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These studies show that most of the errors in language are con-
fined to a small number of types. Thus in Charter's tabulation,
71% of all oral errors fall under five types or grammatical rules,
namely, No. 9, Confusion of Past Tense and Past Participle, 24%;



LANGUAGE 365

No. 8, Failure of Verb to Agree with its Sul)jcct in Number and
Person, 14%; No. 12, Wrong verb, 12%; No. 18, Double Negative,
11%; and No. 20, Syntactical Redund^ance, 10%. The same situa-
tion obtains among written errors; 91% of all errors fall under ten
classes or rules.

There are several rather striking differences between the errors
of written and oral composition. Written composition is much
more apt to get the wrong form of noun or jironoun (16%, 11%)
than oral (2%, 1%, o - %) and the same is true of confusion of the
tenses (12%, 19%, vs. 2%, 5%, 3%). On the other hand, oral lan-
guage is much more apt to confuse the past tense and past parti-
ciple (24%, 20%, 19%, vs. 5%, 4%), to use the wrong verb (12%,
21%, 14%, vs. 7%, 4%), and to use the double negative (11%,
14%', I2%VS. i%,o%).

Sears and Diebel also tabulated their material to show the
relative proportions of different types of errors for the various
grades. (Table 109.)

TABLE 109

Classification of Errors Grades

3 4 5 ft 7 8 Total



1. Verbs 44.2 fio.o 55.4 54

2. Pronouns 15.9 14.0 0.7 7

3. Negatives 1 1 . 5 7.1 20 . 2 7

4. Syntactical redundance. .. . 8.0 6.6 11. 2 12

5. Mispronunciations 14.7 7.8 2.2 4

6. Prepositions 3.4 3.2 1.8 5

7. Adjectives and adverbs ... . 2.0 0.6 2.2 6



Q 43 . ', 48 . 2 49

7 12.3 18.8 13

3 15.2 14.0 II

6 16.5 9.6 9

9 1.7 8

6 4.1 2.6 3

6 8.2 4.8 3



8. Ambiguous expressions .... 0.2 .2

Percentages of errors in each grade due to each class of mistakes. The
forty-one specific errors which Scars and Diebel found most frequent
follow with their respective frequencies: —

1. haven't no for haven't any 233

2. seen — had saw 180

3. ain't for am not, isn't, aren't 124

4. done 113

5. got, ain't got, haven't got 112

6. 1 and my brother 96

7. kin, jist, git, kitch 91

8. ain't for haven't, hasn't 89

9. Frank and me for Frank and 1 80

10. is for are 76

11. them for those 75

12. learn for teach 71



366 EDUCx\TIONAL PSYCHOLOGY

13. can for may 60

14. my mother, she 58

15. got for receive, become, grow, is 53

16. that there 38

1 7. don't for doesn't • 36

I S. It was me 36

19. leave for let 34

20. went for gone 32

21. come for came 31

22. never gave 30

23. by my aunt's 28

24. drawcd, throwed, growed, knowcd 27

25. somepin, for something 25

26. broke for broken 22

27. lay for lie 21

28. make dinner for prepare, get 21

29. says for said 20

30. all two, all l)oth 19

31 . readin, nothin 18

32. by us for near us 16

33. he does it like she does 15

34. why, and, so, at the beginning of sentence or in middle of sentence. ... 15

35. that, which, for wlio and whose , 14

36. onct 12

37. in back of 12

38. funny, lots, etc., for queer, many 11

39. et for ate 11

40. run for ran 11

41. set for sit 10

R. I. Johnson obtained samples of written exposition, narration,
and description from 132 high school freshmen and 66 college
freshmen from the Kansas City High School and Junior College in
an effort to determine the persistence of errors in written English.
The high-school freshmen made 2,160 errors in 50,371 words, while
the college freshmen made 787 errors in 32,693 words. Roughly
this was 23 errors per thousand words for the former and 42 errors
per thousand words for the latter. The college freshmen are there-
fore distinctly superior. The following table shows the relative
improvement for the various types of errors. Naturally the raw
results of such an experiment somewhat exaggerated the improve-
ment due to four years of training because of the elimination of
the poorer high school students before reaching college. In the
last column of the table this factor has been compensated for.



