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conspicuous the particular part of any word that is most likely to
be misspelled. These points will be considered more fully in the
next three paragraphs.

(6) Careful Attention upon the Successive Letters of a Word.
Pryor ('15) reports "an experiment to determine the value of
'spelling the word through' as an aid to learning. Two divisions
of the fifth grade studied the same list. Conditions as to time,
length of period, and the like were the same for both divisions.
For one, emphasis was placed on observing carefully the order of
letters while studying. Preliminary and final tests given to both
divisions showed an advance from 50.55% to 83.39%, or ^^ average
gain of 32.84% for the division working under the usual condi-
tions. The other division advanced from 48.58% to 89.14%, an
average gain of 40.56%."

(7) Personal Incentive to Interest and Effort on the Part of the
Learner. Aside from competitive contests in their various forms,
there are at least two ways in which personal effort may be stimu-
lated: (a) By having at regular intervals definite tests, preferably
by means of some one of the standard spelling scales or tests so
that each pupil may know his attainment from time to time and
measure his progress. This plan will usually arouse very keen
interest in the individual to surpass his own previous record. See
Chapter XL This is a form of incentive whose actual effective-
ness has never been fully appreciated, (b) A second form of in-
centive is to arrange with the pupils that the grade in spelling will



be determined half by the work in the spelling-class and half by
their spelling efficiency in all written work. This plan was em-
ployed in a school in Potsdam, New York, with the result that the
pupils developed a remarkable efficiency in spelling as shown in
the accompanying graph, Figure 73. Each grade is approximately
one entire grade ahead of the general average. This is one of the
highest records found in any school measured by the writer's
spelling test.

(8) Calling Special Attention to Difficult Parts of Words. One
of the much needed investigations of spelling is a careful collection
and classification of errors in the words used as spelling material.





g 20

- —









2 3 4 5

Fig. 73. — Averages in spelling in grades 5 to 8 in a certain school as measured
by the author's test. The continuous Hne represents standard attainments.

Errors in spelling usually consist in certain letters or parts of
words only. For example, the error in receive is usually in the two
letters c-i, or in separate, in the a after the p. (Such a study is
under way for the 2,626 most common words previously referred
to.) By means of such a study the teacher would be able to antici-
pate the probable misspellings and to call especial attention to the
letters likely to be missed. Such particular emphasis may be
secured by asking the pupils to focalize the correct order of the
letters which are usually confused, by writing those letters extra
large, or by drawing a line around them, or by having them printed
in larger or heavier type, and so on. It is quite imperative to
anticipate the troublesome parts of words so as to forestall the
formation of wrong connections. Instruction in spelling should


consist in the teaching of correct forms rather than in the un-
teaching of incorrect forms.

(9) Writing the Words. We need to know how to spell words
only in writing. It is a general law of association that connected
bonds should be established in the manner and order in which
they are to be used. It would seem, therefore, on a priori grounds
that the associative bonds between the successive letters should
be formed by exercise in the writing of the words so that the spell-
ing may become automatic during the act of writing. Current
emphasis upon writing the words in sentences is in the right di-
rection. It would be an interesting experiment to teach two
sections of a spelling-class by having in one section a great deal of
writing of the words of the spelling lesson and by having little or
no writing in the other section. The spelling ability of the two
sections would have to be compared at various times by appro-
priate tests.

(10) Context versus Column Spelling. On the basis of the
discussion in the preceding j)aragraph, it would seem obviously
advantageous to have a great deal of writing of the words to be
learned, especially in sentences. The belief is held by many that
the ability to spell words in isolation does not insure ability to
spell them in context. As a matter of fact, however, there is very
little difference in spelling efficiency between these two situations.
Wallin ('11) used the same test words both in a column test and in
a dictated composition test and found an average spelling efifi-
ciency of 97.72%, in the column test, and 96.28% in the composi-
tion test, giving an advantage of only 1.44% to the former. Cook
('14) used 60 words in a column and in a composition test and
likewise found only a very slight advantage in favor of the former
test. Spelling efficiency in composition is only very slightly lower
than it is in columns. This slight loss is probably due to the dis-
traction of attention by the other factors in writing, such as punc-
tuation, grammatical form, and thought content. The argument
that spelling should be taught by using words only in sentences
is not very weighty.

