By What Method: Deming in Education with David P. Langford (Part 4)

Deming Institute Podcast

This podcast was originally published on In Their Own Words for The W. Edwards Deming Institute

David and Andrew’s discussion of how using Deming in the classroom not only inspires achievement it also creates collaboration among excited students.


0:00:01.9 Andrew Stotz: My name is Andrew Stotz, and I’ll be your host as we continue our journey into the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Today, we continue our series of Deming in Education with David P. Langford where we explore Deming’s thinking to create joy in learning. David Langford has devoted his life to applying Dr. Deming’s philosophy to help everyone get the most out of learning. Today’s topic is “By what method?” David, take it away.

0:00:28.9 David Langford: Great. So in previous broadcasts, we’ve talked a lot about deadlines and processes, and operational definitions and quality standards and all kinds of things like that. So today I wanted to talk about, “By what method?” Dr. Deming tattooed that on my forehead, because so many times people would propose things to him and he would say, “By what method?” in his Deming voice. It’s all about the method of what it is you’re going to do. So what I learned to do is, instead of trying to calculate, “Is this a 92 or an 88 or 88.1?” and then I got the student upset with me, and then because I gave them an 89, I messed up their GPA, and now, so now they’re not gonna get a scholarship, and now Mom and Dad is mad at me and it just goes on and on and on. And so, instead of trying to improve that process, I started working on a method to completely get out of it, and especially today, especially in K-12, lots of schools are trying to go to what they call standards-based grading, where they want all students to achieve, but unless… If you start applying a new theory like that, but you keep it in the old system for the last several hundred years, you’re gonna have problems.

0:02:08.0 DL: So I had to figure out how can I do that? What can I do? Well, over time it slowly evolved into a process where if somebody turned in an assignment and it met or exceeded the standard for the assignment, then I started to say, “Well, you got that one”, to kids and students. Well, that finally, I started to realize, well, why can’t that just be my grade book? Either you got a one, which signifies that on this assignment, you did it to standard and you did everything required and you got a one, or it’s just blank. If it’s just blank, it means you still have to keep working on it to get a one.

0:02:57.9 AS: Just to clarify that. When you say met or exceeded, that’s one statement, that’s not saying met is one thing and exceeded is another. Is that correct?

0:03:06.3 DL: That’s right.

0:03:07.2 AS: Okay.

0:03:07.3 DL: Because yes, we have a quality standard with this assignment, but I may be really interested in this, and so I did a whole bunch more than was required. Right? And so, I still wanna recognize that with students, “Look at, look at this, look what this. You did this and you went above and beyond the standard.” Right?

0:03:27.8 AS: Right.

0:03:28.3 DL: So you still get a one for doing that, and I’m not gonna take away your desire to go above the standard by giving you A+++ or all kinds of games that teachers play. You got that one, which is awesome, and the rest is just joy and learning for you. Or if you went above the standard, okay, I might give you a chance to share what you did with the rest of class.

0:03:58.6 AS: That’s what I was just thinking about. Yeah.

0:04:01.8 DL: Yeah, yeah. And I’m gonna ask you, I’m gonna ask you, “Would you be willing to share this?” I’d say, 99% of the time, kids said, “Yeah, yeah, I’d be glad to share this.” And I would say the same thing to them. “Okay, but when you share what you did and the level you took this to, I want you to describe by what method did you do that.”

0:04:23.2 DL: And it was so fascinating because students would say, “You know, this is what I did, and this is my project, and this how it turned out, and I’m really proud of it and everything… ” Okay, by what method did you do that? “Well, I set aside 10 minutes every day just to work on this project.” And amazingly, you’d see other students in the class go, “Oh, that’s how they did that. They weren’t just smart.” Right? Because the traditional system pegs people like that. You got smart kids and the not so smart kids, right? And kids start to learn, “Well, she’s just a lot smarter. So that’s why she could do that.” No, she had a method. Right? She may be smart too, she may have a preponderance of neurons in that part of her brain that just helps her be really good in that area. I also bet that person had a method that got him to that level, and if I give them a chance to share that method, other people can learn from that.

0:05:29.5 AS: Can I go back? Just take a step back and talk about when Dr. Deming said, “By what method?” Let’s just talk briefly about what he meant by that, because sometimes, you know, we have scrutiny, let’s say in management, in companies, by saying, “I don’t want you to hit your goal by doing something unethical. You’ve gotta live up to our values. So if that’s your method, don’t do it. But any other method, I don’t care.” Right? So we oftentimes think “by what method” only applied maybe to the ethical behavior of an employee, but why is Deming saying, “By what method?”

