Keeping the Ten Percent

Chris Lehmann, the leader behind one of the most amazing schools in the country, is also a gifted thinker and writer.  It is rare that I read one of his blog posts that doesn’t push my thinking or have me nodding my head.  His recent piece, entitled “Deep Knowing and Knowing About” explores the balance between the “depth” of the curriculum and the needs of students.  Here’s my favorite bit:

One of the things I talk about with teachers a lot is the idea that, in any given class, if you are lucky, 10% of the kids will major in a field that is related to the course material you are teaching. If we only teach to those 10%, we will lose the 90%. But we also have to teach in such a way as to not lose the 10% of the kids who are rabidly passionate about the subject. And in addition, we assess those students the same way.

What a great point, right?  How do you address the rigor needed to keep the attention of those with skills, interest, and prior knowledge; while still meeting the needs of those for whom science will not be a career?  Is it even reasonable to try to address both of these goals at the same time, in the same class?

Lehmann goes on to answer that the key is to provide every student with the means necessary to identify and investigate their own interests.  Lifelong learners, he argues, are better able to pursue their own passions and find the “depth” that makes the most sense for them.

I completely agree, and I could not have put it better than Chris has, so please follow the link and read his entire post.  But, it was somewhat depressing to realize that our current education system is so focused on the memorization of minutiae and the regurgitation of facts that it’s difficult to see where and when we have the opportunity to do the great things that he suggests.

But, if a school leader like Chris Lehmann sees the importance, and is finding ways for his own educators and students to solve this problem, then there is hope.

photo credit: malinky via photo pin cc

One thought on “Keeping the Ten Percent

  1. From a repost about “the ones that got away” to one on stretching enough for the top ten percent. It seems lately you are scripting your spontaneity whilst worrying about meeting the students’ needs. All educators do this of course; I just mean it seems to be a recent focus and theme in your reflections.

    I like Mr. Lehmann’s point about general surface knowledge and deep expertise on a subject and wanting to foster it in our top students. I agree with you both that time to investigate passions is imperative. After all, considering that you are a top ten percent teacher, what is it you need to thrive? Adults as learners are much the same as the student variety.

    Common Core is not “focused on the memorization of minutiae and the regurgitation of facts”. I would suggest the issue is that we as educators are increasingly being asked to standardize our practices …and yet still innovate at the same time. This is an impossible expectation, and the lock-step of standardization cripples our ability to meet any learner’s need that is not in the “sweet spot” of middle-of-the-road normalcy.

    It also hinders the most innovative educators the very most. They will feel the pang of not doing enough for those “outlier” students most keenly.

    Because they, themselves, are outliers.


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