Better Courses

Schools are full of courses that constitute what the academic authorities feel students must learn to be "qualified" in a given subject. The French curriculum covers certain aspects of French language, culture, and history as deemed appropriate by the designers of that curriculum. When colleges say they require students to complete the math curriculum, they mean that they require study in certain particular aspects of mathematics, to be studied over the course of a certain number of years, with certain tests at the end. There is some variation in these curricula from school to school, of course, but not all that much, especially when standardized tests loom at the end of the year.

Courses, however, ought to be no more than a collection of scriptlets to be acquired. That is, if real knowledge comes from doing, and scriptlets are what are acquired in doing, then any course should be no more than, and no less than, a set of experiences that allow students to acquire a scriptlet in the natural way scriptlets are acquired; that is, by practice.

Of course, there is the issue of motivation. No one will learn a scriptlet, much less practice one, unless there is real motivation to drive what may be real work. Programming your VCR or sending e-mail are not intrinsically rewarding activities. Learning to do them comes from the results they bring. This means, to a course designer, that the results they bring need to be brought to the fore, serving as real motivation to acquire the scriptlet.

To motivate a student to learn a scriptlet, one of three things needs to be true. Either the student must find the result of the scriptlet to be intrinsically rewarding, or the scriptlet must be part of a package of scriptlets which are intrinsically rewarding.

An example of a scriptlet that stands alone and is intrinsically rewarding is the ability to use a cash station machine. Most scriptlets, however, are not so rewarding when considered by themselves. No one would sit still for a lesson dedicated to signing credit card slips, for example.

Often, however, scriptlets can be grouped together to accomplish a goal, although not one of them would naturally stand alone. Driving a car is a collection of scriptlets, including engine starting, braking, and lane changing. Playing baseball is a collection of scriptlets, including fielding a ground ball to your left, hitting the curve ball, or sliding. People don't do these sorts of activities (unless they are practicing) in the absence of a real need to do so. Nevertheless, all of them take practice. Scriptlets that are part of packages must be taught within the context of those packages. We shall see why this matters later on.

Sometimes, however, scriptlets are not intrinsically interesting either taken by themselves or in some natural package of scriptlets. We might all agree, for example, that being able to calculate square footage of an area is a useful skill that any adult might need. Schools would normally place such instruction in a course of mathematics. But I am arguing that the concept of scriptlet makes clear that there should not be any courses in mathematics (especially not in the early years of school). Rather, mathematics scriptlets (of which the calculation of square footage is one) need to be taught in a meaningful curriculum. Square footage calculation is not intrinsically rewarding, nor is it a part of a package of scriptlets that depend upon each other. It is a quite independent scriptlet that no one wants to learn for its own sake and it presents a serious motivation problem.

If we believe that scriptlets like calculating square footage are indeed important, we must figure out how to devise a curriculum that will make learning them rewarding. The answer to this conundrum is, as usual, goals. To motivate students to learn a scriptlet, we can give them a goal that interests them and requires them to know the scriptlet. For example, we might embed learning how to calculate square footage within an attempt to plan and build a house. In such a curriculum, this calculation would need to be made many times and would be learned in a natural way. If no situation containing a particular scriptlet can be found that is rewarding for the student, it is reasonable to assume that this scriptlet isn't all that important for the student to learn.

The same is true in business. If we determine that reading a financial report (a package of scriptlets) is important to know, we must find a context in which that knowledge matters (i.e., whether to approve a loan to a business). For instance, giving students a decision to make in which the various scriptlets in reading a financial report come into play can make all the difference between students really acquiring the relevant scriptlets and their simply learning them in order to pass a test. One thing is important to remember here. It is not simply a question of finding the context in which the scriptlets come into play, they must come into play quite often. Practice is a very important part of scriptlet acquisition. This does not mean repetition of the same scriptlet again and again as is done in drill and practice situations in school. Rather, it means finding repeated situations in the curriculum in which the same scriptlet is of use so that the practice does not seem like practice. If you want someone to become a good driver, the issue is not having him drive in circles, but giving him a job which requires repeated driving in a non-artificial way.

A course, then, ought to provide a means by which scriptlets can be acquired even if the scriptlets (or packages of scriptlets) themselves are not intrinsically rewarding. The situation must be structured to so that students can see how and why they need each scriptlet.

Next Story Facts, Subjects, and Domains

Outline Where am I in the content of the book?

Give Me An Example

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What Is Next?

What Led To This?

What Should Be Avoided

What Can Be Done?

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