Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘the right not to understand in school

“You have the right to make errors and not to understand in school”, and you are intelligent too

You have this math teacher who addresses his class: “I adore students who can’t comprehend math.  This is great: I will be of service. Together, we’ll do some progress…”  This teacher never gives up and keeps repeating and trying different approaches until the topic is understood and the students feel “good in math”

An experiment was conducted and the only variation between the experimental and the control groups of students was this priming warning: “Learning is not easy. It is very normal that you’ll make mistakes. With practice, you’ll invariably succeed...”  The experimental group outperformed the control group.

This type of experiment was done in many different kinds of mental tasks and learning fields, and the results are very consistent: Let the student know that it is normal to make mistakes and not understand…

Apparently, in most countries, the school systems do not prompt students that failure to understand is part of the learning process.

Students are not initiated to manage difficulties in learning. When a student does an error, he feels paralyzed by a sense of incompetence.

The traditional message in school systems, transmitted by teachers, is that “Generating mistakes and errors is a bad tendency. Only result counts…”

Experiments are demonstrating that failure to succeed in school has little to do with intelligence deficiency or lack of good will to learn. It is the competitive climate that is doing most of the ravages in students’ failure to doing well in school.

What are these  competitive gimmicks that tie students in knots?
1. Teacher asks students to raise hands when solving a problem or answering a question.  You could have an answer, but you need extra time to think it out. The consequence is that you feel totally incompetent relative to other students, and you feel bogged down for the “slowness of your mind”

2. Students are ranked every month for performance. Even those students in the 10th percentile feel not suited enough for learning or going to graduate schools.

Can you tell me the kinds of competitions you had to be submitted to in your school?

Do you feel that having to constantly compare your performance with the other students is pretty depressing and not conducive to good learning habits?

In Finland’s school system, student of less than 13-year do not submit to exams, rating, ranking, or any kinds of competitive gimmicks. And Finland ranks the highest among the western school systems in student performance. Still, Asian students do better in math and sciences (China, South Korea…). Why?

First,  Asians are good at math because their language allows them to count faster. For western language the numbers “four” and “seven” takes way longer to pronounce than “si” and “qi” in Chinese. Particularly when we deal with longer numbers like 389, or 10,932…

Chinese number system is very logical for adding and subtracting and for easy memorization and mental calculations. Chinese can associate numbers better and have more time to think in solving a math problem instead of spending four years (as with western languages) to learn how to count and spell correctly numbers.

Not all Chinese will have this advantage if they were brought to America at a very young age and learned English in kindergarten. The Chinese that are born in America are taught English when they start school and so have hard time learning to count numbers in English. At home, the Chinese kids learn to count in the simple Chinese number system.

Second:  Growing rice is an extremely hard and complex work, waking up at 5 am and caring for the rice paddy all year round.  And this habit comes with a reward. Rice is life to a Chinese farmer and rice is needed to run a family business as well as food throughout the year. Their thought is that if a farmer does not work hard, they will starve to death and the land becomes lazy.

Chinese have acquired a reputation for being hard workers and handed down from their ancestors. Asian kids are most probably raised at home to become hard workers and those are the Asian students who get higher scores in math and sciences tests in comparison to other ethnicity.

The Asians kids gain a “built in advantage” of several years over the western kids. It is not just a matter of acquiring mental agility as it is practicing doing real math, instead of practicing how to count and spell numbers for years. Read link in note 2.

Note 1: Post inspired from a piece by Jacqueline de Linares in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur

Note 2: Gladwell’s chapter in “Outliers”  on Rice Paddies and Math Tests




March 2023

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