Friday, August 03, 2007

Learning/Review Methodologies

Here is a synopsis of much of a fascinating Scientific American article (available here and here): "The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field... Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time... Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields... At this point, many skeptics will finally lose patience. Surely, they will say, it takes more to get to Carnegie Hall than practice, practice, practice. Yet this belief in the importance of innate talent, strongest perhaps among the experts themselves and their trainers, is strangely lacking in hard evidence to substantiate it... Thus, motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise... Teachers in sports, music and other fields tend to believe that talent matters and that they know it when they see it. In fact, they appear to be confusing ability with precocity. There is usually no way to tell, from a recital alone, whether a young violinist's extraordinary performance stems from innate ability or from years of Suzuki-style training. Capablanca, regarded to this day as the greatest "natural" chess player, boasted that he never studied the game. In fact, he flunked out of Columbia University in part because he spent so much time playing chess. His famously quick apprehension was a product of all his training, not a substitute for it."

I think that the parallels to learning Torah should be obvious.

Then, the article concludes with some words about Chinuch: "The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born. What is more, the demonstrated ability to turn a child quickly into an expert--in chess, music and a host of other subjects--sets a clear challenge before the schools. Can educators find ways to encourage students to engage in the kind of effortful study that will improve their reading and math skills? Roland G. Fryer, Jr., an economist at Harvard University, has experimented with offering monetary rewards to motivate students in underperforming schools in New York City and Dallas. In one ongoing program in New York, for example, teachers test the students every three weeks and award small amounts--on the order of $10 or $20--to those who score well. The early results have been promising. Instead of perpetually pondering the question, "Why can't Johnny read?" perhaps educators should ask, "Why should there be anything in the world he can't learn to do?""

(Even though I think I clipped the most important parts of the article, it's worth seeing the whole thing, especially the discussion of how a Talmid Chochom's memory works. Yeah, it's talking about chessmasters, but extrapolate a bit...)

The interesting thing about reading this article today, is that yesterday R' Sender Dolgin was kind enough to speak with me for about 45 minutes about his Chazarah program. The gist of his program is simple - you learn, review the next day, a week after that, a month after that, three months after that, and then every year on the anniversary of the day that you first learned it. After you finish the entire text (Shas, Tanach, you name it), then you review each day the amount of units it takes you to finish the entire text every year. (Rabbi Dolgin learns eight Blatt Gemara - from Berachos straight through to Niddah - every day.) I wanted to share two points that Rabbi Dolgin told me which I found illuminating. He said, "You don't learn to know, you learn to become familiar with it." Eventually, you will know it. Also, "You aren't trying to remember - you're trying to keep from forgetting." There was much more, if anyone wants to talk about it, email me for my cell phone number.

Pertinent links:


Blogger Heilige said...


8/8/07 1:29 AM  
Blogger David Guttmann said...

Fascinating! I wonder though if R. Dolgin approach works for a Ba'al Habyit. We have only so many hours a day and I find giving so many to Hazara is wasteful. I also undersatnd Eino Domeh to mean that every time one revisits one gets a new insight rather than just memorization. I did Daf Yomi for three cycles. The first and second were productive. I found the third did very little for me.

14/8/07 4:03 AM  
Blogger Moshe Y. Gluck said...

R' Dolgin's approach does work for a Ba'al Habayis. Many people would disagree with you, saying that no Chazarah is wasteful. Your understanding of Eino Domeh is not mutually exclusive to the other understanding. The third did little for you - did you do much for it?

14/8/07 11:23 PM  

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