LANGUAGE



367



TABLE no





Total
NO. Er-


Errors


Per






Per Cent




of 06


Cent






Decrease




College


De-


Rank


Rank


IN Errors of




1,!2
High
School
Fresh-
Men


Fresh-


crease


IN


IN


College


Types of Errors


Mi'.N In-


OF Er-


Pre-


Per-


Freshmen




cre.\si:u


rors OF


va-


sis-


after Elim-




to Pro-


COLLEtlE


lence


tency


ination has




portion


Fresu-






been Al-




OF 132


Me.v






lowed FOR


1. Mistake in case of pronoun ...


11


,vO


72.7


14


13


71


2. Oilier errors with pronoun ...


102


61.6


40.0


6


7


36


3 Use of verl)


93


49.0


47.0


/


8


37


4. Adjective and adverb


$2


43.0


17.3


')


1


1 1 (increase)


5. Prepositions and conjunctions


50


37.0


26.0


10


5


21


6. Unjjramniatical sentence strut
















220

46

232


49.0
26.0
154. 8


77.7
43.5
33.0


8
12
3


11
4
6


74




17


8. Mistakes in punctuation


28.3




l.SO


115.5


23.0


5


3


16.5




1^6


184.8


5.7


2


2


-0.5














(increase)


11. Careless omission or repetition. .


223


118.6


47.0


4





43.


12. Mistakes in spelling


676


320 3


52 . 5


1


11


4 7.4


1,V Quotation marks


2.S


13.8


44 8


13


10


■16.3


14. Miscellaneous errors


8.S


35.4


58.3


11


12


54.



I have computed the correlation of the two scries of ranks in
the above table by the Spearman rank method which yields .26.
This means that there is slight connection between the prevalence
and the persistency of errors, that is, if there is any tendency at all
it is for the more common errors to be also more persistent.

Such studies should prove exceedingly useful in helping the
teacher to devise special exercises and drills designed to eliminate
these errors and to substitute for them correct forms of expression.

(4) Oral versus Written Practice in Composition. The processes
of oral and written composition differ psychologically from each
other in certain important respects; and the same is even more true
of formal oral composition and everyday speech. Ordinary conver-
sation consists for the most part of short verbal responses each last-
ing but a few seconds, initiated by continuously recurring stimula-
tions from the other individuals engaged. Formal oral composition
on the other hand is a reaction many times as long with but a
single formal impulse at the beginning. With this enormously
increased length of reaction arise all the complex problems of
structure and the accompanying strain on the attention, to say
nothing of the powerful emotional inhibitions of thought and action
resulting from self-consciousness and fear of failure, which prac-
tically do not exist at all in ordinary spontaneous speech.

Again, written composition differs psychologically very much



368 EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY

from oral composition in permitting mvicli more deliberate action.
If a satisfactory thought does not present itself, there is no imper-
ative necessity for immediate action at all costs. There are no
distractions of the attention from a staring audience. Perhaps
most different of all, written composition presents an opportunity
for revision of structure, choice of material and words which oral
composition cannot permit. Even the vocabulary and sentence
structure is different to a certain extent.

It has already been pointed out in the chapter on transfer of train-
ing that psychological reactions tend strongly to be limited closely
to the conditions under which training takes ])lace. The moral as
to composition is obvious. Oral composition no less than written
composition requires specific practice.

