Long, Hard, Stupid

TL;DR: I’ve had a question for a couple years about why certain educational methods work so well, and I think that some of this has helped me to circle closer to an answer. And the answer has something to do with what David Chang’s character says on Treme: "We try to do things the right way. That usually means doing things the long, hard, stupid, way."

Let’s start with the question that has been bugging me for at least a year, maybe even two or three years now.

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See screen shot at this point. (still with this could be bigger and allow some options for in line vs wrapped text).

That’s John Hattie’s list of influences on student achievement ranked by effect size (just realized it’s an older version — and he’s updated it significantly sense, link here https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/). In other words, that’s the list of what has been proven by research to work best at helping kids to learn. Despite some potentially problematic calculating (links here), Hattie's work is the closest thing I’ve seen to a definitive answer to the question that everyone in education seems to be asking: what does the research say about good teaching? This makes John Hattie a big deal in my corner of the world.

Looking at that chart, just giving it a glance, it’s hard to miss that the top two “influences” or educational methods are a cut above the rest. It’s like stepping off the edge of a cliff after those two. Sliding your eyes from the bottom to the top, there’s a fairly smooth gradation of increase, until the sudden spike for the top two: "Piagetian programs" and "self-report grades.” So what are these two influences and why are they so much more effective at influencing learning than everything else that’s been studied?

When I first encountered this list, I didn’t know much about either of these. I had some suspicions about self-reported grades, but Piagetian programs were pretty much a mystery to me. I knew Piaget had something to do with studying human development and that the brain goes through some distinct stages, but that was about it. So I had to do some reading to understand what they even meant.

Self-reported grades are a bit easier to understand and explain, so let’s start there. Apparently, there’s a lot of research that shows that students are really accurate at predicting how well they will do on a test or assignment. The challenge then, is to get them to do better than what they thought they could get away with. Hattie relabeled this one to “Student Expectations” for awhile, since it has a lot more to do with getting students to try to exceed their expectations. For me, in my classroom, this meant that I would have a clear set of expectations for an assignment or project, usually a rubric, and then I would have students fill it in, grading themselves. Many, many times, students would fill in a rubric, grading themselves, and then realize, that they had really missed the target on what learning they were supposed to demonstrate. That’s when things get interesting. Instead of letting them get away with a half-baked assignment, I let my students keep going on an assignment indefinitely, until they were satisfied. The self-reported grade was their chance to figure out where they were at, and push themselves to do better.

So, now that self-reported grades are out of the way, let’s try making some sense of Piagetian programs. Piagetian programs are explained this way: Focus on the thinking processes rather than the outcomes and do not impose the adult thinking process on to children. In other words: let them explore their own answers and ways of finding solutions. This has huge connections in my mind to Flow Theory, something that Thompson connects to Agile Learning. This also makes a lot of sense to me based on my experience of running a project in my classroom and a bunch of other people’s classrooms called Beyond Google (bit.do./beyondgoogle) Students were given a hard questions to solve and the internet and a lot of time. They got to enjoy the process and we weren’t tight on the outcomes and didn’t impose adult thinking at all, a big change from the rest of their academic school day. The rest of their day, the rest of their learning experiences had been rooted in school being done to them (“typically school is done to students.” — Howard Gardner, 1991, p. 243), and this was different.

So, what do these two approaches — Self-reported grades and Piagetian Programs — have in common?

One is about giving them time to do it at their own pace and engage in the struggle long enough to confront their own missed learning. The other one is about giving back some ownership when school is being done to you — giving over ownership to think like a kid, not being forced into adult answers.

These are both a big break from traditional schooling that follows a tight script and a tight pace. It’s a big change for educators.

Don’t give them the formula and then test them and give them a grade. Let them find their own way to the answer and their own grade.

But that’s what the research says works.

How I see it: with these two educational methods, they’ve unlocked this key idea that there’s no real formula for success, except to have students do learning the long, hard, stupid way.

As David Chang’s character says on Treme: “We try to do things the right way. That usually means doing things the long, hard, stupid, way."

More to come on this:

(note to self, fork all this to the Learning Journal topics page) Why guided learning is worse than exploratory learning. Call center cubicles vs. the 5Cs The Netflix theory of change: small things add up. Mind of a Chef, cooking metaphors for teaching Constant novelty effect — my downfall as a teacher — I got good at the wrong thing. Good enough is not ok. Things I did that worked that I’ve now forgotten or grown tired of. Third son + third child — Weird fairy tales and a Bible story connect to this. Read a strange story to my daughter: Puss in Boots. The third son doesn’t have it handed to him. Weird, strange trip to success. The third son in the parable that leaves home, screws up big time, and then finally crawls home. That’s how they learn. Lynda Barry writes about this in Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor Connect to Chimero The Long, Hard, Stupid Way. Everything changes. Don’t be afraid. Math class example: this is the formula for solving the problem vs. here’s the problem, how do you figure it out? Very practically, what can you do about this as a classroom teacher? Create interesting problems and ask interesting questions. Then give them time to muck about. Dan Meyer is an inspiration here. What about students who need structure? As Bud Hunt asks: "How do we help to build good structures for people who need structures to help them learn how not to need other people’s structures?” http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2014/12/22/trusting-people-who-will-do-dumb-things-to-make-their-own-decisions/