Abilities versus skills – the death blow to practice

From Joining the Literacy Club, first p. 49:
“The word ‘skill’ is extensively misused in education. There is a tendency to define everything to be learned in terms of skills reading skills, comprehension skills, creativity and prediction skills as if they were in the same category as physical skills like swimming and running. It is a false misleading metaphor. Physical activities involve muscular strength and coordination, which may indeed improve with exercise and drills. But as Krashen (1984) points out, the development of language and other cognitive abilities depends on understanding, not practice. There are no patterns of activity in the brain to be strengthened or coordinated so that we can think better.”
and p. 101-2:
“Skills is another word that is so frequently used that teachers are rarely aware of the connotations it may have, the excess baggage it can bring with it. Like the cuckoo that pushes the rightful but less aggressive tenants from the nest, so skills has taken over from more neutral words like ability.
Many people rarely talk any longer about learning to read, and it is unusual to see such a meat-and-potatoes expression in print. If the topic is not “learning the reading process” then it will be “learning (for acquiring) reading skills.” Or writing skills, or thinking skills. The word is used so extensively that it is taken for granted, as if it had always been around. Surely reading and writing are skills; or involve skill. Well, skill and skills have been in use in the English language for a long time, but not in connection with mental activities like reading and writing. Their general use in connection with literacy is a phenomenon of the 1950s and 1960s, when the massive promotion of programmatic instruction began and everyone had to become objective and specific, or at least to talk in that way. Ear…………………
Traditionally, and I suspect in the out-of-school lives of most individuals as well, the word skill is employed with respect to physical activities, either sporting…. or manual….

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