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Frank M. McMurry.

How to Study and Teaching How to Study online

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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




PREFACE



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.

THE AUTHOR.

_Teachers College_, May 6,1909.




CONTENTS



PART I

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

PART II

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

PART III

CONCLUSIONS

XI. FULL MEANING OF STUDY; RELATION OF STUDY TO CHILDREN AND TO THE
SCHOOL

INDEX





PART I

PRESENT METHODS OF STUDY; NATURE OF STUDY, AND ITS PRINCIPAL FACTORS




CHAPTER I

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
been intelligent in their study in the past, therefore, is difficult
to comprehend.

_Teachers' and parents complaints about methods of study._

It is, perhaps, unnecessary to collect proofs that young people do not
learn how to study, because teachers admit the fact very generally.
Indeed, it is one of the common subjects of complaint among teachers
in the elementary school, in the high school, and in the college. All
along the line teachers condole with one another over this evil,
college professors placing the blame on the instructors in the high
school, and the latter passing it down to teachers in the elementary
school. Parents who supervise their children's studies, or who
otherwise know about their habits of work, observe the same fact with
sorrow. It is at least refreshing to find one matter, in the much-
disputed field of education, on which teachers and parents are well
agreed.

How about the methods of study among teachers themselves? Unless they
have learned to study properly, young people cannot, of course, be
expected to acquire proper habits from them. _Method of study among
teachers._ The most enlightening single experience I have ever had
on this question came several years ago in connection with a series of
lectures on Primary Education. A course of such lectures had been
arranged for me without my full knowledge, and I was unexpectedly
called upon to begin it before a class of some seventy-five teachers.
It was necessary to commence speaking without having definitely
determined my first point. I had, however, a few notes which I was
attempting to decipher and arrange, while talking as best I could,
when I became conscious of a slight clatter from all parts of the
room. On looking up I found that the noise came from the pencils of my
audience, and they were writing down my first pointless remarks.
Evidently discrimination in values was not in their program. They call
to mind a certain theological student who had been very unsuccessful
in taking notes from lectures. In order to prepare himself, he spent
one entire summer studying stenography. Even after that, however, he
was unsuccessful, because he could not write quite fast enough to take
down _all_ that was said.

Even more mature students often reveal very meager knowledge of
methods of study. I once had a class of some thirty persons, most of
whom were men twenty-five to thirty-five years of age, who were
college graduates and experienced teachers. One day I asked them,
"When has a book been read properly?" The first reply came from a
state university graduate and school superintendent, in the words,
"One has read a book properly when one understands what is in it."
Most of the others assented to this answer. But when they were asked,
"Is a person under any obligations to judge the worth of the thought?"
they divided, some saying yes, others no. Then other questions arose,
and the class as a whole soon appeared to be quite at sea as to the
proper method of reading books. Perhaps the most interesting thing was
the fact that they seemed never to have thought seriously about the
matter. Fortunately Dr. Earhart has not overlooked teachers' methods
of study in her investigations. In a _questionnaire_ that was filled
out by 165 teachers, the latter were requested to state the principal
things that ought to be done in "thinking about a lesson." This was
practically the same test as was given to the 842 children before
mentioned. While at least twenty different things were named by these
teachers, the most frequent one was, "Finding the most important
points." [Footnote: _Ibid._, Chapter 5.] Yet only fifty-five out
of the 165 included even this. Only twenty-five, as Dr. Earhart says,
"felt, keenly enough to mention it, the necessity of finding the main
thought or problem." Forty admitted that they memorized more often
than they did anything else in their studying. Strange to say, a
larger percentage of children than of teachers mentioned finding the
main thought, and finding the more important facts, as two factors in
mastering a lesson. Water sometimes appears to rise higher than its
source.

About two-thirds of these 165 teachers [Footnote: _Ibid._, Chapter 5.]
declared that they had never received any systematic instruction about
how to study, and more than half of the remainder stated that they
were taught to memorize in studying. The number who had given any
careful instruction on proper methods of study to their own pupils was
insignificant. Yet these 165 teachers had had unusual training on the
whole, and most of them had taught several years in elementary
schools. If teachers are so poorly informed, and if they are doing so
little to instruct their pupils on this subject, how can the latter be
expected to know how to study?

_The prevailing definition of study._

The prevailing definition of study gives further proof of a very
meager notion in regard to it. Frequently during the last few years I
have obtained from students in college, as well as from teachers,
brief statements of their idea of study. Fully nine out of every ten
have given memorizing as its nearest synonym.

