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Showcasing Harriett Ball and "Fearless Learning"


"I've always sung and been able to keep a beat, but it is divine empowerment that opened my eyes to see math through the eyes of a child who views it as a foreign language," Harriett Ball told Education World.

Educator Harriett Ball makes fear less of a factor in student learning.

A former Texas public school teacher with more than 20 years of experience, Ball began a consulting business, Harriett Ball Enterprises, to share the techniques she has developed to reach at-risk students. She calls her approach "Fearless Learning" because her methods take away the burden of fear for students. With her guidance, kids are surprised by how quickly they understand concepts and apply skills, without memorizing complicated rules. Although Ball's method also can be applied to reading, it is particularly effective in math -- her own worst subject as a student!

"During junior high and high school, I was tutored in math by my uncle, a principal; his son, the head of Texas Southern University's math department; and my cousin, State Representative Larry Evans, because I simply did not see what they were trying to show me," Ball recalled. "Math looked like mud to me in spite of their claim that it was as clear as day. I knew most of the times tables, the steps to do long division, and subtraction with trading, but there were gaps that caused frustration to the point of fear whenever I entered math classes."

In her teaching, Ball realized that her elementary students learned better when they enjoyed their lessons. She put multiplication to music, through chants that got across the facts with flair. As other chants followed, and students became more active with the gestures that accompanied her tunes, their test scores rose. It was the start of Fearless Learning.

Key to the success of Ball's method is keeping many modes of learning in operation at the same time -- sight, sound, movement /touching, and feelings -- along with repetition. Wholesome competition also deepens and expands the long-term memory base. Ball has found that an active approach to learning works with all students, regardless of age or race. When teachers use her techniques daily, they are able to cover more skills in less time and with less resistance, enabling underachievers to catch up to their peers, or come within a grade level of them, usually in the first year.

"To share with teachers what not to say to students, especially struggling students, is an integral part of my mission," Ball explained. "Words definitely can kill a child's spirit, his desire to learn, and his belief that he is a winner." For example, Ball advises against comments that suggest that a child isn't listening because he asks questions, and she discourages putting off answering questions until the conclusion of a lesson.

"Students love to imitate the smoothness and speed of their teacher as he or she forms letters," added Ball. "They need to see the teacher forming letters and numbers on the board. They also need to see the process of doing a math problem, a process they can't see when the teacher's body is blocking their view."

Ball believes teachers should seek out other strong, positive educators and teaching practices, and avoid the negative. She advises educators to guard students' self-esteem as though it is "a year's salary." To her, a teachers' lounge is a breeding ground for complaints. Instead she advocates spending lunchtime with students because they often find it easier to share their concerns in a more relaxed setting. A good teacher, in her view, is also a good listener.

"If you are doing something that's working for your students, and it's frowned upon because it's different or new, don't let the naysayers sway you," Ball says. "Above all, learn all you can, while you can, for as long as you can, and don't just sit on your can!"

Photos courtesy of Harriett Ball Enterprises.


Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2004, 2017 Education World



Originally published 08/16/2004
Last updated 10/09/2017