The traditional system in schooling, when a student isn't making the grades and when he or she doesn't study hard enough, is to use punishment or threat of punishment. If the student's grades are real poor he is threatened with being thrown out of class and if he doesn't improve the student will eventually be thrown out entirely. Discipline, of course, has some workability but it is rather rude to have no other solution to the problem of study.
Once in a while some individual teacher will use a different approach. He will depart from the system of 'teaching by threats and punishment' and invite the students' understanding. He will invite his students to really participate and acknowledges each little step forward. Teachers like that are rare but very popular with the students where they exist.
Maybe one of the reasons the technology of education has progressed so slowly is the fact that most subjects are taught away from immediate application. A law school student goes all the way through law school before he is let near a court room and taking on a case. Thus there is no real way to tell if he is being taught to become a great and efficient lawyer or not.
Even a practical subject such as engineering is impossible to instant-check. It takes years before the student has enough skills to build a bridge. It may take decades more before you can say if the bridge was built exactly right. It is unlikely that his old professors are around to see what became of their student and his professional work.
If you take subjects such as arts and languages the situation is even worse as a lot of opinion enters into this. If somebody is taught Latin the teacher will not have much opportunity to see the student speaking Latin with anybody as nobody speaks Latin as a first language these days.
In most subjects there are thus not a lot of immediate feedback between teaching the subjects to students and seeing how well it prepares them for applying the subjects. These factors, in part, may be responsible for the lack of knowledge and technology on the subject of education. The grade and exam system doesn't really give the true picture of how good the student eventually will be in applying the subject.
There are exceptions to this, of course. Take a subject as photography and you can send your students out to take pictures and in relative short order get a good impression of their practical skill level.
The same could be said about teaching a student to audit. You can teach a student a technique and the ins and outs of how to apply it and you can turn him loose and see if he really got it. Teaching students to audit, then, gives us a good opportunity to study the subject of study itself. We can instantly inspect and find out if he really got it or is all thumbs, stumble over the commands and do it all wrong. Teaching auditing is very down to earth in that respect. We are in a great position to see if we taught him the right thing and taught him the right way.
Many Small Skills
This is actually true for just about any profession. It is true for basic skills of being a human as well for that matter. If you have kids or have been around babies and toddlers I am sure you have noticed all the skills that have to be learned. These basic skills are part of the simplest of activities such as eating a sandwich or walking down the street.
A newborn baby has to develop enough strength to keep her head up first of all. Before that, the mother had to support the head and hold the bottle right in front of her mouth when bottle-feeding her. After a while the baby can hold onto the bottle by herself, but it slips all the time and the mother has to be there right next to her and ready to catch the bottle and prevent a mess. After weeks of that drill the baby graduates and is ready for the next class. Drinking out of a cup. This is quite an advanced subject to a baby. She has to have some control over her arms and hands. She may correctly lift the cup but immediately turn it upside down and dump the content onto her lap. So the mother patiently gets a cup with a lid on. You will see the baby use idle moments to practice and eventually succeed. Eating with a spoon is a similar exercise. But you can't get spoons with a lid on so it takes many failed attempts to get a mouthful from the plate and into the mouth. Then there is walking. That is a huge subject all by itself. It takes strength, coordination, balance and determination to master. All these small skills have to be mastered individually before it can all be put together.
The list goes on and on. I am sure you get the idea; even the simplest of most commonplace skills is actually very complex and there are many, many skills that have to be fitted together and work just right for anything to happen. We tend to overlook that. If somebody can't tie their own shoes, well, that is absolutely ridiculous. If somebody can't say, "Hello, how are you today?" and shake your hand when you meet him you may wonder, "what is going on with him!?".
Teaching on a Gradient
If you want to teach a student a more complex action, such as in photography or in auditing, you have to be aware of the basic skills that goes into this.
Step by Step
Example: In learning to read it has often been found that school kids who had difficulties with this simply didn't know the alphabet well enough. There are "pedagogic methods" still around where it simply has gone out of style to teach the alphabet and teach the kids to spell words aloud. Instead, the system is, that the school kid somehow learns the 'word picture' and associates it with the object, action, etc. it describes. Cat isn't C-A-T, but a picture "CAT" and with a picture next to it. Speed reading is mixed into this. Some kids manage to get over this hurdle but many kids don't. In USA it has given rise to a whole industry, such as Hooked-on-Phonics, to learn failing school kids to read. This industry simply returned to the time-proven system of teaching the kids the alphabet and the spelling of the 26 basic syllables or sounds that make up the American language. The skipped gradient here was the sounds and the spelling of the sounds and simply being able to recite the alphabet the old fashioned way. Not teaching the 'A-B-C' thoroughly was the skipped gradient. Unless you know that you will never learn to read, let alone become a speed reader.
