axis represents the amount of
time consumed in reciting the alphabet. Hence at the right of the figure
10 write the word ''Trials" and at the top of the page above the last
number in the vertical scale, write the word "Seconds."
When this is done, note the time-record in the first recitation of the
alphabet. Suppose this is 6 seconds. Now mark a small "x" at the
intersection of the line numbered "6 seconds" and the line numbered
"trial I." Suppose the second trial was done in 5 seconds. Then mark
similarly a small "x" at the intersection of the 5-second line and the
2nd-trial line. (If it was 5I/2 seconds, instead of 5, the cross would be
made half-way between the 6-second and the 5-second line.) When you
have marked the 10 "xs," then connect them together with straight
lines. This jagged line represents the learning curve in saying the al-
phabet forwards. Draw the learning curve for saying the alpha-
bet backwards in the same way.
Give a title to the sheet, such as "Learning Curves for Reciting the
Alphabet Forwards and Backwards."
How to strife up the experiment.
1. The problem. State what is the problem you are attempting to
solve. In this case the problem may be stated as "How Does One Learn
to Say the Alphabet ?"
2. Apparatus : State under this heading what apparatus you used in
solving the problem, as "A watch with a second hand."
3. Procedure. State what you did in order to secure your re-
sults. Give date and names of the Experimenter and Subject, first of
all. In this course you need not copy the procedure as given in the text
but may state, "Followed instructions as given in manual, except
." Then give in detail any deviations.
4. Results. Here record (i) your time records. (2) mistakes made.
(3) changes in method, (4) other interesting facts, (5) your curves.
In other words, record under this heading the material you have gath-
ered together in performing the experiment.
5. Interpretation. Here ordinarily you would summarize your
results and explain what they mean. At the beginning of this course
you will be aided in interpretating your results by being given specific
questions to answer — questions which help you summarize and explain
your results. In this case, answer the following questions :
a. How do your two learning curves diflFer? Explain why.
26 INTRODUCTORY PSYCHOLOGY FOR TEACHERS
b. In what respects do the two curves agree? Explain.
c. Why is it possible to recite the alphabet faster and with fewer
mistakes on the tenth trial than on the first trial? Has the Situation
changed? Has the Response changed? Has there been any other
change which you cannot include under the headings "Situation" and
d. Why do you suppose in Lesson 3, Carl could write the word
"leaf" on the board after having seen his teacher write it and not be-
fore? What changed there — the situation, the response, or some other
third thing ?
6. Applications. Record concrete cases where principles developed
here will apply in other phases of life. For example, in learning to use
a saw, one will saw thru a 6-inch plank very slowly the first time and
will do a pretty poor job. Next time the job will be done in less time
and with fewer ragged edges. Successive trials will result in better
and better work. The greatest progress will be made in the early
In this lesson you have probably been confronted with several new
things, as follows:
1. Saying the alphabet backwards.
2. A learning curve and its characteristics.
3. Plotting a curve.
4. Writing up the laboratory experiment according to a prescribed
It will require a number of further lessons before the last three of
these propositions will become thoroughly established. Apply what
you have learned in this experiment to yourself. Do not expect
to write up this experiment in one-half the time you will be able to
do it in a month from now, nor to do it without many mistakes — mis-
takes you will not make a month from now. Do the best you can in the
time you have for preparing the lesson.
LESSON 6 — SOME FACTS CONCERNING THE LEARNING
PROCESS AS OBTAINED FROM THE ALPHABET
All learning is dependent upon practice, upon performing what is to
be learned. That is the way you originally learned to say the alpha-
bet forwards and that is the only way you can learn to say it back-
In like maimer you must yourself work out the assignments of the
course. And to the extent that you do actuall}' answer the questions,
to just that extent you have a real grasp of the contents of the course.
In order to afford you a check upon your work so that you may
know how well you are doing it, the even numbered lessons (e. g., les-
sons 6, 8, lo, etc.) will answer the problems raised in the odd-num-
bered lessons (e. g., lessons 5, 7, 9, etc.). These answers are not com-
plete answers; no one knows enough today to answer absolutely com-
pletely. But they will furnish sufficiently complete answers for the
]nirpose of the course.
It goes without saying that you will secure little from the course if
you obtain access to the even-numbered lessons before handing in
your written reports upon the corresponding odd-numbered lessons.
.ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS IN LESSON 5.
//om; do your tzco learning curves differ? Explain why.
