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How ‘Deprogramming’ Kids from How to ‘Do School’ Could Improve Learning (kqed.org)
113 points by ColinWright on Dec 21, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments



> And they rose to the challenge. “I think the kids were just waiting to be let loose and to be treated like adults,” Holman said.

This part struck me. It wasn't that long ago in human history that these "kids" would have been considered adults. Fourteen, which should correspond roughly to the beginning of American high school, would have been the year they would have started apprenticeship and taking on real adult responsibility. And that's assuming they were even going to a skilled trade; unskilled trades like farmers would be outright working by that point. We see this transition point in cultures that have preserved it as tradition, such as bar/bat mitzvahs, quinceañeras, and débutante and cotillion balls.


In Finland, mandatory primary and secondary schooling ends at 16, after which point you can choose to either go into a trade /apprenticeship school, or an academic school (high-school/university), or not go at all. And all of it is free (though there's rumors they might start charging tuition for university in a couple of years). The schools themselves also go to great lengths to ensure that everyone graduates on the same 'level,' even in the lower schools.

The result is one of the most well-educated and trained workforces in the world. It's also an incredibly competitive job market, because almost everyone applying has the equivalent of at least a two-year degree, and if it's an academic profession, probably a Master's. Almost no union will take you as well if you haven't finished a trade school or higher school. There's talk now of them making post-secondary education mandatory as well for two years, because anyone who doesn't go into trade school or high school is more or less fucked on the job market. The kids who don't want to go to school after 16 wind up on unemployment and living with their parents because there's almost zero chance of getting any kind of employment without further education.

It's been interesting to see and learn how degree inflation works on the market here. In one sense this is a lot like the states, where in many fields now, anything less than a Bachelor's degree is useless. In another sense though, unlike the states this hasn't resulted in the 'diploma mill' effect, where those Bachelor's degrees have become utterly devalued and useless because they more or less hand them out to anyone willing to keep showing up for four years.

And as well, there are more options here for trades instead of going into academics, so it's not like there aren't options if you don't go into university. There are trade school courses in everything: I know a bloke who went to school for two years just to be a waiter. So unlike the states, where that diploma mill inflation can feel limiting because there's only so many academic subjects available, it seems like there's a lot more viable different routes to pursue towards finding a career.


> a bloke who went to school for two years just to be a waiter.

that seems quite excessive - shouldn't on the job training work just as well?!


There are a few responses to this:

1) contrary to American myth, a good union promises quality workers, and the best way to do that is to ensure their members are highly trained. Everything is union here, but if you want to be a union employee, you must be prepared to meet that standard, starting with a thorough education.

2) American culture has seriously devalued the waiter. As a former cook, I've worked with those who had real training in the old French style, vs. those who merely took a job out of high school because the tips paid better. I'd choose the former every time. A skilled waiter is not just a glorified gofer, but someone who knows the food business inside and out.

3) It largely is on the job training; much of the trade school approach in Finland is based at least partly on apprenticeship. You take both lecture/classroom courses, as well as time spent on the job actually practicing your skills. The difference is, there's someone overseeing the process with an interest in actually making you a better professional, rather than solely on the basis of whether or not they should shitcan you and hire someone else.


>a good union promises quality workers

citation?


I agree. In recent times we have been training young adults to behave like kids. That behavior sticks and you are left with a dysfunctional adult.


We're also left with many extraordinary hard working and intelligent adults.


Currently there is a lot of concern about "child rearing" but very, very little about raising a child to adulthood. So much so that for most people it tends not to occur until the mid to late 20s these days, and then only sort of by accident/osmosis.

Today we decry "child labor" but there is a lot that the traditional apprenticeship model had going for it. For one it gave young adults important job skills and introduced them to the job market, which not only jump starts one's career and financial self-sufficiency but also inculcates responsibility, belonging, and self-esteem (because teens see that they are capable of doing valuable work, capable of learning in a way that produces tangible results, etc.) But there's a subtle aspect to the apprenticeship system which also helps teens transition to adulthood, and that's the interaction of adults and "children" on a peer level.