Other Example: Many programs under United Nations, or programs designed in one country to be executed in another with a completely different culture, run into this phenomenon as well. It may be obvious in New York, Geneva or London what is behind this or that underdeveloped country's problems. But it may be obvious to all except the local population it affects directly.
In South Africa there was at one time a program to prevent the erosion and destruction of farm land - a problem of so-called soil erosion. Millions were poured into this program without any results. Then somebody familiar with this principle of missed gradients took a hard look at it. He soon found that the idea that land was in short supply and anything was needed to be done about it simply seemed absurd to the local population. After all, there was land all over the place; enough to last for a while at least. The population had only a very vague idea of what they did today would have any consequences in the future. Their ideas of future times weren't really much of a concern to them. "What will come will come", was the attitude.
This man started to teach the native population this missed step in the gradient and that was simply that there was a future out there and what they did today would determine the well being and survival of future generations. Slowly things started to change. And slowly the programs started to be accepted. When this skipped gradient had been repaired the program was finally effective and the local farmers gave it their support. Consequently, no more millions were simply wasted but now put to good use by executing the program with local understanding and support.
Other Example: In teaching students the communication course you may
run into this phenomenon of the skipped gradient. The first drill is to have two
students sit down and look at each other and do that for a considerable amount
of time. You think it can't get more basic than this but it can. There is in the
description of the beginning drill the little line that says, "the purpose
is to be there and just be there comfortably, sitting in a chair 3 feet away
from another student". You may have students who run into endless
difficulties with this. They never arrived there in the first place. All the
time they were wondering why they were there; or they had all their attention
and interest on something they really thought they should be doing. So
"just being there" was totally against what they thought they should
be doing. They were taught by their parents that they had to be busy all the
time perhaps. They felt they were there by mistake and "doing nothing is
the root to all evil".
First Step - Being There
There are some simple processes that can be used by any teacher or educator. These processes have proven themselves to be very effective and boost the students' grades and ability to learn. Apparently they boost the students' intelligence (IQ) as well.
We are talking about the so-called Locational Processes. The teacher stands in front of the class and tells the students, "Look at that wall". The students do so and the teacher acknowledges. Then she says, "Look at that wall", pointing to another wall. She keeps this up with the different walls, the ceiling, the door, the windows, and room objects. She may have the students touch objects, shake each others' hands, and stamp on the floor. After 5-10 minutes of this the students will feel great. It may seem quite magical and due to mysterious forces and phenomena. But the real explanation is very simple. What the Locational Processes brought about was getting the students to arrive and really be there. By doing all this looking around, touching, handshaking, and floor stamping, and each time be acknowledged, it became absolutely undeniable clear to them that they were in the class room; that the teacher was standing up there and directing their attention to things. They became more focused on the task at hand and more willing and capable of listening to the teacher and do what she told them to do. It is really as simple as that. But it also demonstrates with clarity that the first action, the very lowest gradient step of learning, is being there and this is not an unimportant step.
As far as Locational Processing causing student to score better on IQ tests; this is a documented fact and can be explained in terms of that a student wouldn't score anything unless he or she was present and doing the test. When the student is fully there he scores better than if he has his attention on all kinds of other things.
Another way to apply this datum of being there has been used by making a little checklist for students to do. This system was used on new students when they arrived to the Saint Hill Manor, an estate in England, where R. Hubbard personally taught courses in the 1960s. It was called an Orientation Checksheet and simply consisted of a list of checkpoints the student had to find. By locating these different locations and offices of this course facility the new student would get oriented. You could see new students run around and ask for directions to find it all. But it was simply a physical work-out that demonstrated to the new persons that they had arrived to this place and it had offices, course rooms, separate buildings, a book store, a canteen, and so on.
Undercutting the Gradient
There are generally two types of confusions you will run into when you begin on backtracking them. The one is of little interest and the other type is of great interest.
The first type would be the confusion the student could be made to recall when he first got into a new action or level of a subject.