(11) Teaching Homonyms Together or Separately. Suzzallo and
Pearson ('13) report an experiment in which they attempted to
determine the relative effectiveness of teaching homonyms to-
gether or apart. They used five pairs of homonyms in each of
grades 3 to 7 in the Horace Mann school. Each grade was taught
in two sections of about equal ability. One section was taught by


the togetlicr-method and the other by the separate-method. All
other conditions were kept as nearly alike as possible. All
classes were tested at the beginning and at the end of the experi-
ment. The outcome showed a decrease of 2.29 errors by the
together-method, and of 1.61 errors by the separate-method.
There is thus a slight advantage in favor of the former method.
Suzzallo's experiment was repeated with the same material by
Knight at Montclair, New Jersey, in grades 3 to 7, inclusive. The
together-method reduced the errors on the average 2.63% while
the separate-method reduced them 2.24%, thus supporting Suz-
zallo's findings. On the other hand, W. F. Jones ('15) reports

"Experiments in teaching homonyms have been made by the depart-
ment of education at the University of South Dakota, which show that
homonyms should not be brought together until the second one of the
pair appears in the child's vocabulary. This often gives time to fix the
meaning and the spelling of the first member of the pair before the second
one appears. In such cases the homonyms give relatively little trouble."

(12) Class versus Independent Study. Suzzallo and Pearson
further undertook a comparison of progress in spelling when the
pupils studied independently, with j^rogress when the pupils
studied under supervision. For nearly a year, one class in each of
grades 4, 5, and 6 was taught by the supervised-study plan and the
other by the independent-study plan. In the latter case, the recita-
tion period consisted chiefly in testing or lesson hearing. Their
conclusion is stated thus:

"The evidence of this experiment, therefore, from whatever angle we
study it, shows that teaching of the class-study type is far more effective,
than the independent-study type."



TABLE 107. After Suzzallo and Pearson ('13)
Total decrease in errors

Indkpendent Study

Class Study










PER Pupil









PER Pupil































































(13) Grouping Words of Similar Spelling. Is it an advantage
to learn words of similar spelling in groups? Wagner ^ made an
experiment to answer this question. He divided a 6th grade class
into two sections both of which studied the words in the usual
manner with the exception that the words were presented to one
section in groups, according to their similarity, such as lineal,
lineament, linear and lineage while to the other they were presented
in miscellaneous combinations. The former section, which studied
the words in groups, raised its average percentage from 68.36 in
the preliminary test to 97.14 in the final test, or 28.78% while
the latter section raised its average percentage from 73.25 to 93.6,
or 20.35%. The former group, therefore, gained 8.42% more
than the latter, showing a decided advantage in favor of the
grouping plan.

(14) Imagery. Individuals differ in mental imagery, but recent
inquiries point out the probability that pure types of visuals,
audiles, mo tiles, etc., are exceedingly rare and that imagery of any
sort may be aroused irrespective of the sense organ through which
the stimuli come. Since practically every child possesses images
of all classes the safest procedure is no doubt to appeal to a variety

^ Reported by Pryor. ('15.)



of images. Note here again the discussion of imagery in Chapter
XI, p. i66.

(15) Spelling To-day and Formerly. Finally it will be of interest
to note how the spelling ability of pupils of to-day compares with
that of our forefathers, particularly in view of the claim often made
that the schools to-day do not train the pupils as thoroughly in the
fundamental subjects. One of the comparisons made in the Spring-
field test (Riley, '08) was that of spelling ability. The same 20
words that had been given as a spelling test to 9th grade pupils
in 1846 in Springfield, Massachusetts, were given again in 1906
to 246 pupils of corresponding age in the same school. The pupils
in 1846 had made an average grade of 40.6%, while the pupils
in 1906 made an average of 51.2%. A similar test, made in
Cleveland in the years 1858 and 1909 showed one error less per
child in the 1909 test. Apparently the "superior" spelling ability
in the good old days is largely an illusion.




Psychological Processes Involved ln Language

The subjects thus far considered, namely, reading, writing, and
spclhng, together with the one to be considered in this chapter, con-
stitute psychologically the complete set of language functions since
they all play a part in the communication of ideas. Reading deals
with the reception of ideas; while writing, spelling and language in
the restricted sense, have to do with the expression of ideas. The
term language as used here, and as used in the school program,
refers only to that portion of the complete language process which
deals with the organization and expression of thought in speaking
and writing.

A complete analysis of all the psychological processes involved
in the language functions would require again an enumeration of
all the elements in reading, writing and spelling. This is unnec-
essary; and hence our present analysis will be limited to the steps
immediately concerned in the expression of ideas in oral or written
form. These elements are:

(i) The arising of ideas in the mind.

(2) The simultaneous or successive arousal of symbols or word
forms corresponding to the ideas.

(3) The transmission of the nerve impulses, connected with the
ideas that arise, to the motor speech centers in oral expression, or
to the motor writing centers in written expression.

(4) The transmission of nerve impulses from the latter to either
the muscles of the speech organs or to the muscles of the hand and

(5) The execution of the speaking or writing movements.
Steps (3), (4) and (5) are identical with the corresponciing ones

previously enumerated in the analysis of the writing and spell-
ing processes. The important steps for our present purposes are
numbers (i) and (2).

