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Absurdly focused effort


LarrySanger
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Someone mentioned on an earlier thread that the most efficient way to learn a foreign language is in a focused immersion school. That sounded plausible to me. A friend told me how he learned Latin at a six-week immersion program one summer, and after that he could read Aquinas.

 

It got me thinking. :D

 

Instead of doing math for a half hour a day, or whatever, for the whole schooler year, you'd do math for a week and a half, two times a year (or more often, if you want to speed it up). You'd be doing three one-hour sessions every day for a week and a half, and that would get you through half a year of a math book. This would probably be more efficient, which is to say that the student would learn more per hour of studying. I say this because of lack of distractions, less need of review (at least during the actual study period--if you didn't do periodic refreshers between intensive sessions, you'd need review), and stronger neural signals due to recency.

 

Imagine doing all of homeschooling this way, a little like the way St. John's College does focused study of one text for one period of time, to the exclusion of anything else. You do math a few weeks, then writing, then science, then history, and so forth. Or maybe, just to keep things a little more interesting, you do two (but only two) subjects at a time.

 

Of course, I'm not the first one to think of this. I'm curious--has anyone tried it much? Is there any reason why you wouldn't want to do it more, if you don't? I imagine most kids couldn't put up with it. But suppose that they could...

Edited by LarrySanger
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Yeah, this is one reason why I do not like most boxed curricula that I see. You can't read 5 pages of this and 10 pages of this book and jump around. When we start a book, I just want them to focus on THAT book and that's it.

 

We started working off a loop schedule this semester and this means that while we only do history once a week...it's for 2 hours. :glare: We can get alot accomplished in 2 hours, as opposed to 10 minutes here...15 minutes there...

 

I really think there is something to what you're saying!

 

Also, I thought Waldorf curricula did something like that. They work on one main topic for several weeks, but do some peripheral work with other subjects.

 

You say that your kids couldn't put up with doing only 2 subjects for awhile - MINE could. :lol:

 

I'm trying to figure out what we're doing next fall...now you got me thinking!

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Because they ( ok, I :lol:) would forget what I learned without continued practice in certain subjects. I can remember history or a novel but math or a scientific formula would leave my memory because I don't find them interesting.

 

OK, but what if you did math every day...? Math and one other subject.

 

So, say you did:

 

Week 1: Math and History

Week 2: Math and Science

Week 3: Math and Language Arts :ack2: (bad week, here, folks)

Week 4: Math and Foreign Language

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If you were to focus on only history (and math) for weeks you are still doing more than just history if you think about it. It's reading, probably writing (grammar, composition, spelling, etc.), thinking, etc.

 

I was thinking that while I was typing that out. That's more like what a unit study is!

 

Besides math (and maybe Latin), what other subjects do you really need to do daily or even weekly to retain knowledge of it? (and I'm thinking of grade school/middle school kids here, BTW)

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Imagine doing all of homeschooling this way, a little like the way St. John's College does focused study of one text for one period of time, to the exclusion of anything else. You do math a few weeks, then writing, then science, then history, and so forth. Or maybe, just to keep things a little more interesting, you do two (but only two) subjects at a time.

...

 

Just curious which St. John's your talking about? I went to St. John's but apparently not that one :)

 

Elena

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Is this the one the OP was referring to?

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John's_College_(United_States)

 

It has a Great Books program - a r e a l l y good one. If you scroll down, it lists all the books they read. :eek:

 

Actually that IS the St. John's I went to, but we don't study as the OP described so I was curious if he was talking about another school...its a common enough name :)

 

And yes, :eek: It was a huge culture shock when I graduated and came out into the 'real' world, and suddenly you couldn't bring up Hegel in everyday conversation and people called me by, gasp, my first name!

 

:lol: Elena

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Imagine doing all of homeschooling this way, a little like the way St. John's College does focused study of one text for one period of time, to the exclusion of anything else. You do math a few weeks, then writing, then science, then history, and so forth. Or maybe, just to keep things a little more interesting, you do two (but only two) subjects at a time.

 

 

Rivendell Sanctuary does the same thing, studying a subject for six weeks at a time.

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Math, and later formal logic are the only subjects that I can't see tying into a "unit study" type approach--or immersion if you like. All the language arts can be sharpened on the content of your choice, if the teacher can implement the concepts. By that I mean that you had better know your grammar well enough to diagram or parse the sentence from your child's history/science/whatever book with out help, and you should have some kind of writing structure and rubric to apply without guidance. It is absolutely dependent on the teacher having a firm grasp on the basics. Basically, this is what great teaching is IMO. Not that I feel fully competent to do it this way yet, but it is my goal.

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less need of review (at least during the actual study period--if you didn't do periodic refreshers between intensive sessions, you'd need review)

Those periodic refreshers would be review.

 

I think a plan to study math only twice a year for such short periods would be very poor. A talented math student can retain math better for long periods without review, but those are the sorts of students the plan would hold back from progressing at an optimal pace. Other students wouldn't be able to take in a half year's worth of math in such a short session (i.e. they'd probably reach saturation at some point), and would get rusty or forget skills completely during the long hiatus.