At the moment you have an almost pathological system, anyone that a teenager interacts with who is over 18 is basically in a different world. And most of the time those people are authority figures. For the most part teens look to their peers for cues on how to behave, with predictable results. With an apprenticeship model you don't have that same arbitrary age-based segregation; apprentices, workers, and "masters" all work together, spend time together, and so on. They often become friendly, and often the younger apprentices would pick up cues on how to behave from those who are older and more mature, because in that context they are their peers.

This is hugely important because it jump-starts the process of gaining responsibility and maturity for teens as they transition to adulthood, and provides an extended network of people beyond just one's immediate family who can be consulted for advice on various questions that tend to present themselves when one is growing up.

When I was a teen I was considerably more mature than the average of folks around me and for the longest time I didn't realize exactly why. I'm sure some of that is just my own personality, but recently I figured out that part of it had to do with the fact that I ended up spending a lot more time interacting with and working with adults than is normal for most teens and children. To me, it didn't feel weird to be hanging out with adults or working alongside adults as a peer when I was 10 or 14 or what-have-you, and that made the transition to adulthood fairly non-eventful. Sure, I struggled with plenty of the normal problems that everyone faces in their 20s (what to do with your life, how to build a career, etc.). But I didn't struggle with the same issues a lot of newly minted 18 year olds struggle with for years, such as how to be a responsible person, how to do work or learn of your own volition instead of being forced into it, and so on.

Unfortunately, that sort of thing is if anything almost actively discouraged today due to an excessive fear of child predators. And while we've perhaps incrementally affected the prevalence of sexual abuse of minors, if we even have, we've definitely stunted the development and maturation of millions upon millions of people over several generations, which unimaginably enormous negative consequences.

I don't know what the answer is to these problems but I do know that the current system is broken to an almost pathological extent, it should be one of our highest priorities to fix it.


Anyone who finds this interesting and is not aware of the Montessori[0] approach should definitely look at it. It is basically the same underlying idea, consistently applied from toddler age. It seems to be effective, if you measure by "people famous for the right reasons"[1], such as Bezos, Brin, Page and Wales.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montessori_education

[1] http://www.mslf.org/famous-montessori-students/


careful. montessori and waldorf pupils tend to come from wealthy families. success in later life might have no basis on their schooling at all.


Are you recommending Montessori beyond k-1? Are it even available for that stage? One thing that made me wonder was if these "famous" people only went to Motesorri pre-school or all the way through in higher grades. The reason I'm asking is because if it's only preschool then benefit seems to be too high and questionable.


The Montessori my kids attended in NC went through middle school. I believe the Montessori my first child started at in CA went through high school.


I went through a Montessori school until year 7, and I think it was very good for me, although I'm not sure how well it would have suited high school for me (the school I was at offered until year 12 but there were very few students who were there last year 7).


I am not recommending it, I'm merely pointing at it.

I do not have any knowledge about it (neither myself nor my own children), other than what I've read. I do subscribe to the idea, though.


>It seems to be effective, if you measure by "people famous for the right reasons"[1], such as Bezos, Brin, Page and Wales.

Mostly because parents who fork for such schools are already rich and well educated.


I am sure you will find plenty of famous people educated traditional way. And where is the list of not famous people who were educated using Montessori method?


I don't have the statistics so I'm not going to argue.

But the question is a question of probability and information divergence. If 0.0001% of the population was Montessori educated, but 1% of famous people were (whatever your definition of "famous" is), then it is greatly informative. If 0.0001% of famous people are, then it is not informative.

And note that even if informative, it might not be a causal relationship - it could be that the "causal" relationship is "parents who are open to alternative education systems", or "parents who can afford alternative education systems and are willing to", and the Montessori link is incidental. I do not know and I don't think anyone really does.

Regardless, I find those educational principles much more logical than the traditional ones, and would thus prefer them if given the chance.


Our current school system is moronic and this is not an exaggeration. It is the worst possible teaching system I could possibly imagine. Instead of trying to improve the system it should be scrapped entirely.