Let's say he was learning Greek and suddenly there was a whole new alphabet to learn. This was awfully confusing to him at the time but the student went into it the right way and made absolutely sure that he knew what each letter meant, how it was named and pronounced, what sounds and syllables it was part of, before he went any further. So although he can be made to recall this confusion and tell you about it, it has little influence on him in present time as he got over it and now simply is looking back at it as a memory of a little victory. He mastered that step; he put that confusion behind him.
The other type of confusion is the one that never got resolved. Let's say our Greek language student went along sort of knowing the Greek alphabet but still having a lot of questions and unresolved confusions about it. "What happened to "C" in the Greek alphabet? Why isn't there a "C" where it is supposed to be? If this was the case this confusion would be around for every page he was trying to read. He could understand the grammar to some extent and have a decent vocabulary in Greek, but if he still had all these questions about the Greek alphabet he would be in all kinds of troubles.
You would try to teach him grammar and he would have a real hard time of it. He would just seem to be unable to get it. You may try all kinds of new ways of explaining it and basically get nowhere. This is where the traditional system of schooling would start to use heavy discipline. "Unless you know all the irregular verbs by tomorrow you will get a flunk and you will have to do the Greek grammar course all over again."
The student would sweat and suffer and drink tons of black coffee, put a towel around his head to take care of his headache and spinniness and think he was a complete failure; he wish he had never started on learning Greek.
But the real problem is that he is not being directed towards what really needs to be repaired: the earlier, unresolved confusion and lack of understanding he has concerning the Greek alphabet. He may think he pretty much understood that and going back now where he only has one day left to learn the irregular verbs would be fatal. One day may not be enough for anyone to learn the Greek alphabet. But this is the situation we see in schooling again and again. The students are under tremendous duress. They went off the rails a little earlier and "now is not the time to look back". There is "no time" and their whole future is on the line.
Yet, the only way our student is ever going to learn Greek, including the irregular verbs, the only way he is going to master that language is to go back and restudy the alphabet until he has really got it.
This may seem a very academic example but let me give you a very similar one; an actual incident reported by a course supervisor.
Actual Example: The student was a young woman living in New York. She spoke English fluently and seemed very good in expressing herself. This young and intelligent woman was trying to become an auditor but she just couldn't study. It was a puzzle at first glance. An interview revealed that she was multi-lingual. She was a Chinese national, the daughter of diplomats. Her first schooling was in Chinese. She had spent several years of her childhood in Paris and spoke fluently French as well. Since her teens she had lived in New York. She was a smart woman, very intelligent, and she had been able to learn to speak English fluently without using any books. The fact was that she had her alphabets and basic language skills all mixed up between Chinese characters and signs, French use of the alphabet where half of the letters aren't pronounced and many sounds such as 'O' or 'Oh' takes 3 or 4 letters to spell, such as in 'eau' or 'eaux'.
She was put back on doing her A-B-C. Actually doing her English A-B-C for the first time. It took several weeks but with that step finally done she could suddenly read the pages and actually complete her education as an auditor with flying colors.
The confusions we are interested in in finding and clearing up are the confusions that still remain and have a direct influence on what the student is trying to learn right now. We need to look earlier than the present page, paragraph, or skill than what the student apparently can't get or master. The problem is always earlier; back where it all seemed to go well and sometimes it's way below the skills you would expect. You often find the problem in skills or data you think the student should easily master or he or she wouldn't be in that class.
But what happens is, that these unresolved basic confusions ride forward in time and from the student's viewpoint they are right there, just out of sight, but right there.
There is another important fact: It is usually classified by the student as being known and not troublesome. It's not the confusion that the student is trying to overcome and in the data the Instructor is trying to teach him. If they are having any difficulty with that at all, that's a guarantee that it isn't the right confusion. We often see heavy reactions here, not just a little light sigh because the student can't learn it. The Instructor just can't get it through the student's head; the student seems harder and dumber than rock. What we should be looking for is a lower point on the gradient that was skipped. There was a point on the gradient that he didn't master; but he went on to the next point anyway. With that next point he was surrounded by enough confusion to cause him to be overwhelmed.
But when you first look it over that's the point the student will give you. The student is complaining over something that came later. He may have endless questions about it, demand and explanation "he can understand". To invent new explanations when the original confusion is still there is a loosing battle. The thing the student is apparently having trouble with is never the thing the student is really having trouble with or is hung up on.