 

Now, I do believe that concentrated doses can work well, but with math what I'd suggest is much more frequent doses than every 1/2 year (and not necessarily for a week-plus at a time in exclusion of all else), and in between, more relaxed periods where one would solidify and expand the learned concepts and skills with problem-solving enrichment, projects, etc.

 

ETA: One very valuable thing, IMO, that's gained by intensive learning or practice is that the ability to focus deeply is strengthened. It's a great thing for a student to appreciate the feeling of major accomplishment after an intensive effort, although of course it is very valuable to learn to work consistently over a long period too.

Edited by Iucounu
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I've known people who did those intensive Latin courses, and they are very good. But you can't then stop doing Latin afterwards, or you won't keep it. And starting with some Latin knowledge can be a good thing, as they are very intense programs. I would guess that also would be the case for other courses one took with the same approach. But there is undoubtably advantages that kind of intensity can provide for language learning, it is probably one of the best ways to increase reading speed and I imagine facility with actually speaking in a modern language.

 

In the province next to mine they changed the way they approached French immersion programs a few years ago. They used to start in K. Now kids just get normal core French up until grade 5. The first semester of 5 is normal, and then the second semester is devoted entirely to French. As they go along they give some time to other subjects, but it is structured so that work isn't part of their learning outcomes.

 

Apparently the literature suggests this is just as effective as the approach they used before, and the thought is - I don't know if their are studies - that it will produce better results in other aspects of the student's work. So better English writing skills and math skills, which are often sacrificed to some degree in the immersion programs. (Why math you ask - because it is harder to find French language teachers with a math background in a dominantly English setting.) It is also cheaper, and would be easier to implement in many different schools rather than one central location.

 

The other study this makes me think of is the English one where they delayed formal math until 5th grade. At the beginning of that year they tested those students against the control group and found that they had poorer performance in formal math and better problem solving ability. At the end of the year, they were on par with math and still ahead with problem solving.

 

So yes, I think it is worthwhile to think about what the best way to learn a particular subject is and what the trade offs are with other aspects of learning.

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If you are looking for depth, that's fine but I don't think it works with breadth.

 

For example I would never cover 5 SOTW chapters in one week even if we did 3 hours of history a day because I think pacing it serves to keep it in the brain in sequential order. Without some spacing of topics it all starts to blend together. However, if I wanted to spend 15 hours on the American Revolution, I think that would be fine :)

 

Others have mentioned this for math: my ds definitely need time to ponder over new topics before they sink in. We do Singapore, but sometimes we have to jump ahead to another new topic so that we can later return to a topic after giving it some time to "settle" in their brains. It makes it so much more painless.

 

Brownie

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Instead of doing math for a half hour a day, or whatever, for the whole schooler year, you'd do math for a week and a half, two times a year (or more often, if you want to speed it up). You'd be doing three one-hour sessions every day for a week and a half, and that would get you through half a year of a math book. This would probably be more efficient, which is to say that the student would learn more per hour of studying. I say this because of lack of distractions, less need of review (at least during the actual study period--if you didn't do periodic refreshers between intensive sessions, you'd need review), and stronger neural signals due to recency.

.

 

 

I completely disagree.

Abstract concepts such as math need time to be processed, to sink in, in order to be fully understood. I highly doubt it would be more efficient to use your method: first of all, because the brain needs processing time and you can not seed up the process arbitrarily. Second, because very much will be lost during the half year with no math.

 

For languages, the situation on aspect 1 is entirely different, since no abstract concept must be understood. Aspect 2 would still be a concern: language not used will be lost - so the half year break following the cramming will negate any short-term effect the focused session has.

 

I can see a block schedule approach working for subjects like history or literature or maybe an easy science class. For anything that requires mulling over abstract concepts (math, physics) or continuous practice (languages, playing an instrument) this does not seem a suitable approach.

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I completely disagree.

Abstract concepts such as math need time to be processed, to sink in, in order to be fully understood. I highly doubt it would be more efficient to use your method: first of all, because the brain needs processing time and you can not seed up the process arbitrarily. Second, because very much will be lost during the half year with no math.

 

For languages, the situation on aspect 1 is entirely different, since no abstract concept must be understood. Aspect 2 would still be a concern: language not used will be lost - so the half year break following the cramming will negate any short-term effect the focused session has.

 

I can see a block schedule approach working for subjects like history or literature or maybe an easy science class. For anything that requires mulling over abstract concepts (math, physics) or continuous practice (languages, playing an instrument) this does not seem a suitable approach.

 

I wouldn't say that language has no abstract concepts - some people do find really different kinds of language constructions quite difficult to wrap their minds around. And of course just the memorization can take time.

 

I think where those kinds of language immersion programs do well is that they just have you plowing through so much material, you learn to pick up a lot of speed. And for modern languages you get a ton of intense practice speaking. Maybe it is all a bit rough, but you can polish it more later - getting over the hump of stumbling just to get out a few sentences means that you can progress much faster.