1. The "saying alphabet forwards" curve drops very little, whereas
the other curve drops a great deal. That is, there is very little im-
provement in the first case and a great deal in the second.
2. The curve in the first case is practically a straight line (disre-
garding now the irregular fluctuations) while the curve in the second
case shows a very great drop at first with less and less of a drop as the
3. The second curve is thruout "higher" than the first curve.
Explanation. The learning curve of a performance that has not
been practised, always shows a big drop after each trial, but as the
trials continue, the curve drops less and less until it finally reaches a
certain limit. In the case of saying the alphabet forwards we must
realize that the early trials (with their resulting big drops) have oc-
28 INTRODUCTORY PSYCHOLOGY FOR TEACHERS
curred long ago. We arc dealing possibly with trials looi to loio
and can expect only very sli.^ht improvement from trial t<j trial. In
fact we must be fairly near the limit of speed that can be obtained in
JL The chief difference between the two curves is to be explained by the
fact that the first curve is the only portion we have of a learning curve
made up of, say, a thousand and ten repetitions, whereas the second
curve is actually representative of the beginning of a learning process.
The first curve must needs be nearly a straight line with only a slight
drop, while the second curve must needs show large drops between
each successive trial, but smaller and smaller drops as the repetitions
continue. If we kept up the reciting of the alphabet backwards lo
times a day for a month or more possibly we would then get a curve on
the last day that would be similar to our first curve.
J From the shape of the curve we can then tell something as to the
amount of training which has already preceded the first trial shown
in the curve.
In what respects do the tzvo curves agree f Explain.
1. Both drop. Both show improvement in the work done.
Explanation. A fundamental law of human behavior is the only
explanation that can be given for the fact that both curves drop. Con-
tinued repetition of a performance results in that performance be-
\ coming easier and easier and when there is any effort made to decrease
the time of doing it, the performance is done in less and less time.
2. Both sliow fluctuations. Improvement is not always shown be-
tween successive trials. Sometimes the performance is much inferior
to that of several preceding trials.
Explanation. The performance of any act is made up of many parts.
Learning the whole performance (e. g., saying the alphabet back-
wards) consists in learning to do each little part and in learning to
do them in the correct order. Sometimes the parts are all fairly well
done — then we make a better record than usual, — there is a sudden
drop in the curve. Sometimes the parts are done poorly — then we make
a poorer record than usual — there is an upward shoot to the curve.
Most of the time we do some parts well and some poorly — then we
make an average record.
The causes as to why any part is done poorly or well will be taken
up later. (Commence watchinc^ for them. Note why you fumble in
tying your shoes, putting on your hat, shaving, spreading butter on a
slice of bread, misspelling a word, answering a question incorrectly in
an examination, etc.)
LESSON O 29
In what respects do the situations and responses differ at the be-
ginning and end of the t-wo experiments? Explain why. (This ques-
tion is inserted in addition to those asked in Lesson 5.)
As to situation.
1. Certain details were added to the situation. Certain details af-
fected the Subject more and more, e. g.,
a. Certain combinations of letters are difficult (e. g., w. v. u. t.)
and so are watched with more than ordinary care.
b. Letters said at first more or less one at a time, later become
grouped, — groups thus take the place of single letters as the
items which aflfect the subject .
c. "Idea you must go fast," "Idea you must not make mis-
2. Certain details were eliminated more or less from the situation,
a. Strangeness of surroundings ceased to affect the Subject.
b. Strangeness of requirement, — to recite alphabet in psycholog}'
class, — was forgotten.
c. Presence of other individuals, their conversation, etc. became
d. Presence of the Experimentor, the fact that he was watching,
the fact that he was taking notes, the fact that he was timing,
etc., had less eflFect.
3. In other words, as learning progressed, the situation actually
changed. Certain details affected the Subject more and more and cer-
tain other details less and less.
As to Response.
1. Actual performance was done (a) more quickly, (b) with fewer
mistakes, (c) more smoothly.
2. Feelings of strangeness, un familiarity, nervousness, excitement,
unpleasantness, etc., became changed more or less to feelings of famil-
iarity, confidence and pleasantness, etc,
3. Actual method of doing work was changed, particularly in say-
ing alphabet backwards, e. g. —
a. At first alphabet had to be recited forwards in order to say it
backwards ; later this became unnecessary.
b. It was recited in short pieces with pauses in between.
c. Pauses became shorter, groupings of letters longer and longer.