You can save yourself a great many Instructor hours if you get a good grasp on that one fact. Now this, of course, follows the pattern of the mind and how it works in auditing. If a person is worried about something that 'something' isn't what he is really worried about. If you know all about what's wrong with you, that isn't what's wrong with you, because you would be able to look straight through it and fix it. That principle is very well known from auditing. When we apply this principle we see it applies very well to training as well: what the student is very confused about and unable to move forward into and what the Instructor can't seem to teach this student is not the right point of address for instruction. The Instructor just have to take a better, harder look at this situation. He has to look earlier to find the real missed gradient step.
The misunderstood word or symbol and the skipped gradient are related. Let's say the problem is the student is unable to understand what this current paragraph means; he just can't seem to get it through his head. An instructor not trained in these data will try this and that explanation and it still doesn't help. He (and the student as well) may become desperate, offended, angry and so on, because it means what it says right there on the page.
The trained course supervisor would go down another trail. He would backtrack it in the text and have the student look in the earlier paragraphs. He would chase for words the student didn't understand.
"All right, let's get down toward the end of paragraph four; now, will you please listen to this sentence: ‘So-and-so, so- and-so, so-and-so.. .' bang! What is the meaning of the word ‘aero-dynamics'?" "Oh!" the student says, "nobody could define the word 'aero-dynamics'!" The student's difficulty isn't some undiagnosed disability or illness. The difficulty isn't rooted in the students personal life or problems. He just didn't understand that word. After reading that word he got confused and had his attention parked in that confusion when he went forward. He wasn't fully there as this confusion kept on bugging him.
Sometimes these misunderstood words can form the core of a much bigger problem. They can be like hairs in a drain that eventually make the drain clog up. When the words are cleared this bigger confusion can evaporate. Just clearing words can thus sometimes do much more for the student than just make him able to read and understand the immediate text. It can straighten out his whole education and his ability to think.
The trouble with him is not what he is studying; it's what he has failed to study, just before. This is always his hang-up. When you get a physiological reaction you've got a skip on the gradient. You have this student who is studying a text on how to calculate the dimensions of a pillar in a bridge when it is made out of steel and when it is made out of concrete and it just doesn't seem to make any sense to him but it sure makes him feel funny. Finally he is being made to backtrack what he is reading and he is absolutely sure he was ok earlier. But there - right there on the previous page is a paragraph or two on how to calculate the effects of the wind pressure on the bridge. He went first through that in last semester and nobody seemed to care. But that was it. He never really understood what "aero-dynamics" meant (how moving objects behave in the atmosphere). After all you are not trying to build a moving object. But after that he couldn't understand the text at hand. Finally he gets it cleared up as not only applying to air planes but also meaning how a static object behaves in wind. Suddenly the physical reactions diminish and it all starts to make sense.
Proper instruction consists of guiding a student along a gradient of known data. It wouldn't be to invent new solutions to the student's confusions. If you start to invent new solutions to a student's confusions, you're just going to get in more and more trouble. Don't try to give him new things he can't understand under those circumstances. Good instruction is always a system of backtracking. A student will try to go forward full speed and suddenly he falls flat on his face. The way to get him back on his feet is to backtrack his difficulties to that little insignificant word or skill he just passed over. Doing that he will be up and running again pretty quickly.
If you are just trying to push him through it he will still have this split attention and he starts to get a headache. He has this uncertainty and this confusion he is leaving behind.
String of Certainties
Don't Fix it Unless it's Broken
This is one of the reasons why students are put on individual checksheets. Classroom education, the traditional way, is in error here. It dictates the same study speed to all students. This system just tries to adjust to the average trouble for the whole class. The way to do it right is to let a student run into all the brick walls he wants to. The thing you've got to be alert for is a student who has run into a brick wall. When he has run into the brick wall, recognize that he has skipped a gradient, skipped a more basic skill or is beyond a point where he didn't understand something. Now you have to go to work.
The next important point is: Don't ever take up with him what he doesn't understand. It's a waste of effort and a waste of time. He doesn't know what he doesn't understand. Always backtrack it. "What were you studying immediately ahead of this?" "Was there a point earlier, where you were going along just fine?" That is where you have him examine it closely. If it is in theory that is where you will find the misunderstood word. Having cleared that you can let him go forward and restudy the text from that point and onward and he will be up and running again. If it involves practical actions you find the step earlier he didn't master and have him redo that until he masters the skill.