Be The Twenty

My son was complaining the other day about a group project for school in which he ended up doing most of the work himself, and the other members of his team contributed either very little or nothing at all.  I explained that he had collided with the “Eighty-Twenty Rule.”  This is a rule of thumb that seems to apply to any kind of group project – for school, for work, or for other organizations:
   Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.
The rule is actually a mild misapplication of a mathematical law known as the Pareto Principle (go ahead, google it), which does govern many phenomena in nature and in human affairs.  As an observation about people, I think it has some validity.
My advice to my son was this:  Be the Twenty.  Cultivate those habits of mind that characterize the twenty percent.  Conscientiousness, attention to detail, willingness to work long hours.  Getting credit for your efforts is nice, but excellence is your goal.  When a task needs to be performed, you’ll answer the call, roll up your sleeves, and get it done, perhaps inspiring others by your quiet example.  In times of urgent need, those around you will know who they can rely on, who they can always turn to for capable leadership.
Be the Twenty.  Because you now know about the Eighty-Twenty Rule, you’ll expect it to happen, and it will not surprise you.  Therefore you will not let it upset you if sometimes you carry more of the burden on your shoulders.  Instead – revel in it; seize upon the opportunity to serve and to shine.  By accepting that there will always be Eighties, you will also then waste no energy feeling resentment or bitterness toward them; no personal relations will be tainted by such negativity.  You will need to grow a big heart in order to accomplish this.
Be the Twenty.  Those in the twenty percent will go on to thrive and prosper in college, in military service, in the workplace, and in all things.  You will become the leaders, innovators, and visionaries for the next generation.  And when you are my age, you will be able to look back with satisfaction at a life well led.

 

Cognitive Science of Teaching and Learning

 

I recently read a book by Daniel Willingham titled Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom.  The title itself is misleading — the book says very little about why students don’t like school — but the subtitle nails it. This volume surveys the breakthroughs in cognitive science from the past 2 or 3 decades, and identifies the implications of these results to teaching and learning.
There are insights, for example, into the neurological process of building memories, and ways to enhance this process in the classroom.  These involve the role of repetition, story-building, and tying in emotions in some way. It can also be said that memory follows cognition; rather than memorize a formula by rote, a student is more likely to retain it after applying it in a series of practice problems.  The learning experience is enhanced further if the subject matter could be engaged at a deeper emotional level.
There are perhaps some surprises in these findings.  Studying with the music on, for example, is detrimental to learning, contrary to the often held view that it promotes concentration.  In fact, any kind of multi-tasking has a similarly adverse effect.  This tells us that the TV shouldn’t be on when doing homework, even with the sound turned off.  Even having one’s cell phone nearby interferes with the learning process to a small degree.
There is a great deal of information in this book that could be used by teachers (and sufficiently mature students) to make the most of learning opportunities.