Probably over nine-tenths of the composition of the average
adult is oral and only a very small fraction is written. And yet
the schools until recently have directed about nine-tenths of all
specific training in composition toward written expression, either
with the belief that training in writing would carry over directly
to oral composition or with no realization at all of the importance
of oral composition. The whole process has disregarded the psy-
chological law of association that associated bonds should be
formed in the order and manner in which they are to be used. If
language is to be spoken, the neural links via the motor speech
centers should be specifically and correctly exercised. It is needless
to point out here the inestimable value of speaking and conversing
in correct, convincing manner. Why should the schools not direct
their efforts far more fully to specific training in oral composition?
The reply might be made that all speaking in general and all re-
citing in classes affords practice in oral composition. But the
trouble is that most of it is done with little or no attention to cor-
rect, well-organized exj^ression. Gross errors, to be sure, are
pointed out to the child; but why should the school not assign a
theme to each pupil in the English class on which he is to give a
3 or 4 minute oral composition in correct, well-planned and thought-
out form? Apropos of this point, a committee of The Illinois As-
sociation of Teachers of English arranged

"A course for the second semester of the ninth grade, which was to be
taught in two ways; one class would have only written exercises; the
other, a combination of two-thirds oral and one-third written. All
classes taking either course were to be given the same written tests at



LANGUAGE 36^

the beginning, at the middle, and at the end of the semester. All the
papers written by each class, including these tests, were to be forwarded
to ihe committee in charge of the experiment, accompanied by a report
from the teacher, stating as accurately as possible how much time he
spent in preparation, in conference, and in correcting papers, and also
his opinion as to the results of the experiment.

"The outcome was decidedly favorable to the use of oral composition.
The sections taking the combined course were better at the end of the
semester in thought-\'igor, freedom and interest than the others; they were
no worse in spelling and punctuation and better in handwriting — indeed,
the writing sections showed marked degeneration in all matters of n:c-
chanics. Over half of the 22 schools which carried out the experiment in
full reported greater improvement in the combination sections, while only
two reported less improvement." (Reported by Hosic, '15, pp. gS-99.)

(5) How Much Written Composition is Profitable? Written
composition, even aside from consuming the time that might more
profitably be used for oral composition, is probably overdone in
many English classes. So much is required that it becomes a bore
with little profit to be derived for the amount of time consumed in
putting down upon paper a few trivial ideas about fictitious and
worthless subjects. Professor Lounsbury and other teachers of
English have begun to doubt the value of such extensive writing.
He says:

"I am by no means disposed to go so far as the historian of New Eng-
land, John Gorham Palfrey, who as I have been told, was wont to ex-
press the desire that an act of Congress should be passed forbidding on
pain of death anyone under twenty-one years of age to write a sentence.
Excess in one direction can not be remedied by excess in the opposite.
Still, none the less am I thoroughly convinced that altogether undue
importance is attached to exercises in English composition, especially
compulsory exercises; that the benefits to be derived from the general
practice in schools is vastly overrated; that the criticism of themes,
even when it is fully competent, is in the majority of cases of little value
to the recipient; that in a large number of instances the criticism is and
must ever be more or less incompetent; and that when the corrections
which are made inefhciently and unintelligently, as is too often the case,
the results are distinctly more harmful than helpful."

William Lyon Phelps, Professor of English Literature at Yale,
has reached a similar conclusion:

"On the subject of required English composition, I am a stout, un-
abashed and thorough sceptic. And although the majority is still against



370 EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY

me, I am in good company. Professor Child read and corrected themes
at Harvard for about forty years: at the end of tlie time it was his fervent
belief that not only was the work unprofitable to the student, but that
in many cases it was injurious. That it is always injurious to the in-
structor, when it is intcmperately indulged, is certain. When I was an
instructor at Harvard, I one day met Professor Child in the yard. He
stopped a moment and asked me what kind of work I was doing. I said,
'Reading themes.' He put his hand affectionately on my shoulder, and
remarked with that wonderful smile of his, in which kindness was mingled
with the regret of forty years, 'Don't spoil your youth.' Professor
Wendell, who inherited the bondage under which his predecessor groaned,
has never really believed in the efiicacy of the work. Professor Louns-
bury of Yale has given valuable and powerful testimony against it.
Professor Cook and Professor Beers — two quite different types of men — ■
arc in this point in absolute agreement." (P. 117.)

By way of concrete e\'idencc for his opinion, Professor Phelps
tells that after requiring only a moderate amount of theme writing
during the freshman and sophomore years he submitted a batch
of compositions written by-his juniors to one of the Harvard pro-
fessors. He read them carefully and testified that they were
exactly as good technically as those done by Harvard juniors. He
further says:

"I know of nothing in the world that illustrates more beautifully the
law of diminishing returns than required courses in composition. A
class of students will never under any circumstances write five times as
well by writing five themes as they will by writing one; but the reading
and correcting of five themes require five times the effort on the part of
the body of teachers." (P. 123.)