From the psychological standpoint, the arising of ideas in the
mind is practically identical in the normal person with the arising



of words in the mind, since in the normal child words and meanings
are built up together through oft repeated associations of words
and meanings. Hence wc shall use the term "word-idea " to convey
this union of symbol and meaning. Furthermore, from the psychol-
ogical standpoint, the occurrence in the mind of ideas or words
to be expressed, is fundamentally a matter of the psychology of
association. Where do the ideas come from? What causes them
to arise in the mind? Why do certain ones arise rather than others?
To what extent can the occurrence of ideas be controlled? Com-
position, either oral or written, is simply the outward expression of
the ideas that do arise. The occurrence of the ideas and their
precise verbal form takes place in the mind as a part of step (i).
Obviously then, a study of steps (i) and (2) and an attempt to
answer the questions raised thereby, constitute almost entirely
a study in the psychology of association or thinking processes.
Composing fundamentally is thinking.

Let us take a typical example of oral or written composition,
such as a bit of speaking or writing. How do the ideas in this
simple composition arise in the mind? The blunt answer is, they
arise almost entirely in a mechanical manner according to the
established neural or mental connections. The first idea in a chain
arises as the result of a stimulus, either through the senses or
through previous ideas or images in the mind. No idea probably
ever arises independently in the mind as though out of the blue
sky, but always in succession to a preceding link, stimulus or
occasion. Thinking is simply the flow of ideas, which occurs
almost wholly automatically, according to the law^^ association
— frequency, vividness, primacy and recency. 'Conversation also'
is largely the automatic flow of association processes in the minds
of the participants. Each statement comes in response to the re-
mark of one of the converscrs or in succession to the preceding re-
marks of the speaker himself. Even more formal comi)osition,
such as the writing of a theme, a story or an essay, is principally
the result of association processes aroused in the mind by the sub-
ject of the theme. This occurs, even in vigorous and original
thinking about a subject, largely according to the mechanical laws
of association. Voluntary thinking or composing is controlled
probably only in two ways: (i) by effort and concentration more
ideas are likely to arise than by a purely passive attitude, and (2)
by making a selection among the ideas that do arise preference to
further chains of ideas are determined. But the arising of ideas


themselves occurs fundamentally according to the mechanical,
neural and mental connections previously established.

The objection is likely to be made by the reader at this point,
that if this is true, how can any new ideas ever arise? or how can
any original thinking occur? The blunt answer is: Thinking is
original only in the sense of making certain selections, rather than
others, among the ideas that do arise and of allowing further
associations to arise in connection with them, rather than in connec-
tion with others. In this sense, the possibility of original thinking
is indefinitely great.

Correct English is fundamentally a matter of associating certain
words in certain orders, rather than in others. The reason why
people say, "Do it good," is because they have been told since
infancy to "Do it good." Language is an immensely intricate
net-work of associative links. Wide vocabulary in speaking or
writing is due to the arising of numerous words in connection with
given meanings. Elegant diction is due to the more appropriate
selection of words among the larger varieties that do arise. In the
skilled speaker or writer the more appropriate words arise auto-
matically in the course of time. Greater varieties of words come
up with given word-ideas because more of them have been previ-
ously experienced and retained. Two persons may read the same
literary masterpiece, the one may retain a great deal of the actual
diction and phraseology in connection with the ideas read, while
the other may retain very little. In the course of time the former
will acquire a far wider vocabulary and a much nicer diction than
the latter because he retains much more of the actual words and
forms of expression than the other, and consequently when any
topic is brought to his mind, it arouses a far richer wealth of ideas,
words and phrases, and by virtue of this wealth he is able to make
a far superior selection. Ingersoll appropriately said of Shake-
speare :

y "The moment his attention was called to any subject — comparisons,
definitions, metaphors, and generalizations filled his mind and begged
for utterance. His thoughts like bees robbed every blossom in the world,
and then with 'merry march' brought the rich booty home 'to the tent
royal of their emperor.'" (P. 661, Modern Eloquence, Volume V.)

"Some have insisted that Shakespeare must have been a physician,
for the reason that he shows such knowledge of medicine, of the symptoms
of disease and death ; because he was so familiar with the brain, and with
insanity in all its forms.


" I do not think he was a physician. He knew too much; his generaliza-
tions were too splendid. He had none of the prejudices of that profession
in his time. We might as well say that he was a musician, a composer,
because we find in ' The Two Gentlemen of Verona ' nearly every musical
term known in Shakespeare's time.