It is true that teachers now and then insist that studying should
consist of _thinking_. They even send children to their seats with the
direction to "think, think hard." But that does not usually signify
much. A certain college student, when urged to spend not less than an
hour and a half on each lesson, replied, "What would I do after the
first twenty minutes?" His idea evidently was that he could read each
lesson through and memorize its substance in that time. What more
remained to be done? Very few teachers, I find, are fluent in
answering his question. In practice, memorizing constitutes much the
greater part of study.

The very name recitation suggests this fact. If the school periods are
to be spent in reciting, or reproducing, what has been learned, the
work of preparation very naturally consists in storing the memory with
the facts that are to be required. _Thinking periods_, as a substitute
name for recitation periods, suggests a radical change, both in our
employment of school time and in our method of preparing lessons. We
are not yet prepared for any such change of name.

_The literature dealing with method of study._

Consider finally the literature treating of study. Certainly there has
never been a period when there was a more general interest in
education than during the last twenty years, and the progress that has
been made in that time is remarkable. Our study of the social view-
point, of child nature, of apperception, interest, induction,
deduction, correlation, etc., has been rapidly revolutionizing the
school, securing a much more sympathetic government of young people, a
new curriculum, and far more effective methods of instruction. In
consequence, the injuries inflicted by the school are fewer and less
often fatal than formerly, while the benefits are more numerous and
more vital. But, in the vast quantity of valuable educational
literature that has been published, careful searching reveals only two
books in English, and none in German, on the "Art of Study." Even
these two are ordinary books on teaching, with an extraordinary title.

The subject of memorizing has been well treated in some of our
psychologies, and has received attention in a few of the more recent
works on method. Various other problems pertaining to study have also,
of course, been considered more or less, in the past, in books on
method, in rhetorics, and in discussions of selection of reading
matter. In addition, there are a few short but notable essays on
study. There have been practically, however, only two books that treat
mainly of this subject, - the two small volumes by Dr. Earhart, already
mentioned, which have been very recently published. In the main, the
thoughts on this general subject that have got into print have found
expression merely as incidents in the treatment of other themes - coming,
strange to say, largely from men outside the teaching profession - and
are contained in scattered and forgotten sources.

Thus it is evident not only that children and teachers are little
acquainted with proper methods of study, but that even sources of
information on the subject are strangely lacking.

The seriousness of such neglect is not to be overestimated. Wrong
methods of study, involving much unnecessary friction, prevent
enjoyment of school. This want of enjoyment results in much dawdling
of time, a meager quantity of knowledge, and a desire to quit school
at the first opportunity. The girl who adopted the muscular method of
learning history was reasonably bright. But she had to study very
"hard"; the results achieved in the way of marks often brought tears;
and, although she attended the high school several years, she never
finished the course. It should not be forgotten that most of those who
stop school in the elementary grades leave simply because they want
to, not because they must.

Want of enjoyment of school is likely to result, further, in distaste
for intellectual employment in general. Yet we know that any person
who amounts to much must do considerable thinking, and must even take
pleasure in it. Bad methods of study, therefore, easily become a
serious factor in adult life, acting as a great barrier to one's
growth and general usefulness.




CHAPTER II

THE NATURE OF STUDY, AND ITS PRINCIPAL FACTORS



Our physical movements ordinarily take place in response to a need of
some sort. For instance, a person wishing to reach a certain point, to
play a certain game, or to lay the foundations for a house, makes such
movements as are necessary to accomplish the purpose desired. Even
mere physical exercise grows out of a more or less specific feeling of
need.

The mental activity called study is likewise called forth in response
to specific needs. The Eskimo, for example, compelled to find shelter
and having only blocks of ice with which to build, ingeniously
contrives an ice hut. For the sake of obtaining raw materials he
studies the habits of the few wild animals about him, and out of these
materials he manages by much invention to secure food, clothing, and
implements.

We ourselves, having a vastly greater variety of materials at hand,
and also vastly more ideas and ideals, are much more dependent upon
thinking and study. But, as in the case of the Eskimo, this thinking
and study arises out of actual conditions, and from specific wants. It
may be that we must contrive ways of earning more money; or that the
arguments for protective tariff seem too inconsistent for comfort; or
that the reports about some of our friends alarm us. The occasions
that call forth thought are infinite in number and kind. But the
essential fact is that study does not normally take place except under
the stimulus or spur of particular conditions, and of conditions, too,
that are unsatisfactory.