It is evident, from the diversity of opinion and practice regarding
the question, that a careful and extensive investigation should be
made to determine if possible the optimum amount of writing to
be required in English courses. The report of the Committee of
the Modern Language Association of America and the National
Council of Teachers of English on the Cost and Labor of English
Teaching (1913), based on returns from 552 English teachers in
93 high schools and 345 English teachers in 96 colleges, states that

"The amount actually written under present conditions averages for
high schools 3S0 words a week throughout the year, and for colleges 630
words a week. Ideal conditions would slightly increase these averages
to about 430 for high schools and 6S0 for colleges, and would make pos-
sible equal attention to oral and to written training."



LANGUAGE 37 I

These facts arc interesting as indicative of the present practice;
they are significant as indicative of the consensus of opinions con-
cerning the ideal amount of writing to be done. No one of course
knows what the ideal amount is nor where the region of diminish-
ing returns is located. Opinions do not settle the question. Ex-
perimental and statistical inquiries must be made to determine
the actual results produced by various amounts of writing under
varying conditions and to locate, if possible, the region of dimin-
ishing returns.

(6) Good English in All Oral and Written Work. One of the
great counteracting forces to the influence of the teaching of com-
position in English classes, particularly in high schools and univer-
sities, is the utter disregard for proper use of language in work
outside of the classes in English. Pupils wear their Sunday clothes
in only one class and go shabl)y the rest of the time. Instruction
in composition is effective only when it succeeds in making correct,
elegant language a part of the automatic association processes of
thinking. During nine-tenths of the time, the language habits
are being mechanized in a slipshod manner. How can the instruc-
tion in English classes prevail against the iron chains of habit
formed during the rest of the day?

In his classic chapter on habit, James says: ''The second maxim
is: Never suffer an excc])tion to occur till the new habit is securely
rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the fall of a ball of string
which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than
a great many turns will wind again."

Pupils should be required to be as careful in all their oral and
WTitten work as they are in their classes in English. The organiza-
tion of schools should be so modified that the necessary cooperation
between teachers of English and teachers of other subjects could be
made possible. Why should not all WTitten work in all other sub-
jects have to pass muster before the teacher of English? While
all teachers, besides teachers of English, are in theory supposed to
watch carefully over the English used by their pupils, they do as a
matter of fact pay very little attention to it, partly because they
feel they are too busy teaching the content of their own subjects
to be able to spare the time, and partly because many of them are
not as competent to correct the English of their pupils as they
should be.

A powerful incentive to the ])upil to use at all times the best
language that he is capable of could be given by basing his English



372 EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY

mark to the extent of say one-third or one-fourth, upon his work in
the English class, and to the extent of two-thirds or three-fourths
upon the quality and correctness of his English in other classes.

(7) Practice in Expressing Really Important and Personally
Vital Ideas. On the assumption that thought and language are
intimately related, that in fact for practical purposes idea and
word or thought and language are substantially identical. It would
seem to be a fair inference that the exercise in oral and written
composition should be carried on in conjunction with topics con-
cerning which the pupil really has ideas or concerning which, if he
has none, it would be really worth while to acquire ideas. From
a psychological and humanitarian standpoint, it seems almost
a crime to ask a pupil to write several pages of words on a topic
concerning which he has no ideas or in which he has not the slightest
interest, or which has no vital importance to him or to anybody
else. Yet how often is such the case! It is not likely to be very
stimulating to a pupil to be asked to write 150 words with this
phrase as the beginning of the first sentence: "Life to me
seems .... "; to write a theme on that veteran of topics "The
Autobiography"; or on such subjects as "Why Go to Church?"
"Why go to College?" "What Picture Impressed me Most,"
"What I got out of Virgil's .^ncid."