Here is what is wrong with the current system:

- Grading is harmful. A pass should be 100%/A+. You should not be able to progress until you understand the subject matter 100% as future learning depends on you having a complete understanding of previous content.

- Grouping students by the year they were born is harmful. Some students progress faster than others. By grouping students this way, some students are held back while others are dragged forward; not understanding vital content.

- Grouping a student's progress for all subjects into a single metric is harmful. Eg. grade 1,2,3, etc. Every student will have a natural tendency to be good and bad at certain subjects. Maybe they are good and Physics but bad at English, or vise versa. By grouping a student's progress in all subjects into a single metric a student might be held back in the subjects they are good at or not understand vital content in the subjects they are bad at.

Here is what I imagine a good education system would look like:

- Students progress through subjects independently of their peers and the other subjects they are studying.

- Subject assessment would happen at much smaller increments and students do not progress until they understand that content block 100%.

- Students graduate school when they have reached a certain level of competency in all subjects. This could take an arbitrary amount of time. e.g. it might take one student 3 years but another 8. But once a student graduates they will be competent.

P.S I used to run an company that developed learning management systems, so I have thought about this stuff a bit and developed a hatred for the current education system.


A pass should be 100%/A+

That sounds ridiculous. No one understands their subject matter 100%. I mean take a question like "What where some of the root causes of the start of World War I". A perfectly reasonable question for a 14 years old to spend 30 minutes on in a history exam, but also one that they could spend the next 30 years of their life on and still not answer completely.

The only way to expect 100% pass rates on exams is to write stupidly easy exams with pointless multiple choice like "What year was the battle of the Somme". A question which doesn't prove any understanding att all.


It does sound ridiculous if you put that requirement in the context of the current education system. What I am imagining is a system with a much more granular assessment model that can be done at the student's own pace. So if a student fails to get 100%, they should spend the next 10min relearning the content and retaking the assessment.


What you're describing is often referred to in education debates as the "mastery approach" to education. It is a system that used to be commonly employed by private tutors teaching the children of aristocrats and by master craftsmen training apprentices. When done well, it is extremely efficient, because at each step in the learning process what you teach is 1) the most important thing that 2) the student is fully ready to learn.

"Fully ready" does not use 100% as its benchmark, though, because that would make the process less efficient. You just need to be good enough that you are well-prepared to learn the next step. You achieve, let's say, Level 45 (picturing your learning of a skill as climbing a ladder), which means you're ready to move on to Level 46. Level 46 assumes you can use all the skills learned up through Level 45, so it makes use of them, with the result that your Level 45 skill continues to improve with use as you learn Level 46. When you move on to 47, your use of 46 and 45 will continue to improve those skills.

So "mastery" of Level 45 does not mean 100% before moving on to Level 46 but means a level of competence that can be used successfully. With continued use, all previous levels will asymptotically approach 100%.


this 'mastery' system sounds great for things that can be separated into levels. STEM subjects tend to be doable (and so is skill based crafts like woodwork). But what about things like english literature? how to interpret Jane Eyre? how to compare and contrast west side story and romeo and juliet?


Reading levels have been a feature of literature study for centuries. Literary works have been "graded" (assigned levels) and sequenced for a very long time. Also, even a single, significant work, such as a work by Shakespeare, would be broken into levels, with the basic plot learned first, then later some memorization of important passages, then more analysis of the language, then a study of the historical events that formed the background of the story as well as the history that was taking place as Shakespeare was writing, then, with all of that in place, a consideration of the themes and subtle messages of the work and comparisons to other works.

Since the mastery approach paid such close attention to readiness, prerequisites were better thought out. The prerequisites for literature at a certain level were not merely lower levels of literature. They also included the study of history, languages (Latin first, then Greek), rhetoric, and so on.

There's no single, objectively correct sequence, even for STEM subjects. But a master teacher can learn from experience what should be learned first, and to what level, to make a student fully ready to learn any given thing. Then take many experienced masters, put them together, and have them carefully work out a prerequisite tree from which they derive a sequence of instruction.


