Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Golden Quote

Cross-posted at The Homeschool Cafe.

The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved details how hi-tech classroom learning gadgets have left our young people less educated than any previous generation. In the process it makes a lot of statements that indirectly support homeschooling. I'll post a full review later (at 500 pages it's liable to be very full), but buried on page 399 I found one of the dreams of a homeschooling parent: a Golden Quote that proves just how much more effective homeschooling is than mass schooling. Homeschoolers use a one-on-one teaching method that is known in the trade as tutoring.

"In study after study, whenever tutoring is matched against some competing pedagogy, including technology, tutoring wins handily. In his own research (Benjamin) Bloom found that tutored students outdistance 98 percent of those taught in conventional groups settings.(7)"

98 percent!??!!!! No wonder we're so damn good!

The citation is: "The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search For Methods of Instruction as Effective as One-on-one Tutoring," by Benjamin S. Bloom, Educational Researcher, Vol. 13 (6), pp. 4-16, 1984. Apparently this study has become the gold standard on the power of tutoring.

I went digging. I couldn't find the original article online; Educational Researcher's
online archives don't go back that far. I did find some synopses of the original article. The first synopsis explains why it's called "The 2 Sigma problem:

If one looks at a "conventional classroom" that uses the traditional lecture approach (Bloom chose classes of about 30 students for his study), the outcomes of both learning and cognitive development of higher mental processes produced by such classes can be expressed as scaled in at the 50th percentile equivalent. By contrast, the outcomes of tutoring scale at close to 100% or about two standard deviations (2s) beyond the level of achievement in conventional classrooms! This achievement has further striking implications: students who learn through tutoring don't flunk out, stress out, or drop out. This means that many students who have been consigned to the categories of "low achiever", "not bright enough", or even "unteachable" are students who can, in fact, succeed.
This article is very well written, apparently for helping entering college students find tutors. A second synopsis shows Bloom's actual table. A third article states Bloom's challenge to the educational community: "Under the practical considerations of a class of 30 or so students, how can one approach 2 sigma achievementeivement gains of professional tutoring?"

But wait! Is homeschooling really the same as one-on-one tutoring? Ask a homeschooling parent if this
definition sounds familiar:

The concept of tutoring is an old one, perhaps one of the oldest of all human teaching and development tools. As Jenkins and Jenkins described the origins of tutoring in their paper Educational Leadership (1987), "Tutorial instruction: it was parents teaching their offspring how to make a fire and to hunt and adolescents instructing younger siblings about edible berries and roots, it was probably the first pedagogy (teaching) among primitive societies." Tutoring is one of the fundamental foundations of physical, emotional, social and academic growth. It is considered one of the most successful of all teaching methodologies. Quality tutoring reaches beyond singular academic subjects by adapting to the needs of the learner and doing so in a fashion the learner can understand. It works best when it utilizes and takes into account the concept of learning as a whole mind and body experience; it involves all the senses, the environment, the community, family and specific requirements of the learner.(emphasis mine.)

Tutoring is defined as the act, art, or process of imparting knowledge and skills. In the last one hundred years the term tutor, especially in western countries, has closely been identified as an individual who works with a single child or small group of children as opposed to a teacher who tends to manage with larger numbers of students. Tutoring has further been distinguished from early stage education and development. It is now viewed as a separate vocation focused almost entirely on academics. Most academic-oriented tutors work with children K through 12 and beyond while parents or nannies and caregiver services tend to focus on development of infants and young children. Individuals from both groups may still act as tutors and manage developmental activities during a child's early years.

Academic tutoring takes on a variety of different classifications: peer tutoring, age tutoring, certified tutors and tutoring by certified teachers. Many tutors wone with-on-one with students while others work with three, five or ten students at a time. The ability of the tutor to impart knowledge, as later discussed, may have less to do with the age or experience level of the tutor and more to do with individual attention and the ability to create learning strategies in a student. Good tutors follow the student, not the curriculum. (emphasis mine.)
There are thousands of homeschooling stories inonlinet and onlne, and all the ones I've read sound just like that definition. A fourth article lists specific groups that tutoring can help.

