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Outliers: Reflection on chapter 9 and epilogue
Outliers - Chapter 9
Education… A pathway out of poverty; the cornerstone of a prosperous society; the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world. But how did we get to the point that, even though many countries have increased access to schooling, we are facing a global learning crisis? Why is the pathway narrow and inaccessible? Why is the cornerstone shaky? Is this mighty weapon in the wrong hands?
Although most arguments about education reform focus on teachers and students, in the penultimate chapter of his book Gladwell zeroes in on
summer vacation, a seemingly irrelevant issue. He convincingly showcases the achievement gap between low-income students and well-to-do children, attributing this distinction to the existence of a long summer break. As we know, the length and timing of school breaks vary widely from country to country due to cultural, social, and economic factors. In the past, the summer break was a practical solution to meet the needs of farmers, but in recent years it was introduced by the leisure and tourism industry. The question of whether summer vacations are too long can be viewed from various angles.
Economically, there are more advantages than disadvantages to long summer vacations. The tourism industry thrives during this time when people travel more.
For parents, the extended break often means finding ways to keep their children occupied and looked after while they work. This may mean not only
hiring babysitters but also sending their children to expensive summer camps, which some families cannot afford. On the other hand, summer
vacation provides much-needed rest for parents who actively participate in their children’s education.
From an educational perspective, there is a reason to consider how the long summer vacation might affect students’ academic performance. I don’t want to argue that our schoolchildren do need to recharge their batteries after months of rigorous studying and exams. However, more and more studies show that long vacations can lead to a decline in academic performance. Right now, millions of children are on summer vacation. Some of them are having quality time with their parents, either traveling or at home; others are in various summer camps. But millions of others are loitering in shopping malls, roaming the neighborhood, and heading towards academic disaster. Their academic performances drastically deteriorate during this period due to limited access to educational resources outside of school. While their test scores at the end of each year equate with those of high socioeconomic class, at the beginning of the school year they fall far behind. While their peers continue to progress, they struggle to catch up when they return for the new school year–widening the achievement gap.
So, could the solution to this problem be shortening summer vacation and introducing year-round schooling with intermittent breaks? It sounds reasonable. Students would still have time for leisure activities but would also be able to retain what they have learned from previous semesters. Thus, we can create an education system that promotes the success of all learners and ensures that everyone has a fair chance to reach their full potential.
Summer vacation once made good sense—back when agricultural work was essential to family income and when academic achievement mattered less. But, as society rapidly evolves, so should our approach to education. The discussion about summer vacation isn’t just about whether it’s too long but rather about how to best use our time in an ever-changing world where knowledge acquisition is increasingly essential.
The area of focus for my project is improving students’ speaking skills. Learners are often inhibited about trying to say things in English. Their main concerns stem from their worry about mistakes, fear of criticism, or shyness. Sometimes learners have difficulties in thinking of anything to say. The groups can be large so each student has only very little time to talk. This problem is worsened by the tendency of some learners to dominate, while others speak very little or not at all. My learners share the same mother tongue so they tend to use it a lot during our classes, sometimes because it is easier, and sometimes because it feels unnatural to speak to one another in a foreign language.
- Why is this solution innovative?
- What do I want to achieve with this research?
- Do students’ speaking skills improve by engaging in this kind of activity?
My idea is based on a project called ‘Speak up’, done over three months, one and a half hours a week, in a physical classroom, where students are involved in a classroom discussion on a topic that matters to them. It is advisable to let students choose a topic and task to stimulate interest. A good topic is one that is engaging and thought-provoking, and that students can relate to using ideas from their own experience and knowledge. After selecting a topic, students are prompted to read articles, listen to podcast episodes, and watch videos so as to broaden their knowledge and get familiar with the topic. This part of the activity is done outside of the classroom. Alternatively, the teacher can equip the students with the language they need, direct them to valuable resources, or provide the necessary material.
Having done the research, in class, students sit in pairs and discuss the topic. After that, students report to the whole class in the form of a discussion. They exchange opinions in an open-minded and respectful discussion. The teacher navigates the discussion using prepared questions and gives feedback on the language used.
Back to the question of why this solution is innovative. Students in my school use course books as their main source of material. They don’t get to form their opinion and the language they are exposed to is rather limited. Through this activity, they can dive into deep, meaningful talk, which can undeniably help them to better organize their thoughts and improve not only their speaking skills but also their critical thinking. They will expand their vocabulary repertoire and learn more advanced vocabulary as they explore authentic materials.
This activity may increase the amount of student talk in class and also lower the inhibitions of students who are unwilling to speak. They will gain more confidence to speak their mind as they come to class prepared and exchange ideas in a non-judgmental environment. That’s why it is of the utmost importance for a teacher to create a safe, and relaxed environment.
The answer to the question of whether students’ speaking skills have improved or not, remains to be seen.
The data is collected from the observation done by the teacher during the teaching-learning process, by other teachers, as well as students’ comments. The teacher makes notes during the class, observing the students’ progress; the teacher requires other teachers to observe the students in the class and reflect on the process; the teacher asks for meaningful feedback from students. In addition, the teacher can create a questionnaire with the following questions:
- Was the atmosphere in the classroom relaxing?
- Were the topics chosen mostly interesting and close to my life so I know what to talk about?
- Can I use some of the new words or phrases I have learned?
- Can I talk for a longer time than before?
- Am I making fewer mistakes in both pronunciation and grammar than before?
- Do I have more confidence to speak English than before?
After compiling various feedback, the teacher and their colleagues compare, analyze, and evaluate the data. The aim is to review what has been learned and draw conclusions from the data.
In Chapter 9 of "Outliers" Gladwell focuses on the concept of "cultural legacies" and how they affect students' success in school. He discusses the story of a school in the South Bronx, which serves predominantly low-income students, yet consistently achieves remarkable academic results.
One of the main reasons for KIPP Academy's success is its extended school day and school year. Students at KIPP spend significantly more time in school than their peers in traditional schools. This extra time allows for additional learning and practice, helping students bridge the achievement gap.
Gladwell argues that the extended school day and year at KIPP Academy represent a "cultural legacy" that contributes to the students' success.
The author emphasises the importance of time investment in education. He suggests that students who spend more time studying and learning have a greater chance of success. The extended school schedule at KIPP Academy provides students with the opportunity to accumulate more learning hours.
While I believe that Gladwell reflections are very consistent and well organised, I don’t think that an increased amount of hours at school automatically leads to a better performance of students. I am convinced that if children are overwhelmed with an excessive workload, there is a high risk of getting the opposite result: discouragement and disengagement.
I am convinced that what really matters is quality over quantity. Adolescents require a balance between academics and other essential aspects of their development, such as social interactions, leisure activities, physical exercise, and exposure to various stimuli. If it were as simple as dedicating more hours to studying leading to greater knowledge, the solution would be straightforward. However, there are more complex factors at play than just the quantity of time spent in school.
The book concludes with a story about Gladwell's own family history, focusing on his grandmother and her journey from Jamaica to the United States. He uses this story to illustrate how individual success is often shaped by larger cultural and societal forces. He highlights the importance of understanding one's background and the opportunities that have been made available through circumstances beyond one's control. The conclusion reinforces the central idea of the book: that success is a product of both individual effort and external factors that shape that effort.