When you would learn a musical instrument: you practice the basic piece over and over again, and only when you've mastered it, you go on to the more advanced one. It's the way you learn a martial art, Karate, you would practice the white belt skills as long as necessary, and only when you've mastered it you would move on to become a yellow belt.
This is not the way a traditional academic model is structured, the type of academic model that most of us grew up in. In a traditional academic model, we group students together, usually by age, and around Intermediate, by age and perceived ability, and they shepherd them all together at the same pace. The expectational few went into classes they call, extension (the employer). And what typically happens, let's say we're in an Intermediate school maths class, and the current unit is on exponents, the teacher will give a lecture (examples) on exponents, then we’ll go home, do some homework.
The next morning, we'll review the homework, then another example, homework, example, homework. That will continue for about two or three weeks, and then we get a test. On that test, maybe I get a 75 percent, maybe you get a 85 percent, maybe you get a 95 percent. And even though the test identified gaps in our knowledge, I didn't know 25 percent of the material. Even the A student, what was the five percent they didn't know?
Even though we've identified the gaps, the whole class will then move on to the next subject, probably a more advanced subject that's going to build on those gaps.
It might be logarithms or negative exponents. And that process continues, and you immediately start to realise how strange this is. I didn't know 25 percent of the more foundational thing, and now I'm being moved to the more advanced thing. And this will continue for months, years, all the way until at some point, I might be in an maths class or trigonometry class and I hit a wall.
And it's not because maths is fundamentally difficult or because the student isn't bright. It's because they're seeing an equation and they're dealing with exponents and that 25 percent that I didn't know is showing up.
And then they start to disengage or anxiety sets in, which is not a good start to your teen years as a 15 year old!
To appreciate how absurd that is, imagine if we did other things in our life that way. Say, building a home.
So, we bring in the contractor and say,
"We were told we have two weeks to build a foundation. Do what you can." So, they do what they can. Maybe it rains. Maybe some of the supplies don't show up. And two weeks later, the inspector comes, looks around, says, "OK, the concrete is still wet right over there, that part's not quite up to code ... I'll give it an 80 percent." You say, "Great! That's a C. Let's build the first floor."
Same thing. We have two weeks, do what you can, inspector shows up, it's an 85 percent. Great, that's a C-plus. Second floor, third floor, and all of a sudden, while you're building the third floor, the whole structure collapses.
And if your reaction is the reaction you typically have in education, or that a lot of people have, you might say, maybe we had a bad contractor, or maybe we needed better inspection or more frequent inspections?
But what was really broken was the process.We were artificially constraining how long we had to do something, pretty much ensuring a variable outcome, and we took the trouble of inspecting and identifying those gaps, but then we built right on top of it.
I really think that this is all based on the idea that if we let students tap into their potential by mastering concepts, by being able to exercise agency over their learning, that they can get there.
This was my personal experience in education. My name was then and still being pronounced Whitehall in 2017.
I went through maths not knowing 30%, then 40%, then 55% so in my 5th form (Year 11) School Certificate exam, I failed. So, in the 80s, I became a labourer not an employer.
“Oh, how that’s changed”