Review: Learn This!
Learn This! Stuff
You Need To Know, and Mistakes You Need to Stop Making,
Before You Step Foot into High School by Charles Gulotta (Mostly Bright Ideas)
Reviewer: Susan Jones, M.Ed.
Learn This! is a humorous and much
shorter summary of the kinds of things found in "What
you should learn in fourth grade" and "Core Curriculum"
programs. Teachers that think students should have this knowledge,
however, often have arbitrary standards of what should be
learned and how it should be done -- and these rigid requirements
for memorization are, simply, overwhelming for a kid with
a finite memory and a lack of confidence in that area. Other
teachers downplay the importance of having certain basic knowledge
available quickly and automatically -- *knowing* that the
big country to the north of the United States is Canada...
for that matter, knowing that New York is not a country.
The kid who's had the first kind of teacher
and not only survived, but made sense out of what s/he memorized,
has a huge advantage over the other kids, who either fully
regurgitated the stuff and never did incorporate it into their
'long-term knowledge' base, or didn't memorize the stuff at
all (whether they were asked to or not). First, when they
see "Eisenhower" in a paragraph, they know how to
say it and they know that was a U.S. President -- they may
even know he was a five-star general. That kind of background
knowledge does impressive things to one's "comprehension
skills." Secondly, it's next to impossible to apply higher-level
thinking skills to thin air -- the more of the 'fact' stuff
you have available, the more grist you have for that mill,
and the more enriched the flour will be that comes out of
it. And thirdly, you've got some old-fashioned study skills
under your belt.
There's no reason to assume that a kid
with learning or attention challenges can't get at least some
of these advantages, and Learn This! is a good resource
to work from, though it is by no means complete. The contents
include Universe, Solar System, Earth, Continents and Oceans,
Countries and Cities, Lakes and Rivers, World History, U.S.
History, Canadian History, LIfe and Miscellaneous -- and manage
to get into reasonably complex ideas such as entropy. Many
of the "Mistakes you have to stop making" are exactly
the kind of mistakes kids with mild-to-moderate language problems
make -- confusing astrology and astronomy, Washington, D.C.
and Washington state, etc. The information is well-chosen,
and there are lots of good ideas for building a framework
of knowledge and then plugging in the details -- a skill many
kids would benefit from learning, instead of trying to pile
the facts on top of each other The 'piling on' is often necessary
if there simply isn't time to make connections and associations,
so it's important to make sure the students do have time to
do this -- and they may need to be shown how to do it and
be guided through it at first.
I'm not sure the section on math is very
useful -- fraction and percentage concepts don't become clear
by reading a few sentences about them (".9% is not the
same as 9% -- the first is less than 1%.") However, it
might help a person understand what it is that they don't
know. Some students may also be put off by the flippant approach
-- being told "Don't make these mistakes anymore!"
may sound just like some of their very negative classroom
How I'd Use It: This kind of book
is ideal for designing "Resource" or "study
skills" activities -- "unit studies" to fill
in knowledge gaps and apply study skills. The instructional
materials would have to be created either by the teacher or
the student, since this is not a workbook, just a compendium
of knowledge. For instance, pages 20 and 21 display maps of
the various continents, major countries, and major provinces.
Pages 24 and 25 have major lakes and rivers of the world listed
and mapped -- and includes how to pronounce the Thames and
the Seine. I would give students the job of breaking the task
down (by continent, into groups of five, or any reasonable
breakdown) and apply a strategy for learning it (making blank
maps and filling them in, making flash cards, tracing the
answers, etc.) Students could also make the quizzes and then
This is also a good resource for the student
who is insecure about whether or not s/he is "keeping
up," for whatever reason. It won't be enough to say "here's
the book - go have fun" -- but the book can be a vehicle
for planning a strategy for becoming a more literate student
and a more independent learner.