Brown and Haggerty incidentally point out in their study that
the pupils wrote distinctly better compositions on certain topics
than on others. The most striking case was the topic of the sixth
week, "How I Earned Some Money" which produced a rise in the
curves to as high a point as was reached even at the end of the
twelve weeks. The topic for the fifth week, "The Pleasures of
Skating (or some other sport)" and for the seventh week, "The
Right Kind «f a Chum" produced distinct drops in the curves.

Too much of the practice in theme writing has to do with fictitious
situations and not with vital ideas. The average adult, unless he
enters a profession of which literary work is a necessary part,
rarely has occasion to write about fictitious or far-fetched subjects.
His composition, both oral and written, has to do with problems
which are vital to his life and concerning which he actually has
ideas or concerning which, if he has none, it is very important for
him to acquire ideas. His welfare, his business and professional
success may depend upon the forcefulncss of his letter or upon the
convincingness of his interview. Many adults testify to the effect
that they obtained most of their training in organizing and ex-



LANGUAGE 373

pressing their thoughts in connection with their business, profes-
sional, and vocational problems.

Why should not the composition in school be centered around
problems that are real to the pupil or that will be real to him?
Why should not the written work in other school subjects be
submitted as the work in English composition, and why should not
the correction and development of language be centered around
the expression of thoughts actually necessary in his school work?
The engineering school in a western university severed its instruc-
tion in English from the academic English department because of
the purely formal drill that was provided for its students, and
instead secured the services of a teacher, who was trained both in
engineering and in English, to give instruction in English by using
their writing, their laboratory notes and reports, their language work
in the various courses as the chief basis of instruction in English.

(8) Effect of Differences in Teaching Ability. The dit!ferences
of the ability of teachers iare probably as striking, if not more so,
in the teaching of English as in any other branch. The differences
in the average abilities of entire classes are very great. The fol-
lowing table gives the median value of the compositions written
on the same topic and under similar circumstances in the high
schools in a certain county in Illinois. Each composition was rated
by three or more judges according to the Hillegas-Thorndike scale.





TABLE III




High


Number of


Median Score in Composition


School


Pupils


(HiLLiiCAS Scale)


I


6


40.5


2


77


47-4


3


169


47-7


4


15


52-8


5


41


52-9


6


113


58.5


7




62.3


8


55


63.0


9


261


63.1


10


22 ■


77.2



' From this table it appears that the pupils in the best school
wrote compositions of approximately twice as good quality as the
pupils in the worst school. Furthermore there is, so far as these
limited data go, no indication of connection between size of school
and quality of composition. The probability is that the most potent
factor in the situation was the teaching ability of the instructor.



CHAPTER XX

ARITHMETIC

The Psychological Processes Involved in Arithmetical
Operations

An analysis of the psychological processes involved in arith-
metical operations may be undertaken in two ways: either we may
analyze the mental activities concerned in a typical arithmetical
operation as performed by an adult or by a practiced pupil, or we
may trace the genetic development and combination of arithmet-
ical concepts and processes in the child. The one would be a
dissection of the finished product as carried out by the trained
individual; the other would be a synthesis of the arithmetical
elements as they arise in the mental growth of the child. Both
methods of attack will lead essentially to the same set of elements.
Let us pursue for the present the first method of approach and let
us take as an illustration a common everyday type of arithmetical
computation. Suppose you purchase at a store, fruit for loc, a
loaf of bread for loc, a pound of butter at 45c., and a bunch of
celery for 7c., and give the clerk a dollar bill, how much change
should you receive? What mental processes are either involved
or presupposed in arriving at the answer, 2Sc., or rather in the
clerk's making the change up from 72 until he reaches one dollar?
An analysis will show at least the following steps: (i) The concepts
of numbers and their meaning, (2) the ability (a) to hear, interpret
and speak (if only by inner speech, which accompanies even the
thinking of the numbers) the sounds for the numbers when the
calculation is carried out mentally, or (b) to write and read the
symbols for the numbers when the calculation is done with paper
and pencil; (3) the previously established mechanical associations



Online LibraryDaniel StarchEducational psychology → online text (page 32 of 41)