The difficulty is that 'content' in Literature/Language study is less valuable than various language related 'skills'. Do I necessarily care that my students have read Jane Eyre? Not at all. Nor, would it acceptable to expect that as a piece of 'required' knowledge for advancement. Instead, I care that they can interpret, analyze, and create based upon/in reaction to that (or any other) piece of literature. Even those discrete skills cannot/should not be defined linearly because they are (and should be) repeated, refined, and made more sophisticated over the years rather than being prerequisites for other kinds of knowledge (i.e. to provide evidence for your thinking is a very different task at 12-years-old than it is at 17-years old, but they are still fundamentally the same task).

Another concern is that while a mastery-based education system could be wonderful for middle/high-performing students - it is likely to lead to a huge mass of underperforming students in the lower and middle grades. "Oh, you haven't mastered exponents; Then, you cannot move on to...". The reasons that these students fall behind may have nothing/little to do with their classroom experiences and yet they would not be allowed to advance. Considering the costs - there is no way we're prepared socially/fiscally for a huge backlog of low-performing students in these grades (particularly when they begin to drop-out en-mass once they get tired of failing at "little kid work").

At the extreme, if you refuse to move a student forward to higher-level content are you impeding their right to an equitable education as their peers? There is civil rights precedents for this question with regard to special education students being refused higher level academic work because they could not (by some metric) prove themselves "competent" to move forward.

Further, is the content we require our students to learn truly necessary knowledge for adulthood? It had better be if you're going to refuse moving an 18-year-old to the eighth-grade because they cannot write a "properly" formatted paragraph.

I agree completely that this is problem, but unless we decide that fully educating every child is the actual, explicit goal of compulsory education - and accept the significant costs that will be associated with that goal - then there will always be a purge valve for underperforming students. Currently, that is moving them along despite low performance and obvious gaps in knowledge/skills.


Won't that simply lead to cycles of cram-reguretate-forget? Real understanding comes from seeing how that thing you learnt last year connects to that thing you learnt last week connects to that thing you learnt in that other class.


There would be reassessment of the same content many times in the following weeks/months/years.


This seems to imply giving purely multiple choice computer graded (and possibly even computer generated) tests. Otherwise each school would have to have a small army of teacher doing nothing be creating and marking hundreds of tests every week. I'm very much of the opinion these types of tests can only test a very small subset of knowledge and don't give very useful feedback. Going back to my original example, how would you usefully phrase something like "What where some of the root causes of the start of World War I" as a series of multiple choice questions? Given that the important part of the question is not to get the answer 'right', but to pick a handful possible causes and successfully argue for them.

Even in something like math which is probably the subject best suited for multiple choice, it is still a poor option since seeing the steps the student choses to try to answer the question are often more important and more illuminating than whether or not they get the answer right.


> Students progress through subjects independently of their peers and the other subjects they are studying.

The usual objection to this is people's aversion to having children at vastly different levels of physical development in the same classroom. Personally, I don't know whether to buy that argument, but it sounds worth expanding upon.

> Students graduate school when they have reached a certain level of competency in all subjects. This could take an arbitrary amount of time. e.g. it might take one student 3 years but another 8. But once a student graduates they will be competent.

OK, but at age eighteen, physically preventing them from leaving is against the law, and will likely be punished.

I'm only half-joking:

At some point, the law recognizes people as full adults, and it is much more difficult to legally restrain an adult, even if they're reading at a fifth-grade level.

Personally, I think the answer to that is more and better trade schools, and increased governmental public works programs, but such ideas went from being All-American in the 1930s to Socialism in the 1950s, and we're still not quite past that yet.


More than their physical development, is their emotional development. My son was quite capable of passing 2nd grade math tests when he was 4. If all we looked at was academics, he really should not have been anywhere near a kindergarten class. However, he was not emotionally mature enough to move up three grades. How much you can teach at once, the kids tolerance for repetition whenever they already understand what has been explained, their reactions to frustration and happiness... Having kids of different ages that are ready for the same material is challenging.

