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    The Danger of “Drill and Kill” Learning

    April 13, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    The binder system of review that we use in Teaching Reading with Bob Books can be a great friend. It especially defends against gaps — those places where things tend to fall through the cracks. But I was reminded this week that our friend the binder system can become our greatest enemy if we aren’t careful.

    It all started so simply. Daughter A. decided, all of a sudden, that she “hated reading lessons.” She didn’t want to do it. I was a little baffled at first, but then she said, “I hate reading the same words over and over.”

    That was when it dawned on me: I had quit following my own advice.

    I originally set the binder up in as modular a way as possible because I wanted to be able to move charts around as quickly as we could. I wanted new material to move from daily review, to every-other-day review, to weekly, to monthly with appropriate speed.

    But Daughter A. had gotten stuck at a couple places, and so I kept the charts where they were. And then I sort of forgot to keep moving things along.

    Suddenly, the whole thing had become what some affectionately call “drill and kill.” In other words, by over-review, we kill the subject for the child. This is a great way to keep a child from loving something, which is, obviously, opposite of my intention.

    I read this in Charlotte Mason’s sixth volume recently:

    While a child’s age is still counted by months, he devotes himself to learning the properties of things by touching, pulling, tearing, throwing, tasting, but as months pass into years a coup d’oeil suffices for all but new things of complicated structure. Life is a continual progress to a child. He does not go over old things in old ways; his joy is to go on.

    And also this:

    We pride ourselves upon going over and over the same ground ‘until the children know it’; the monotony is deadly. A child writes, “Before we had these (books) we had to read the same old lot again and again.” Is it not true?…They cannot go over the same ground repeatedly without deadening, even paralysing results, for progress, continual progress is the law of intellectual life.

    I think we will find we make great strides in all sorts of lessons if we repeat (and live out) this single phrase to ourselves:

    Continual progress is the law of intellectual life.

    Say it like a mantra.


    Today, in order to recover my daughter from the “deadening, even paralysing results” of my drilling and killing, we quickly read through the sight words she still needs to work on, and then went straight to our Bob Book for the day. No daily review. No every-other-day review. No weekly review. None. Nil. Nada.

    Just a book.

    And you know what? She decided reading lessons aren’t so bad after all.

    In addition, she read aloud with confidence — it was beautiful to hear. Her cadence was almost perfect, something I’ve never noticed with her before.

    This was a nice confirmation of the path I chose for our day.

    So if you find that your reader is struggling, don’t be afraid to drop the review for a couple days and see if that helps. And remember: the point of the binder is to work our way out of it.

    Never, never stop progressing.

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