Tool skills are the most basic elements of more complex skills. For example, in order to build fluency in oral reading, one must be able to say sounds and words quickly. In order to build fluency in composition, one must be able to copy letters and words quickly. Although early studies in perceptual-motor learning demonstrated that fluency in task parts makes fluency on complex tasks that contain these parts easier to achieve (e.g., Gagne & Foster, 1949), it was not until the late 1960s that Eric Haughton studied such relations in education. Haughton (personal communication, August 1978) found that college students having trouble in calculus could improve their performance by building fluency on very basic elements, such as saying and writing numbers and math facts. Haughton (1971, 1972, 1980) reported that a program of tool skill building improved underachieving students' math performance to the level of their competent peers, whereas an arbitrary reward system, increasing the potency of consequences, and extensive practice in math at the students' grade levels all failed to improve their performance. Again, the presenting problem is not always the problem to solve.
Breaking the Structuralist Barrier
Literacy and Numeracy With Fluency
Kent R. Johnson
T. V. Joe Layng
American Psychologist 1992 47(11) pp. 1475-1490
the presenting problem is not always the problem to solve