Shichida Method – What’s it All About?
Professor Shichida in case you didn't know, is the guru of right brain education in Japan, often in the press in the late 1990s and early 2000s, though the press seems to have tired of him since there hasn't been anything new from his quarters lately. Anyway, I sent my two kids to a Shichida Academy a few years ago for a couple of terms out of curiosity. And below are some of the things I learnt:
Some of the practices and goals that characterize the Shichida Method founded by Dr Shichida Makoto of the Shichida Academy are:
-- visual imaging: images are flashed at speed of half a second, to bring out the right-brained speed recall. This is done many times throughout every sessions. Subject-matter varies considerably (they say content doesn't matter as much as development of the ability)
-- memorization of stories -- practice is done on 100 picture cue cards shown as story is read. The stories are quite ridiculous and difficult to memorize and change over the weeks. But kids learn to memorize at first 10, then 20, then 30 and up to 1,000 cards. By two terms, 90 per cent recall is aimed at. Kids can recall which picture falls in which square, or by word cue, or in any manner of recall. This appears to be very effective, I've seen most kids excel at this over time. This trains the kids to associate words with images in their heads, and eventually they see pictures instead of words in their heads and can achieve perfect recall of books they've read.
-- memorization of numbers -- the kids practice memorization of a thousand images linked to numbers. Eventually they will be able to recall any number combination using image-association.
-- speed-reading and speed-listening is done every lesson
-- memorization of several hundred mandala patterns, Dr Shichida says there is a finite number of shapes that make up everything in nature and the universe, once the child has seen every combination, he can spot and recall all the patterns in science and nature. This seems to be rather fascinating as well. The children are flashed in a few seconds and must recall all the colors in the pattern flashed.
-- Kids are flashed different shapes and color patterns on a grid or in a
random picture and must reproduce them in a blank format. Sometimes they are asked to reproduce a line drawing of an animal or even a complicated maze. These are again amazing activities with great results. My two year old started with 3 patterns and colors to progressively difficult combinations and can do them. My 6 year old has to contend with 20 or more at a flash, and has improved tremendously on this skill.
-- Mathematical calculation skills -- there is an intricate 65 day math course that you must do with your kid -- it is repeated about three times to achieve speed-calculation skills.
-- There are many spatial puzzles to be solved in a very short space of time during each session. These are very challenging. They are reinforced through the worksheets taken home. My two-year old has 30-day worksheets as well as my 6 yr old. The worksheets are very varied, from mazes, to puzzles, to logic exercises, to math. They work on skills incrementally as well.
-- Others: Speed listening, speed-reading; perfect pitch skills training; the basic sounds of many foreign languages are taught in songs, proverbs, flashcards during the sessions as well. These will not help the child master any language but will give the child an ear for most world languages should he or she choose to pick it up later. Language activities are also often incorporated -- riddles, tongue-twisters, excellent selection of poetry.
-- For my 6 yr old, one science experiment is demonstrated every now and then.
-- Exercise of Imagination (this seems to be a key component and is never compromised upon, every lesson starts with this. Apparently, exercising the imagination is a trigger to activating the right-brain's abilities.
-- One very unconventional activity is the ESP (guessing) game that is also never compromised upon. Even 2 year olds get into the habit of doing these games very well. Dr Shichida's premise is that everything in the universe boils down to some form of wave energy, so energy-wave reading is a key skill that all students are expected to perfect. The lessons, following the imagery/imagination exercises, incorporate ESP activities. I can tell you that many a parent starts out a skeptic and is quite converted at the end of the course. For the past three lessons, all the students in my son's class (including my son) achieved perfect scores in guessing matching cards in a set of 4's (and my son has quite astounded me at home as well). My then two year old for the most part takes to the ESP games like a duck to water (the 2 year olds don't work with cards though).
There are a number of techniques which Dr Shichida uses to "train" parents (during the compulsory parent seminars) that are designed to show parents how to achieve the optimum beta waves and relaxed states that are necessary for concentration and best memory recall results - he tells parents who scold intimidate or abuse their children they must change their negative ways and teaches them how to affirm and lavish praise on their kids, and much more.
Neurosurgeons have endorsed his school, and there are also those who have debunked it. Is his school unique? I'm not sure, certainly components here and there (like IQ tests) and tuning into brainwave frequencies may be found elsewhere; and there are speed-reading courses (but those courses discernibly different); there are also right-brained art courses that teach observation but perhaps the most unique element is the SPEED-element - ie. instant and perfect recall, speedy math calculation, speed listening and recall, speedy puzzle-solving. My son was constantly frustrated in the first two terms because he likes to take his time about things.
I thought the course at the time was worth the money I paid because it worked on his great weakness -- dallying and daydreaming. It taught him to work on and complete tasks in nearly always a minute. It also taught him to improve his listening skills since instructions are nearly always never repeated (although some guidance and assistance may be given to an individual).
Shichida Method falls under the category of brain-based learning or pedagogical methods that have become quite popular in recent decades among reform-minded educators in many parts of the world. Dr Shichida's theory of right brain wiring approximates those offered by Dr Howard Gardner, Thomas Armstrong, Dr Colin Rose, western educators who are said to be spearheading educational reform in those countries under the umbrella of Multiple Intelligences. But in spirit as well as in practice, Glen Doman, is considered closest to Dr Shichida (although this is vehemently denied by Shichida practitioners).