 

I've never heard of someone doing one of these intensive programs and then expecting to leave it behind for a year or half a year and still be able to use it. They might not take a course but they do have to regularly read or speak the language, or it will just be forgotten. That used to happen when i was in the army - they would periodically send a guy off for French training and then he'd be posted in an English environment and he'd lose it all again.

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Someone mentioned on an earlier thread that the most efficient way to learn a foreign language is in a focused immersion school. That sounded plausible to me. A friend told me how he learned Latin at a six-week immersion program one summer, and after that he could read Aquinas.

 

It got me thinking. :D

 

Instead of doing math for a half hour a day, or whatever, for the whole schooler year, you'd do math for a week and a half, two times a year (or more often, if you want to speed it up). You'd be doing three one-hour sessions every day for a week and a half, and that would get you through half a year of a math book. This would probably be more efficient, which is to say that the student would learn more per hour of studying. I say this because of lack of distractions, less need of review (at least during the actual study period--if you didn't do periodic refreshers between intensive sessions, you'd need review), and stronger neural signals due to recency.

 

Imagine doing all of homeschooling this way, a little like the way St. John's College does focused study of one text for one period of time, to the exclusion of anything else. You do math a few weeks, then writing, then science, then history, and so forth. Or maybe, just to keep things a little more interesting, you do two (but only two) subjects at a time.

 

Of course, I'm not the first one to think of this. I'm curious--has anyone tried it much? Is there any reason why you wouldn't want to do it more, if you don't? I imagine most kids couldn't put up with it. But suppose that they could...

 

So first there must be frustration, and after that there should come this point where the brain kicks into survival mode and realizes it HAS to learn this stuff if you're going to communicate? I can see learning Latin in 6 weeks of total immersion. I think I would be crying every night, but I'm willing to bet that by the time I was out the other end, some synapses would have strengthened and I would be proud of myself, if not exhausted.

 

I'm not mathy in the least, but I think with SOME kids that can work, but they are probably far and few between. There is that 11/12 year old in college who just devoured books and I think wrote one on how you don't ahve to be smart, you just have to be determined. :001_smile: Easy for him to say.

 

I DO think we underestimate what our kids are capable of, but I'm going to side with Regentrude on this one. The damage you could do to a child's personality and spirit is far too high a cost.

 

The block idea is a good one, though, for some other subjects, and perhaps even more cohesive.

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We tried this when my kids were younger. It worked well for the content subjects (we still do this for history, literature and science)but it wasn't successful for the skill subjects, especially for math. My kids just couldn't remember what was learned in the last math block. It could possibly work well with some kids but it just didn't with mine.

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I've never heard of someone doing one of these intensive programs and then expecting to leave it behind for a year or half a year and still be able to use it. They might not take a course but they do have to regularly read or speak the language, or it will just be forgotten. That used to happen when i was in the army - they would periodically send a guy off for French training and then he'd be posted in an English environment and he'd lose it all again.

 

But that was exactly what the OP suggested:

You'd be doing three one-hour sessions every day for a week and a half, and that would get you through half a year of a math book

Since you have to study the other subjects as well, you must take a longer break from math to have the time to study the other subjects. And during this mathless break much will be forgotten.

 

I do not for a moment believe that one can actually speed up a student in the steady state to race through the math books in double time - even with intensive math, hardly any kid would be capable of finishing calculus at the end of 7th grade. Because the brain needs time to process, and time to mature.

So I quite fail to see the point of speed math. If you go continuously, you will hit the wall sooner at which the student needs to wait for more maturity. Or you have to take breaks during which much is lost.

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But that was exactly what the OP suggested:

Since you have to study the other subjects as well, you must take a longer break from math to have the time to study the other subjects. And during this mathless break much will be forgotten.

 

I do not for a moment believe that one can actually speed up a student in the steady state to race through the math books in double time - even with intensive math, hardly any kid would be capable of finishing calculus at the end of 7th grade. Because the brain needs time to process, and time to mature.

So I quite fail to see the point of speed math. If you go continuously, you will hit the wall sooner at which the student needs to wait for more maturity. Or you have to take breaks during which much is lost.

 

Yes, but his original comment was also referencing those intensive Latin courses, and they are simply not meant to be used in that way - students do not just leave Latin behind after completing them, even for half a year. So I think the connection made with learning once or twice a year intensively doesn't follow from discussion of those courses.

 

I knew a few different people who took those programs which typically run in the summer - it was pretty much always done to increase their level so they could then go on and take a higher level Latin program during the school year, or because they were going to be writing a thesis and would need the increased reading ability.

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I think you could learn a lot in intensive burst of study, but retaining it would be another matter. If your friend learned Latin in a whirlwind six-week session but only revisited it every six months, lots would be lost. Much time would be spent reviewing/re-learning what was already supposedly learned.

 

Inefficient, imo.

 

Tara

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