Marva N. Collins

Educational Program and Philosophy

My educational program and methodology is based on the Socratic Method. Socrates, an Athenian philosopher and teacher, lived from about 470 - 399 BC. The Socratic method teaches by using a series of questions and answers by which the logical soundness of a definition, or a point of view, or the meaning of a concept, is tested. The Socratic method is based on logical analysis, consequently, it develops superb reasoning skills in students.

I select reading materials that contain ideas that are abstract. These ideas may, and will, mean different things to different students. There may not be one correct answer, but several interpretations are possible. Socrates asks, in Plato's Republic, what is 'justice?' As Socrates' queries of his students reveal, 'justice' as a concept has several definitions. The purpose of teaching, I believe, is not just to master factual material, but also to teach the student how to think, and to encourage him/her to think, indeed. The ability to reason, to analyze logically, will survive long after the student's retention of memorized fact is lost.

Before beginning any reading selection, I first pre-read the selection (it is folly to attempt to teach what one does not know) and I extract all of the difficult words. These 'words-to-watch' become the vocabulary words for the class to learn. Every student must be able to pronounce, spell, and know the meaning of each of these words prior to starting the reading in class. It makes no sense to delve into the selection if the students do not understand the words in the material to be read. Otherwise, the reading will both tedious and meaningless.

Then, I refer to the title of the reading, and ask, "What do you think this selection is going to be about?" This process is gathering information from the title. Other questions that may be asked, before the reading actually begins, include, "Is this story going to be about pain?" "A good conscience?"  "How do you know?" Next, identify the purpose for reading the selection. As the reading progresses, readings must be done aloud, never silently, ask pertinent questions, such as "What do you think will happen?" Predictions must use logic, reason, evidence, in order to develop meta-cognitive skills.

Students are taught to examine their line of reasoning. What information from the reading supports your response? This teaches the student the importance of factual responses as compared to interpretative answers. Certainly, students will score higher on standardized tests when they know how to think critically and analytically. Tests do not want to know what we think; they measure the correctness of our factual responses. Thus students are taught to refrain from making wild conjectures. Inquiry becomes a disciplined process in which students use prior acquired knowledge and evidence to arrive at new insights and understanding.

In the Socratic method the teacher controls the rate and flow of information. Understanding takes place during the reading, at each important juncture, not at the end of the selection. This method encourages participation by all students, thus it alleviates discipline problems, and eventually eliminates them entirely. When students misbehave, it indicates that they have not developed the habit of 'right' reasoning. My methodology is designed to teach that choices have consequences. I use discipline, self-discipline, not punishment to engage the students in 'right' thinking. Ultimately, the teacher should increase reading longer amounts of text between stopping points. This will increase the students' ability to gain meaning from extended reading. Always stop at points in the reading to ask questions, such as, "Why did you (the student) give the answer you did?" And, "Can you point to the sentence, or paragraph, in the reading that supports your conclusion?"

Stop-points in oral reading should occur at logical places such as where the story changes and especially at highly abstract passages. The master teacher never shies away from difficult reading selections or passages therein. The class is only as good as its leader! Stopping at abstractions allows for oral discussion, the refinement of ideas, and the use of vocabulary, and for guidance by the teacher. Stop points also provide discussion time, increased verbal and writing skills, and the development of critical thinking.

My educational program does not allow the inane use of independent seat work, busy work sheets, and workbooks. These so-called education tools do not connect ideas into a logical thought process. They do not, and cannot, teach children how to read, or how to write. They presuppose that the participant is already an independent reader, and is already imbued with critical and analytical thinking skills, or that the student is able to grasp, without supervision or guidance, the relevant points being made by the author. There are more reasons why I do not use work sheets in my classes, and I do not permit their use by any teacher in my school.

Upon completion of a reading selection, students should write daily letters to the characters in the selection, or to the author of the material. Students should write a critical review of the selection. Which character did they identify with the most? Why? What did this character teach them? What life-lesson, if any, did they learn from the reading? Why is this life-lesson important to them? Again, workbooks and worksheets can never accomplish this. There is a difference between 'busy work' and 'thought work.'

The direct teaching method reinforces skills learned in every reading selection. The child is taught to refer to what has been learned previously to support an opinion. References come from many different sources, from poetry, newspaper editorials, magazines, great speeches, novels, or any other written material. Everything everywhere provides potentially excellent material for developing reasoning skills. To illustrate, a piece of paper represents trees, because wood is processed into paper. A piece of paper also represents the water that nourishes the tree, the woodsman who cuts down the tree, or the trucks that take the felled tree to the processing plant. Direct teaching expands the mind beyond the two covers of a book and the four walls of the classroom. Textbook word-for-word, lock-step methods never make good critical thinkers. There is a difference between word reading and word understanding. And, there is a difference between knowing how to read, and loving to read.

My methodology of teaching has the advantage of establishing an intellectual environment that promotes the gaining of textual information, conversational information, vocabulary building, idea building, idea sharing and expansion, and it demands the attention of all participants. It alleviates guessing. It teaches abstract thinking. Critical thinking involves a general attitude of questioning and suspended judgment, the habit of examining before accepting. The teacher and the student now have a common goal, which is the gaining of knowledge and information sharing. Direct teaching does require new behavior by both the teacher and the students, therefore it does require some degree of behavior modification. In my long teaching career, I have learned that the benefits are worth the effort. Once teachers try the Socratic Method, or direct method, of teaching, they will never again return to anything that cannot produce the 'magic.'