Dr Shichida is himself careful to distinguish his methods from those of other educators. The big difference between his methods and those of the other educators, says Dr Shichida, is that his method is far more intensive and speed-related. What is revolutionary is Dr Shichida's belief that any child can be trained to focus and look at any thing in half a second, and that the child can also be trained to perfectly call that info input and stored in the brain. Dr Shichida has also clarified that anything that isn’t flashed at the speed of half-a- second won’t build or stimulate instant recall ability nor will it produce the desired hard-wiring of the right brain circuit. According to Shichida school authorities, the Kumon school once approached Dr Shichida to have the cramschool endorsed as a right-brained outfit which Dr Shichida refused downright saying that the constant repetitions and "at your own pace" worksheets were clearly at odds with his concepts of wiring and hard-wiring the right brain for speed and learning.
With Dr Shichida, he is also not primarily concerned with the repetition of content as with the repetition of his methods ad techniques. However his schools are always careful to emphasize to parents that the child's progress is tied to the parent and the home environment, but that if his methods are properly applied, the sky is the limit as to what the whole-hearted and home-nurtured child can absorb and learn.
The main goals of his teaching in school is to deliver a child who will know how to relax, exercise stress-relieving techniques, self-control and concentration, harness the fantastic right-brain's capabilities to achieve remarkable learning and retention powers. So classes always start in the same way with breathing or other relaxation techniques, exercises with imaging and photo memory, speed reading, and activating right brained visual-retention capability. The other half of the lesson is devoted to other stuff like speed-reading, wave-reading, perfect pitch, learning of foreign language sound patterns, puzzle-solving and lots of IQ and mathematical problem-solving.
No real systematic content (facts and info) such as the major disciplines of learning (science, history) is ever taught, although all the "memory" skills work each work is not mindless memorization but incorporated encyclopedic facts and data, so the child in a few years would have "input" quite a lot of info and data from visual maps of Spain, Africa, faces of Isaac Newton, Chemistry symbols, astronomy, to trivia such famous landscapes like Eiffel Tower. Oh and the auditory listening exercises take place in several languages other than the mainstream one. Since kids are expected to read (or be read) about three books daily and to do homework sheets, you can imagine, the kids generally get to acquire rather encyclopedic knowledge.
I sometimes think the Jennifer Gardner spy-character of ALIAS drama series fame had a Shichida method training in childhood, -- in a nut-shell, Shichida academy is a "spy-training-style" school that is designed develop nimble brains in kids - only there isn't any spying except maybe in Dr Shichida's sixth dimension. Again Dr Shichida is known to champion humanism and vows that his ultimate goal is to raise compassionate and well-rounded human beings who achieve excellence in all areas.
Dr Shichida himself has impressive credentials having done decades of research work and has received awards from the World Science Council for his revolutionary methods in math calculation. His method was developed prior to all of the other right brain proponents, except perhaps for Glen Doman. His research carried out on his schools and the students has its own backup statistics and enough years to track students. Apparently, the school claims that the figures for students who complete their course (which is very high in Japan compared to elsewhere), show that an exceptionally high proportion of the Shichida graduates end up as high achievers in top public and private schools in Japan and make it to the top-tier universities as well.
Track record notwithstanding, the efficacy of the program or of the method is not foolproof. Success depends on how young the child is when the child starts with the program and how diligent the parent is (and Japanese mothers are more diligent since they pay more? and also spend more time with their children) in following through with the techniques (we didn't). I personally know one parent who started the method on her 9 month-old child, and her child now 2 years old, can answer multiplication questions at one look, by picking out the correct answers out of two cards.
OK I hear you ask, is Dr Shichida's Japan's maverick educator or gimmicky guru, it's hard to say. He's got great press and TV followings every now and then. But his method will never be mainstream: while the right brain techniques are fairly impressive, from the mystical mandala training to the meditation and intuition training sessions that are designed to help each child see the "truth, virtue, and beauty of our primal selves" as well as conduct self-healing -- downright pragmatists and skeptics find some of his guru-like techniques hard to swallow.
But what of your kids - I hear you asking the question -- no my two kids didn't graduate into Shichida spy-kids - they don't have perfect recall nor anything even close to it - sad to say they're Shichida Academy drop outs. As a family we didn't follow through with the method. Though the classes were fun, I tired soon of the tediousness of the daily intensive practice sessions at home (although they are brief) - there were just too many flash cards without meaningful content for me. But I did gain many insights on right brain techniques from the parent seminars and from watching the presenter-teachers during the classes - many of which we still use at home when homeschooling and learning stuff that do mean something to us. However when you consider that my son has pretty near-perfect auditory recall when listening to readings or music while my daughter who is five now is quite a whizz at all sorts of visual or hands-on puzzles and tangrams and beats me hands down at solving every puzzle ever shoved at her -- maybe something stuck.
Copyright. Aileen Kawagoe
This list gives you the locations of all the Shichida method schools in Japan. For parents who are interested in the Shichida Method discussion, you can join firstname.lastname@example.org moderated by Eileen Tan