I think the future is more automated, independent learning. At my kid's school, a good chunk of the math curriculum is taught by computer. They go to a lab, and get to play math games that change according to their success with what they've been presented already. So if a kid has trouble adding small numbers, he'll get more of those problems than a kid that has that figured out, and can move forward to adding large numbers, multiplication, division, or whatever else still challenges him, regardless of his age.

This also handles attention span issues. If a kid can be challenged with new exercises and learn for an hour and a half straight, great. If another one has trouble learning new material late in a class, he will do worse, and face easier material as the class goes along.


"All-American in the 1930s to Socialism in the 1950s, and we're still not quite past that yet."

Socialism was "All-American" in the 1930s. Then history happened and it garnered itself a rather nasty reputation, which it went to great, great effort to earn fair and square.


Your first point is a concern. Maybe there can be some kind of "social class time" where students spend time with kids their own age. Since they are learning more efficiently there is probably time for this :).

Re your second point. It's just a graduation, no one is forced to stay in school.


> some kind of "social class time" where students spend time with kids their own age.

how about physical education (i.e., sports)? you'd usually want to group similarly aged students in those, lest you have a 16 yr old competing against a 10 yr old.


What 'trades' do you think will prepare people to be economically self-sufficient?


Let's see. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, . . . . the skilled trades are pretty great. It's tough because trade work tends to be cyclical with the housing market and construction but it's not a bad way to go. The pay for a journeyman plumber in NYC is $55k. After doing that for a while you start a small shop and hire a few people. It's a great road to the middle class. Much better than forcing people into shitty four year degrees that wind them up in call centers or mobile phone mall kiosks.


If you manage to implement national policy that sends 80% of the U.S. population into those trades, they'll pay a lot less. Simple supply and demand.

Like the CNC machining meme. If you reengineer society so that everyone below the top 5% of their high school class becomes a CNC machinist... it's not going to be a rare and valuable skill anymore.


Imagine what will happen if you double the supply of those trades. I think you'll find they aren't pretty great anymore.


very reasonable point. On the surface. But MV=PQ


MV=PQ is a tautology


Can you explain how V isn't going to make a difference? The statement that adding more people to the trades is going to have a crowding out effect strikes me as economically naive.

On the surface it seems like you're arguing that there is not enough room in the trades for more tradesman. However adding a good chunk of people to the trades will increase the velocity of money in the form of more people spending more dollars based on their higher salaries. The alternative is that the demand for trades is fixed, which doesn't make much sense to me.


Adding more tradesmen will not increase the demand, and so will not result in any increase in the velocity of money.

The demand for trades may not be fixed, but it is not proportional to the number of tradesmen. Most likely it's proportional to overall economic activity in some way. Doubling the number of tradesmen will not double economic activity across the whole economy, or likely have any significant impact on demand for tradesmen, so the value of tradesmen will drop until some are forced out and an equilibrium is reached, probably not far off where it is now.


Increasing the wage of people who would otherwise earn far less will absolutely increase the velocity. It's preposterous to say that it would be one to one, I never made any such claim. However, your argument is that we are somehow at a perfect equilibrium with tradespeople. That's just not the case. I feel like you're throwing your lot in with freshwater economics which has a pretty terrible track record.


Ok - fair point about the increase in velocity. But the increase in velocity will be distributed across the whole economy, and therefore of minimal impact on the tradespeople, whose value will be diluted in proportion to the supply.


I don't think he is saying people should be forced into school if they don't graduate by 18. just that they can't graduate (get a diploma) until they actually learn all the material.


Isn't that true today? Surely you won't get your diploma unless you get minimum necessary grades on the necessary exams.


Sure, but unfortunately the minimum necessary grade is currently a 50% "just managed to cram in enough rote learning in the final week to scrape by" pass mark.


50% and 100% obviously don't mean anything by themselves.