"Others maintain that he was a lawyer, perfectly acquainted with
the forms, with the expressions familiar to that profession. Yet there is
nothing to show that he was a lawyer, or that he knew more about law
than any intelligent man should know. He was not a lawyer. His sense
of justice was never dulled by reading English law.

"Some think he was a botanist, because he named nearly all known
plants. Others, that he was an astronomer, a naturalist, because he gave
hints and suggestions of nearly all discoveries.

"Some have thought that he must have been a sailor, for the reason
that the orders given in the opening of 'The Tempest' were the best
that could, under the circumstances, have been given to save the ship.

"For my part, I think there is nothing in the plays to show that he
was a lawyer, doctor, botanist, or scientist. He had the observant eyes
that really see, the ears that really hear, the brain that retains all pictures,
all thoughts, logic as unerring as light, imagination that supplies defects
and builds the perfect from a fragment. And these faculties, these apti-
tudes, working together, account for what he did." (P. 665.)

Thinking and language are the two sides of the same shield.
The language used to express ideas depends upon the thinking
that goes on in the mind; and the thinking depends upon the
verbal-ideational connections established in the neural and mental
network by reading and hearing successions of words, phrases and
sentences. Language is not words; it is thinking, thinking by
means of symbols.

The Measurement of Efficiency in English

(a) Methods of Measurement. Four types of measuring devices
have been prepared, each for a different phase of language, (i) For
measuring the grammatical correctness of language, the writer ('15)
has prepared a series of scales consisting of sets of sentences, each
stated in two different ways. These sets of sentences are arranged
in an order of increasingly difficult steps. The pupil in doing the
test is requested to indicate which the correct or preferred form is.
A similar scale has been prepared for testing ability in punctua-
tion. (2) For measuring technical knowledge of the grammatical
structure of English the writer has devised several tests for ascer-
taining quickness and accuracy in indicating parts of speech,



cases, tenses and modes. (3) For measuring general merit in
written composition, two scales have been constructed. The one,
known as the Hillegas-Thorndike ('12) scale, is composed of a
series of compositions, arranged according to a large number of
judgments in the order of steps of increasing merit from zero to
nearly one hundred. The second, known as the Harvard-Newton
scale (Ballou, '14), is composed of a series of four scales for nar-
ration, description, argumentation and exposition respectively.
Each scale contains six compositions. These were graded by 24
teachers and approximate in percentage marks the values of 45,
55) 65, 75, 85 and 95. A composition is rated by any one of the
scales by comparing its merit with those in the scale, and giving
to it the value of the step on the scale to which it is judged equal.
(4) Trabue ('16) has prepared a series of language scales, each
consisting of some 10 mutilated sentences. These sentences are
arranged in steps of increasing difficulty as determined by experi-
mentation with a large number of pupils. In doing the test, the
pupil is required to supply the most appropriate words in the
blank spaces. It is difficult to say just what this scale measures,
but it probably tests the ability to think of the proper word for
a given situation.

(b) Uses and Results. Without repeating here, we need to say
merely that these tests serve the same general purposes for the
language functions as the measurements devised for the subjects
previously discussed serve for their respective subjects. Measure-
ments of ability in language have shown incredibly large individual
differences among the pupils in the same class and the resulting
overlapping of the abilities of pupils in succeeding grades. Note
the facts in Figure 25 in regard to ability in composition in a
certain Illinois high school. The overlapping is enormous and the
median gain from year to year is surprisingly small. In fact there
is almost no improvement above the first year. The little im-
provement that is noticeable is probably due chiefly to the drop-
ping out of the poorer pupils in the lower years. Figure 26 shows
similar facts with regard to ability in recognizing correct gram-
matical forms.

^ Brown and Haggerty ('17) measured the progress in composition
ability in the case of 78 pupils in three classes during a period of 12
weeks by having them write an extemporaneous composition each
week. These compositions were rated by the Harvard-Newton
scale. The median progress of the three classes is indicated in



Figure 74, being 4.2 points for Classes I and III, and 5.2 points
for Class II. These graphs indicate a noticeable improvement

Weeks of Practice

5 6 7 8

10 11





2 60

^ 50


P 30



Fig. 74. — Median scores in composition for three high-school classes. Con-
tinuous line represents a first-semester freshman class; the dotted line rejjrc-
sents a second-semester freshman class; and the dash-line represents a first-
semester sophomore class. After Brown and Haggerty ( '17, p. 524).

from the first week to the twelfth, but show no difference in ability
between the sophomore class and the freshman classes.

Economic Methods for Acquiring Skill in the English


A great variety of experiences has been obtained and an equally
great variety of personal opinions is held by teacliers with regard









>» s

, >



to the most effective manner of learning and teaching English.

Online LibraryDaniel StarchEducational psychology → online text (page 30 of 41)