Tag Archives: learning

Automaticity in Learning

A key prerequisite to the mastery of any skill or ability is automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to do something automatically without much thought. The avoidance of thinking is often viewed critically but in the context of developing mastery, there is a point where something needs to be done with a great deal of conscious intellectual effort.

This post will explain automaticity and provide principles to use when trying to develop automaticity in language learning students

Children and Adult Automaticity 

In comparison to adults, children are excellent at automaticity. For example, children often learn languages fairly easy because they process the language without in-depth metalinguistic thought about it.

A child’s success with automaticity in relation to language is due to the fact that children do not become obsessed with understanding all the various aspects of the grammar of a language. Instead of examining tiny bits of the language a child will focus on using the language in various context. In other words, adults focus on grammar and rules which are hard to understand and remember while children focus on using the language without caring about the details.

To provide another example, whereas an adult might see languages like an accountant with a focus on minute details and careful attention. A child sees language like a CEO who often focuses on the big picture. The child wants to communicate and doesn’t care too much for how it’s done or the rules involved.

This is not to say that focus on details is bad it simply impedes quick communication. A child learns to speak but has a superficial understanding of the language. The adult is slow to speak but has a much richer understanding of the language.  In other words, the child knows how to communicate but doesn’t know why they can say this or that while the adults often don’t know how to communicate but know the why behind what they wish they could say.

Teaching for Automaticity

If the goal of a language teacher is for students to be able to develop automaticity they should consider the following ideas.

  • There is a place for sharing language rules. However, the teaching of rules should be related to practical use so that the student is not weighed down by rules they cannot use immediately. Often, the teaching of rules is inductive in nature in most modern methods/approaches.
  • Classroom and learning time should be devoted to the function or use of language. What this means is spend less time talking about the language and more time actually using the language.
  • Developing automaticity takes a great deal of time. In other words, classroom activities that contribute to automaticity must be consistently in the lesson plan throughout the semester so that students can become comfortable using the language.

Conclusion

Becoming a natural at anything necessitates some form of automaticity. For the adult language learning, acquiring automaticity means to reduce the desire to think critically and just accept how a language is used. With the help of a teacher, it is possible to develop this ability.

Distributed Practice: A Key Learning Technique

A key concept in teaching and learning is the idea of distributed practice. Distributed practice is a process in which the teacher deliberately arranges for their students to practice a skill or use knowledge in many learning sessions that are short in length and distributed over time.

The purpose behind employing distributed practice is to allow for the reinforcement of the material in the student’s mind through experiencing the content several times. In this post, we will look at pros and cons of distributed practice as well as practical applications of this teaching technique

Pros and Cons

Distributed practice helps to maintain student motivation through requiring short spans of attention and motivation. For most students, it is difficult to study anything for long periods of time. Through constant review and exposure, students become familiar with the content.

Another benefit is the prevention of mental and physical fatigue. This is related to the first point. Fatigue interferes with information processing. Therefore, a strategy that reduces fatigue can help in students’ learning new material.

However, there are times when short intense sessions are not enough to achieving mastery. Project learning may be one example. When completing a project, it often requires several long stretches of completing tasks that are not conducive to distributed practice.

Application Examples

When using distributed practice it is important to remember to keep the length of the practice short. This maintains motivation. In addition, the time between sessions should initial be short as well and lengthen as mastery develops. If the practice sessions are too far a part, students will forget.

Lastly, the skill should be practiced over and over for a long period of time. How long depends on the circumstances. The point is that distributed practice takes a commitment to returning to a concept the students need to master over a long stretch of time.

One of the most practical examples of distributed practice may be in any curriculum that employs a spiral approach. A spiral curriculum is one in which key ideas are visited over and over through a year or even over several years of curriculum.

For our purposes, distributed practice is perhaps a spiral approach employed within a unit plan or over the course of a semester. This can be done in many ways such as.

  • The use of study guides to prepare for quizzes
  • Class discussion
  • Student presentations of key ideas
  • Collaborative project

The primary goal should be to employ several different activities that require students to return to the same material from different perspectives.

Conclusions

Distributed practice is a key teaching technique that many teachers employ even if they are not familiar with the term. Students cannot see any idea or skill once. There must be exposed several times in order to develop mastery of the skill. As such, understanding how to distribute practice is important for student learning.

Defining Learning

The goal of most teachers is that their students learn in the classroom. However, a question to ask is what does it mean to learn? Another question to consider is how can we tell when a student has learned something?

It is not easy to answer these questions. Despite the challenge, there are several different criteria that can be considered to determine if a student has learned something. Three ways to see learning includes the following

  • Learning involves some form of change
  • Learning is something that endures over time
  • Learning occurs through experience

Learning and Change

The first criterion for defining learning is that it brings change. In other words, a student goes from acting or performing one way to another. For example, I child who cannot ride a bike eventually learns to ride the bike. The student moves from inability to ability and this is one example of learning. The actual process of acquiring the skill is not always clear but the outcome is clear. This criterion is for those who see learning as a behavioral process.

Learning Endures Over Time

When a student learns something the change should endure. How long is not always agreed upon and forgetting happens as well. Despite this, people who learn often remember what they learned for more than a few fleeting moments. Returning to our bicycle example, many people remember this skill for their entire lives. Even those who forget, they are able to quickly relearn the skill with some practice. In general, something that is learned is something that lasts.

Learning Happens through Experience

A common saying is that life is the best teacher. It is through experience and not theory that learning often occurs. For our bicycle example, the student did not listen to a lecture on riding bikes but went out there and rode a bike. It is through practice and observation that learning can also occur. The trials of life lead to reflection that modifies behavior in a way that is beneficial.

Conclusion 

Learning involves change, time, and experience. These criteria helps people to make sense of the world and acquire new abilities. There is more to learning than just these three components. Whatever else is necessary, these components will apply in many situations in which learning occurs.