The process of learning involves then not simply doing work faster
and faster with fewer and fewer mistakes, but also attention to dilTer-
ent details in the situation coupled with qualitative changes in method.
30 INTRODUCTORY PSYCHOI,OGY FOR TKACHERS
Why is it possible to recite the alphabet faster and with fewer mis-
takes on the tenth trial than on the first trial'/' Has the situation
changed f Has the response changed F Has there been any other
The first part of this question has been answered under the second
Has the situation changed? In one sense, No. There are the same
factors outside the learner at the tenth trial that were there at the first
trial. But in another sense, Yes. In some way or other the learner
has changed, so that he is influenced less by certain of the outside fac-
tors and more by other outside factors. Actually from the standpoint of
the learner, then, the situation has changed, he is affected by details in
a different way from what he was at the start.
Has the response changed? Undoubtedly. This is shown by the de-
crease in time and the increase in accuracy, also by the change in atti-
tude toward the task.
What other changes have there been? We shall come to see that the
mechanism within the learner that is affected by outside factors and
that controls the learner's muscles (for all behavior is com[>osed of
muscular movements) has been changed. This mechanism is the
nervous system of the learner. It if^s in some way or other been
changed by the repetition of the alphabet.
We may think of this nervous mechanism as having been changed,
on the one hand, so that now in this particular situation it is more
susceptible to certain details and less susceptible to other details, and on
the other hand, that it controls and directs the muscles engaged in speak-
ing differently from what it did at the start. The learner is certainly
more susceptible to the difificulties of reciting "w,v,u,t," than at the start.
He is also less concerned with the presence of his partner than at the
start, and undoubtedly does recite the alphabet backwards in a much
better manner than at the start. His behavior is different. His re-
sponse to the situation is different.
It is clear from what has gone before that we shall need to add to our
conceptions, "situation" and "response" a third conception — a concep-
tion to cover the linkage of the situation to the response. The situation
comprises those details that affect or stimulate the learner's sense-or-
gans (eye, ear, skin, etc.) and the response comprises those movements
that make up the total behavior which results from the situatioa. Con-
necting the stimulated sense-organ with the moving muscles are nerve-
cells and nerve-fibres. For the present let us speak of this nervous
connection as the "bond" or "connection." We may then look upon the
learning of the alphabet as comprising a certain situation, a certain re-
i,h:sson 6 31
sponse and a bond between the two. At the start this bond is very im-
perfectly developed. As repetition continues, the bond is developed
until finally the situation (Experimentor says, "recite the alphabet
backwards") is adequately bound to the various muscular movements
which cause the letters of the alphabet to be sounded.
Let us look upon the multiplication table in this same way. The
teacher asks, "What is 6 times 8?" The child responds "48." The sit-
uation, in terms of the child, is (i) the teacher, (2) the sounds making
up "What is 6 times 8 ?" Certain muscles in the throat and mouth move
and the child has said "48." Connecting the ear and the throat muscles
are various nerve-centers and nerve-fibres. The stimulation in the ear
has been communicated in a wonderful way over these nerve-pathways
to the muscles in the throat and they have been moved — and "48" was
said. The terms, "Situation," "Bond," and "Response," may be thought
of now as covering this whole learned performance.
IVhy do you suppose Carl in Lesson 3 could ivrite the word "leaf on
the hoard after seeing his teacher Tvrite it and not before? What
changed there — the situation, the response or sonte other third thing f
If Carl has learned to write the word without knowing his letters,
then the sight of the word and sound of the word have both become
bound up with the movements of making the word. While Carl looked
at the word and while he listened to the sound of the word, he wrote
the word in the air, i. e., made the movements necessary to write the
word. Diagrammatically, we have
Sight of word > Movements involved in writing word.
Sound of word > Movements involved in writing word.
Thru previous training in school and outside Carl had learned how to
trace a drawing. Hence when he saw the word he was able to trace the
word in the air. After a sufficient number of repetitions the bond con-
necting this situation with this response becomes strong enough to
function. But the possession of a bond between seeing the word "leaf"
and writing it is not enough, else Carl could not write the word when
his teacher pronounces it. While Carl was looking at the word he was
also muttering it to himself. The teacher was also pronouncing it.
Hearing the word then was part of the situation. And while hearing
it he was also writing it in the air. Repetition of this detail of the sit-