Marva Collins Math Program

Very often students do not understand the lectures for reasons that can be overcome by the teacher. Sensitivity to language difficulties, and the lack of an adequate foundation, can be addressed without causing a substantial departure from the established time-line schedules required by the school district. How can the teacher create an atmosphere in which the student will actually look forward to math lessons? How can the teaching of mathematics help improve reading comprehension skills, as well as other language arts functioning? How can a strong foundation replace the existing weak one without departing from the curriculum? These, and more, are addressed by our consultation services that are custom made to the specific difficulties your students are having.

American students don’t do as well in mathematics as their counterparts in other countries. For years, the Marva Collins mathematics program has successfully trained children in this important subject. Building self-confidence, improving reading comprehension, writing skill, and precision in oral recitations are the cornerstones of our program. In short, our mathematics program is designed to improve reasoning skills at the same time it produces competency in mathematics. The key in our program is to be certain that all necessary building blocks, the foundation, upon which mathematics are built are in place.

To demonstrate our program, consider the subject of fractions. The prefix frac is shared with fracture that means that something, such as a bone in the human body, has been broken. A fraction means just that; something has been divided into parts. The top number of a fraction is the numerator. The prefix num is shared with the words number and numeral. These words tell us how many. The line under the numerator is the fraction bar, and it always means division. The bottom number of a fraction is called the denominator. The prefix de nom in the French language mean of its name. In Spanish, the words de nombre have the same meaning as de nom. In English, the religious group called Protestants includes Baptists, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and more. To be specific, a Protestant may identify the denomination to which he, or she, belongs. The prefix de nom, therefore, means what kind.

7 15

What kind of fraction is this? The kind of fraction here is 15th’s, written as fifteenths. Whatever it was that was a whole, such as a pie, has been divided into 15 parts. How many fifteenths? There are 7, written as seven, fifteenths in the fraction. In this fraction, 7 is to be divided by 15, and we know that because the line under the 7, the fraction bar means division.

Why is all of this important to know? Defining the meaning of words helps us to understand what is being discussed. One is not stupid if the teacher speaks in Farsi and the listener doesn’t speak that language. (Farsi, incidentally, is spoken only in Iran.) Additionally, the significance of the denominator is better grasped when we consider that a group of 7 tigers may be added arithmetically to another group of 4 tigers to produce 11 tigers in all. Notice that by adding the two groups the animals did not suddenly change into a new kind of animal. But a group of 7 tigers may not be added to a group of, say, palm trees, because theses are different kinds of living things. In other words, we have just prepared the student for the, sometimes confusing, subject of the addition of fractions when the denominators are different. We cannot add fractions unless, like the example of the tigers, the fractions are the same kind. In other words, we may add fractions directly only when they are the same kind of fractions. And, when we add fractions that have the same denominators, they do not suddenly become a new kind of fraction. Now the student is ready to learn how to add fractions. The numerators may be added arithmetically only when the denominators are the same.

We state here, emphatically, that our mathematics program does not teach anything that is not consistent with accepted mathematical principles. Our approach to teaching mathematics, however, does provide powerful tools that children can readily grasp because everything we teach is added to previously learned, and mastered, information. The logic is this: If the student is able to solve simple number problems using powerful tools in the process, the student is then prepared to solve more complex problems that require the use of those same powerful tools. In other words, our mathematics program prepares the student for more difficult math work in a structured and gradual manner. The fear of mathematics is eliminated, because new subjects to be studied are built on previously learned mathematics.

We are developing a complete program for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Our program is not designed to replace the text or other material used by your child’s teacher. It is designed as a supplement to whatever program is currently utilized. The exciting part of our math program is its availability to you by increments. For example, if your child is having difficulty with the study of fractions, you may order just that material from us at the nominal cost of 15.95 per lesson.

Here is a partial list of subject material available now:
· Place Value and the Arabic-Hindu Number System.
· Fractions, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division of
· Reducing Fractions · Perimeter and Area
· Natural Numbers, Whole Numbers, and Integers
· Prime Numbers · Ratio and Proportions
· Scientific Notation
· Circles
· Volume

There is, as said previously, a logical continuity in mathematics. Place value, for example, ties in with scientific notation. Understanding the addition of fractions whose denominators are different establishes a foundation for the future discussion of abstract and complex fractions. Fractions build a bridge to the study of ratio and proportions. The study of area leads to the volumetric measure of composite solid figures. Prime numbers, natural numbers, whole numbers, and integers are central to many other discussions and considerations.

Is your child having difficulty with a math topic not listed above? Call us, and tell us. We will make every effort to prepare a thorough presentation for you. The discussion above may lead the reader to believe the math material offered here is for parents whose children are having math difficulties. But, as teachers know, very often the prescribed math texts don’t work with all children in the class. This series is intended to provide teachers with a different, time proven, explanation that will benefit both the teacher and the student alike. Teachers have expressed enthusiasm and excitement after our seminar workshops on mathematics, The Marva Collins Way. Their comments express sentiments such as, “I wish I had you when I was studying math,” or, “I understood what you said, and I wasn’t scared as I usually become when math is being taught.” Recently, we visited a classroom in Vancouver, Canada. The 7th grade students wrote to us to express their amazement at what they were able to learn in just one hour. Their awe was added to by their teacher who informed them that they were learning, and understanding, 11th grade mathematics. As Marva Collins says, “On the day of victory, nobody is tired!”

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