You can have a minimum of 50% and still have kinds know 10 times more than what a minimum of 100% course has them. 50% of an advanced course is better than 100% of a course for idiots.

It's all about the breadth and deepness of the material, not some arbitrary mark on it, like 50%.


exactly


You should read this: http://www.supermemo.com/help/fi.htm

Learning to 100% is a fallacy. It is more efficient to learn to about 90% - 95%.

Future learning does not always depend on past learning. You don't need to have memorised the double angle formulas in order to start learning group theory.

Really the whole problem of when/what to learn has been comprehensively solved by supermemo et al. The unsolved problems are in formulation of learning material.


No, students should remember 90-95%. Of course it is impossible to retain 100%, this is not what I expect. Assessment would happen at a granular level and retaken as many times as required. If a student fails the assessment, they can relearn what they don't understand and retake the test when they are ready. If they forget the content then so be it, but they will reassessed many times in the future on the same content. I should also mention that the questions they receive each time they take the test would be slightly different with different answers.


>"A pass should be 100%/A+. You should not be able to progress until you understand the subject matter 100% as future learning depends on you having a complete understanding of previous content."

As much as I can see the value in that, it'll never fly. Because, as I'm sure you know, we live in a society of "equals". Therefore, the system you propose will violently shatter that illusion for the general public and mainstream collective-thought.

And this will happen because you will very quickly see so many fail miserably and a few plowing through the material. Both due to innate general intelligence, affinity for particular skills/topics as well as plain old determination. We don't all have equal amounts of all, no matter how much we get told otherwise by individuals blaming externalities.

And I'll just go ahead and add that I believe I'd be one of the many that would very quickly fail in such a system. At least, until I realized the seriousness of the situation and decided to sit my ass down and study with determination and not rely on any supposed inner ability/gift/talent.


I addressed this in a comment above but i'll repeat some of it. What I am imagining is a system with a much more granular assessment model that can be done at the student's own pace, and retaken until they get 100%. If you failed an assessment, it's not a problem. You can spend the next 10min relearning the content and retaking the test. This way you actually learn the content that you didn't know, instead of just getting a grading and moving on.


Your idea seems to be based on the fundamental assumption that the idea in school is to learn facts that can be tested easily.

IMHO the idea of school is to teach students how to learn. Knowing when a certain battle happened isn't important, understanding how to view the world through the lens of history is. Knowing how to study the historical background of a culture or society should be what the student learns.

Likewise, the goal of English class is not to memorize the parts of speech or memorize famous poems. Learning how to write prose, master communication with the written word, and coherently communicate their thoughts, loves, and desires upon paper, are the ideals towards which students should strive.


If the idea of school is to teach students to learn, why aren't there courses on learning itself and the framework of things around the act of learning that enables students to efficiently do so?

Essentially, why aren't good study skills explicitly taught and practiced?

What I've experienced through school is that whilst there is some implicit teaching of such skills, a lot of study skills are either found by students themselves through experimentation(random), or passed down from their parents. More often than not, these are attrocious for students that did not have enough parental involvement OR parents that don't know how to study efficiently either. My personal hypothesis is that these are affected by and also affect socioeconomic standing. Just like wealth, education also perpetuates through generations.

Personally, through highschool my aproach to studying involved cramming, keeping almost no note of due-dates and very messy planning of long term academic projects. In fact, anything that took more than 2 weeks of foresight would leave me scrambling to finish at last minute.

What's worse is that this did not occur to me to be a problem until well into 10th to 11th grade, which put a dent into my college prospects to say in the least.

Since then, I've been working on aquiring these skills on my own, playing around with things like holistic learning, spaced repetition, learning how to structure projects and aquiring organizational tools such as org-mode or even something as simple as using a calendar habitually. And it helps immensely.

And whilst now I'm starting to put these things into place, I keep asking myself: "Why was this not pointed out to me back in ,say, 6th grade?". General education is a great social equalizer, but the assumption that these neccesairy skills are simply passed down seems to go against that very idea. My personal opinion is that teaching these skills would have an incredible impact, since often intelligence is not the problem, but methodology is.


