In my last post I discussed Benjamin Bloom and how Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a guide to helping us determine if we’ve truly learned something, as well as give us objectives in helping others learn concepts in such a way that they can understand, apply, analyze and improvise them. Throughout Bloom’s career he sought to better understand what factors led to students excelling and achieving the objectives of their curriculums. In his book “Developing Talent in Young People”, Bloom demonstrated that famous high-achieving adults were rarely considered child prodigies. The difference “was the kind of attention and support those individuals received at home from their parents…they realized goals born of guidance rather than raw genetic capacity. Attainment was a product of learning, and learning was influenced by opportunity and effort. It was then, and is now, a powerful and optimistic conception of the possibilities that education provides.” In other words, Bloom argued that environment and not genetics was the biggest factor in helping a student reach their potential in learning.
The type of environment necessary for reaching full potential matters a lot. In 1984, Bloom published an article entitled “The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring.” In short, 3 learning environments were compared:
- Conventional – roughly 30 students per teacher, periodic tests given.
- Mastery Learning – roughly 30 students per teacher learn the material in a classroom setting (like above) . However, the tests (like those in the Conventional class) are used to give feedback which is immediately followed by corrective procedures and ‘parallel formative tests’.
- Tutoring – Usually one (sometimes 2-3) student(s) learned the material from a good tutor. Tutoring instruction was “followed periodically by formative tests, feedback corrective procedures, and parallel formative tests”.
These studies found that the average student in the tutoring group was two standard deviations (or 2 sigma) above the average student in the conventional group – meaning that they were above 98% of the conventional students. (The average student in the mastery learning group was 1 sigma above the average student in the conventional group – or above 84% of the conventional group.)
In light of these findings, Bloom wrote:
“The tutoring process demonstrates that most of the students do have the potential to reach this high level of learning. I believe an important task of research and instruction is to seek ways of accomplishing this under more practical and realistic conditions than the one-to-one tutoring, which is too costly for most societies to bear on a large scale. This is the ‘2 sigma’ problem.”
I had three immediate reactions to Bloom’s statement. First, I am more determined than ever to be heavily involved in tutoring my children regardless of whether we go with a home school, private school or public school approach. Second, what does it say about our society that even the home cannot be a “safe bet” for one-to-one tutoring? Regardless of the reasons, I am troubled that an entire value system has been built that deems it “too costly” for us to bear. I wonder what the general attitude and level of education in our nation would be if families didn’t assume that education was something to be outsourced to an already overburdened and complicated public school system? Third, it struck me in the context of workplace mentoring. How often do I make myself available to be a mentor for junior software developers? How often am I seeking out other senior developers or managers to mentor me?
What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you seek out mentors in the workplace? Have you been a mentor? How did that work? What helped it happen? What undermined it?