Unfortunately I couldn't find an interview with Bloom. I did find some of his
quotes. I also found the book he published the year after "The 2 Sigma Problem", Developing Talent in Young People, which looks at the tremendous results which highly gifted young athletes and musicians achieved through a combination of supportive parenting, and a progression of learning from solid basics to more complex skills which Bloom calls "mastery learning" but which sounds suspiciously like the trivium so near and dear to many homeschoolers. Interestingly, this program only outdistances 85% of regular students in a classroom setting, whereas one-on-one tutoring itself outdistances 98% of those students. Gee, what sort of performance boost would happen if you combine supportive parenting, one-on-one tutoring, and the trivium -- er, mastery learning? (Can you tell I'm smirking?)

Ironically, not much seems to have been done with Bloom's research. A number of attempts have been made to produce a computerized tutor-equivalent. Their failures are outlined in the book I got the quote from. No machine can possibly be anywhere near as flexible as a human being.

The only homeschooling article I could find that references Bloom is from a
Dutch study. Bloom's research is woefully underutilized in defense of homeschooling.

The inevitable comeback is that such results are only obtainable with specially trained tutors. That argument is not supported by the data. A good tutor is one who pays attention to the student and adapts their learning approach to meet the individual student's needs. Anyone who has reasonably good communication skills can do that. There are also many materials available to help both tutor and student look up what they need to know.

A key area is teaching students how to learn; this skill is best taught one-on-one. A student who has learned how to learn knows when, where and how to find what they need. That student and his or her tutor are then in an excellent position to evaluate when or if they need outside expertise in specific subjects.

But hey! Tutored students outdistance 98% of group-schooled students. That means that even if homeschooling parents don't make absolutely perfect tutors, they still stand head and shoulders above the school system.

TO RECAP: An average student who is individually tutored will outdistance 98% of the students in a classroom setting, or do two standard deviations (2 sigmas) better. No classroom teaching method yet devised comes anywhere near that figure. This study means that a learning disabled student who is individually tutored will do as well as an average student in a classroom setting. An average student who is individually tutored will do as well as a gifted student in a classroom setting. A gifted student who is individually tutored will go off the scale. Since two standard deviations is an awful lot of wiggle room, this study also means that an average parent who makes a reasonable effort at tutoring his or her children will do a better job than the best classrooms in the country.


Andrea said...

I'm finding the same results, even when talking to people who don't know much about homeschooling. If they ask teacher-type questions I just tell then it's less like teaching and more like tutoring. The light bulb goes on and they think it marvelous.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Excellent and valuable post.

Anonymous said...

Home schooling should include the ability to find relevant information when it is needed. Benjamin Bloom's article is very well known in certain circles and easily obtainable in print in the archives of many libraries and in an electronic version, also subscribed to by many libraries. If it's not in the public library in your area, you can use their "inter-library loan" services and they will obtain it from another library for you as all libraries in the US cooperate.
--Is a homeschooled person who can't use a library really well-educated? What better tool for lifelong learning than library research skills!

Davida--a librarian

Lioness said...

Thanks Davida. Would you believe I won a prize in high school for my library research skills? A full-size Whitman's Sampler! It made a lasting impression on me on the importance of library research skills. *yum*

Don't get me started on the local library -- a visit there has been known to make teachers, professional librarians, and community development experts scream with frustration. Often in my ear, too.

It's a Carnegie library, and they haven't done anything since Andrew died. (I'm not putting down all Carnegies libraries, but this one is the pits.)

Here's the only post I've been able to make myself write about it:

Anonymous said...

So glad I stumbled on this, what a wonderful feeling to have proof of what I already knew all along! Thnak you!

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Sorry for offtopic