You are right that students should know how to learn. This should to taught outside of this assessment model.

But the assessment doesn't have to only assess facts. The assessment can also include complex problems; it would however require that an answer be an absolute value. This teaching method would not be appropriate for all learning material. But it might be good for 70%. Even English has fundamental/structural "facts" that could be assessed this way.


Frankly, I do not see value in it, especially when it comes to things like history, geography etc. Even in math you do not need to be able to solve those super-hard triple star olympiad like exercises. You just need to be able to solve normal ones.

The only other option is that the weaker or average student will not even see those hard exercises exist and I not sure how would that help him.

That approach makes sense only if you mean to become expert in that subject. It does not make sense to demand that in everything.


The school system is not moronic at all. It is _designed_ to preserve our society's status quo by conditioning students into gradually losing their "naive" ideals and any independent thought (check out Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt). As you have already weakly implied, the kind of teaching you envision will only happen in alternative organizations.


>- Subject assessment would happen at much smaller increments and students do not progress until they understand that content block 100%.

I don't think this is a good idea at all. It sounds extremely discouraging.

This system is lovely for people always at the top of the class, who get to thrive with exactly the knowledge and content they need (assuming they have stored it in long-term memory, rather than storing it just long enough to pass through the immediate barrier), but it's terrible for everyone else.

You see this pattern already in compulsory education: 'I don't really get this topic' becomes 'I can't do this topic' becomes 'I can't do this subject' becomes 'Why would I bother?'.

It's a lot of work for student and teacher to get back from this point, if they ever manage to. Your system encourages this, and so almost nobody will graduate your system in 8 years; anyone who faces such overwhelming blockades will naturally drop out rather than overcome them. I contend that your idea is worse than the existing system.

One of the best ways to get a student to understand content they are completely stuck with is to introduce and apply it as part of a more advanced topic or more practical context, i.e. just move them on from the part they are stuck with and let them continue, coming back to earlier topics where relevant (and as a necessary reminder to the others). The existing system works well in this respect, at least.


> I don't think this is a good idea at all. It sounds extremely discouraging.

On the contrary, struggling to get everything done by next week and scraping by with a 55% pass mark is extremely discouraging.

Being able to take as much time as you like to understand the content until you get it all 100% sounds much more encouraging to me.

By way of anecdata, a researcher who had experimented with this approach in australian schools for teaching math came to my faculty and gave a seminar last year. He and his organization found that the students were, as predicted, vastly more encouraged by the mastery learning approach. Actual learning rates were also on average 2x as fast.

> You see this pattern already in compulsory education: 'I don't really get this topic' becomes 'I can't do this topic' becomes 'I can't do this subject' becomes 'Why would I bother?'.

Only because we are forced to progress without even trying to fix "I don't really get this topic".


"Being able to take as much time as you like to understand the content until you get it all 100% sounds much more encouraging to me."

Not sure where you live, but with kids here, the amount of time spent studying is directly related to how close the test is - especially when it comes to subject the kid does not care much about.

People actually open the book at home when the test/oral exam comes clise. Giving them infinite time only ensures they will put off work indefinitely.


> Actual learning rates were also on average 2x as fast.

Compared to a control group, or to the national average? To me, 2x seems extremely low for a group of students receiving special or individualised treatment - but please do link.

> Only because we are forced to progress without even trying to fix "I don't really get this topic".

Not 'only', I disagree.

There are existing systems like this: e.g. certain learn-to-program websites. How many people reach the end point?

Anecdotally, everyone I know who has tried code-learning sites experiences getting stuck (sometimes on a broken problem) and they soon drop out - they don't see the point of progressing any further.


The program was called "maths pathway". There are some charts on their website; now that I look at them it looks more like 4-5x. And that was compared to the same school before the introduction of the mastery learning program, I believe.

> Anecdotally, everyone I know who has tried code-learning sites experiences getting stuck (sometimes on a broken problem) and they soon drop out - they don't see the point of progressing any further.