It does not take place even then unless we become conscious of the
strained situation, of the want of harmony between what is and what
might be. For ages malarial fever was accepted as a visitation by
Divine Providence, or as a natural inconvenience, like bad weather.
People were not disturbed by lack of harmony between what actually was
and what might be, because they did not conceive the possibility of
preventing the disease. Accordingly they took it as a matter of
course, and made no study of its cause. Very recently, on the other
hand, people have become conscious of the possibility of exterminating
malaria. The imagined state has made the real one more and more
intolerable; and, as this feeling of dissatisfaction has grown more
acute, study of the cause of the disease has grown more intense, until
it has finally been discovered. Thus a lively consciousness of the
unsatisfactoriness of a situation is the necessary prerequisite to its
investigation; it furnishes the motive for it.

It has ever been so in the history of evolution. Study has not taken
place without stimulus or motive. It has always had the practical task
of lifting us out of our difficulties, either material or spiritual,
and placing us on our feet. In this way it has been merely an
instrument - though a most important one - in securing our proper
adjustment or adaptation to our environment.[Footnote: For discussion
of this subject, see _Studies in Logical Theory_, by John Dewey.
See, also, _Systematic Study in Elementary Schools_, by Dr. Lida
B. Earhart, Chapters 1 and 2.]

_The variety of response to the demand for study_

After we have become acutely conscious of a misfit somewhere in our
experience, the actual study done to right it varies indefinitely with
the individual. The savage follows a hit-and-miss method of
investigation, and really makes his advances by happy guesses rather
than by close application. Charles Lamb's _Dissertation on Roast
Pig_ furnishes a typical example of such accidents.

The average civilized man of the present does only a little better.
How seldom, for instance, is the diet prescribed for a dyspeptic - whether
by himself or by a physician - the result of any intelligent study!
The true scientist, however, goes at his task in a careful and systematic
way. Recall, for instance, how the cause of yellow fever has been
discovered. For years people had attributed the disease to invisible
particles which they called "fomites." These were supposed to be given
off by the sick, and spread by means of their clothing and other
articles used by them. Investigation caused this theory to be abandoned.
Then, since Dr. J. C. Nott of Mobile had suggested, in 1848, that the
fever might be carried by the mosquito, and Dr. C. J. Finlay of
Havana had declared, in 1881, that a mosquito of a certain kind would
carry the fever from one patient to another, this variety of mosquito
was assumed by Dr. Walter Reed, in 1900, to be the source of the
disease, and was subjected to very close investigation by him. Several
men voluntarily received its bite and contracted the fever. Soon,
enough cases were collected to establish the probable correctness of
the assumption. The remedy suggested - the utter destruction of this
particular kind of mosquito, including its eggs and larvae - was so
efficacious in combating the disease in Havana in 1901, and in New
Orleans in 1905, that the theory is now considered established. Thus
systematic study has relieved us of one of the most dreaded diseases
to which mankind has been subject.

_The principal factors in study_

An extensive study, like this investigation, into the cause of yellow
fever employs induction very plainly. It also employs deduction
extensively, inasmuch as hypotheses that have been reached more or
less inductively have to be widely applied and tested, and further
conclusions have to be drawn from them. Such a study, therefore,
involving both induction and deduction and their numerous short cuts,
contains the essential factors common to the investigation of other
topics, or to study in general; for different subjects cannot vary
greatly when it comes to the general method of their attack. An
analysis, therefore, which reveals the principal factors in this study
is likely to bring to light the main factors of study in general.

_1. The finding of specific purposes, as one factor in study_

If the search for the cause of yellow fever were traced more fully,
one striking feature discovered would be the fact that the
investigation was never aimless. The need of unraveling the mystery
was often very pressing, for we have had three great epidemics of
yellow fever in our own country since 1790, and scientists have been
eager to apply themselves to the problem. Yet a specific purpose, in
the form of a definite hypothesis of some sort, was felt to be
necessary before the study could proceed intelligently.

Thus, during the epidemic of 1793, the contagiousness of the disease
was debated. Then the theory of "fomites" arose, and underwent
investigation. Finally, the spread of the disease through the mosquito
was proposed for the solution. And while books of reference were
examined and new observations were collected in great number, such
work was not undertaken by the investigators primarily for the sake of
increasing their general knowledge, but with reference to the
particular issue at hand.

The important question now is, Is this, in general, the way in which
the ordinary student should work? Of course, he is much less mature
than the scientist, and the results that he achieves may have no
social value, in comparison. Yet, should his method be the same? At
least, should his study likewise be under the guidance of specific
purposes, so that these would direct and limit his reading,
observation, and independent thinking? Or would that be too narrow,
indeed, exactly the wrong way? And, instead of limiting himself to a
collection of such facts as help to answer the few problems that he
might be able to set up, should he be unmindful of particular
problems? Should he rather be a collector of facts at large,
endeavoring to develop an interest in whatever is true, simply because


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Online LibraryFrank M. McMurryHow to Study and Teaching How to Study → online text (page 1 of 21)