I imagine the situation would be different with an actual human teacher one could ask for help.


>- Grading is harmful. A pass should be 100%/A+. You should not be able to progress until you understand the subject matter 100% as future learning depends on you having a complete understanding of previous content.

Expert practitioners with decades of experience will often still make one or two mistakes, a couple of "derps", if given a child's exam. This is a broadly good idea, but you need to allow some margin of error for the noisiness of real cognition.


Anecdote: My second grader's teacher sent home school work last week where she "corrected" his correct answer on a spelling test to something that wasn't even a word. She also accidentally a word in her little "good job" blurb at the top.

People make mistakes.


This is true, but the assessments are very small (10min-30min of learning content assessed) that can retaken as many times as required until the student knows the content.


Whilst testing like that seems to be possible for granular facts and most likely is a great way to handle these, what about conceptual understanding?

The only "surefire" way I've found to test that in myself is written condensing of the concept in a way that allows another person to understand the concept from my notes, or actually explaining the concept to another person.

That doesn't scale to 20-30 people in a class though since validating that number of explanations is not easy.

Random probing using application of the concept however encourages the cooking recipe approach. There's only a number n different types of problems you can generate, and by learning all of those is possible. They're easy to grade, but they don't guarantee full understanding.

Then there's using compound problems, where you start mixing concepts. If a student understands say momentum and friction, they should be able to work out a problem involving both. And those are the bane of students who did not invest in conceptual understanding since the number of recipes to learn suddenly increases exponentially. First midterm of physics 101 usually leads to a number of exasperated "This wasn't covered in class". Yes it was, just not this specific recipe. Now the issue with this type of problems is they cover a number of concepts, and pinning down the culprint/s isn't exactly straightforward. I guess you could tackle this through deduction based on a number of pairings (say momentum&impulse,momentum&friction&whatnot...), but noise would mess with that process.


That line wasn't very clear, but I don't think it referred to the actual test/exam, just understanding the subject.


Can you point to any evidence to support these opinions/claims? (I don't mean that to be snarky, but rather that I would find it more interesting and compelling)


Only anecdotal evidence. I spent half a decade building Learning Content Systems for the assessment model I describe. But we used it to teach Certificate 3 in Carpentry and other building related trades. It worked VERY well. We won many national awards. But it is my belief that this assessment and learning model could be applied to most subjects. Checkout https://bluedogtraining.com.au/ if you are interested learning more about what we did.


"developed a hatred for the current education system"

You might want to take a step back and return to these thoughts once your hatred has subsided. I think you will then better be able to have an unbiased evaluation of the good and bad of multiple education options. Because right now you are going to far to a totally different extreme, which can be ripped apart just as well as our current model.


It's pretty hard to appreciate and comprehend a completely new education system from a HN post. I don't mind it being "ripped apart", mostly because the concerns are legitimate and I omitted information to address those concerns in my original comment. If I addressed every issue initially it would have been a 100k word comment.

EDIT: Also my hatred will not subside. It's been 3 years since I was in that business and my opinion isn't any less absolute. The current system is broken, very broken and it is crazy to me that we continue to support it. Even this thread is an example why change is difficult. An education system is very complex and new idea's are interpreted in the context of the current system, so it makes it very difficult to explain without writing a white paper. And ain't nobody got time for that.


There's a delightful article which I can't find at the moment about a mother who did her middle school daughter's homework alongside her for a week. Her daughter advised her "memorize, don't understand". There's not enough time for understanding.



He never really explained why his daughter couldn't start homework before 8pm, which I thought displayed a curious lack of acknowledgement that it was a late time to start - homework she started at 4pm (like I had to at her age) wouldn't be cutting into her 8 hours of sleep even if it took 4 or 5 hours. Is she doing required school activities? Watching TV at home alone because her parents are at work? Doing three kinds of dance lessons they signed her up for? Although he does at one point mention that "she already worked on Spanish that afternoon" so I'm not sure if she does and he didn't count that time? Just seemed like he was being a little myopic about the issue.




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