0:06:05.6 DL: Well, you have the same thing in education. Why do we have cheating in education? And then, teachers start spending all their time trying to catch the cheaters, right? So they come up with all tricks and even when taking SAT tests and national tests, right, “We have to space them four feet apart and we have to do this, and we have to have it timed, and you have to have to work this, because we have to catch the cheaters, and that’s our job because we think are our job’s inspectors”, right? Well, when you start to take all of that out and saying, “Well, no, that’s not my job. My job is to set up the environment and the system in such a way that you can achieve, and if you don’t get it to the level I want you to get to, what’s gonna happen, well you’re gonna get help”. Novel idea. And in some cases, you’re gonna get a lot of help and it’s gonna be pretty intense feedback that it turns out, in neuroscience, that in order for you to switch on basic, your learning genes, you need intense and immediate feedback on stuff. So the quicker I can get you feedback on stuff, the more likely are, you’re gonna change it and you’re gonna make it.

0:07:25.3 DL: I never forget, my son was in high school in an honors English class, and he worked at the beginning of the school year to write this really difficult 15, 20 page paper that they were required to do and everything else. Well, he didn’t get it back ’til the following February, after he’d written it in September. And to the teacher’s credit, she had 130, 15, 20 page papers to get through, but by the time he got his paper back, I remember him bringing it home and he said, “Yeah, I don’t even know what we were doing or why we even wrote this thing.” So the feedback really wasn’t useful because it wasn’t immediate and it wasn’t intense, and getting into that point. So, I wanna get back to “by what method are you gonna track this performance” because as you work through, and that’s where the idea about the ones emerged, and it emerged with students where they said, “Oh, that’s an easy one,” they had lots of good metaphors like, “Did you get that one?” And, “Oh, that’s an easy one.” And “What happens if you didn’t get that one?” Well, you can go to somebody who did get their one. Maybe somebody turned theirs in early, and they got a one that met or exceeded the standard… This would be an awesome person for you to go to and get feedback from them.

0:08:52.0 DL: So all of a sudden I was doubling and tripling and quadrupling the number of teachers in the classrooms, because all of these students could help other students if they want to. You don’t have to, but if you want to share, share your information. Now why can’t can you share your information about how you mastered something or achieved at a high level? Because it’s not working to your detriment. See? And the fact that I got my one, and then you work to get your one, is not hurting me at all. I am still, I still aced this, I still got it all correct, whereas…

0:09:34.2 AS: So you’re taking a competition that people are, and the ranking and the striving, and the idea that there’s only gonna be five As in this class type of thing, and trying to make it more cooperative. Let me ask you a question about the zeroes and one. For the typical teacher or professor out there, are they able to use zeroes and one? Or are they forced to do A, B, C, D, F?

0:10:02.7 DL: Well, some of that goes into what kind of learning management systems do they have in place and does that fit? Does a round peg fit in a square hole? And how could you do that? And lots of methods to make it happen, if you wanna do that.

0:10:21.8 AS: You get a lot of objections, I’m sure, from people saying, “No, you have to have that competition or else people are just gonna, the students are just gonna be lazy and they’re not gonna be excited, and you gotta motivate them through this competition and internal competition in the classroom” and all that, whereas when you…

0:10:38.1 DL: Creating that artificial competition just causes more students to quit, give up, do poor quality work because they already know they can’t compete with these top level kids that are in the class, so why would I even try?

0:10:53.2 AS: I’m just thinking, I’m just writing down the idea of we want to inspire them to learn, not pound them or rank them into learning.

0:11:05.0 DL: Or do things to try to motivate them to get it to that level. All true motivation is internal, and unless you’re creating systems that enable the individuals to tap into that, you’re not gonna motivate people. And students are gonna get away… You could punish them. You could do all kinds of things. I read an article just recently, teacher was pontificating, “Should I finally get rid of depriving students of recess to get them to do work?”

0:11:42.8 DL: I think Dagwood in the cartoons one time said, “That’s a great idea ’til you think about it.” That, here you have, especially at an elementary level, kids that desperately need to get out and run around and get the cerebral fluids going up and down their spinal column, and come back with a renewed sense of energy. Right? And to attack stuff.

0:12:10.1 AS: It’s exactly what they need.

0:12:13.2 DL: Right. Exactly what we need, but no, I’m gonna deprive you of that and force you to stay in during recess and now you’re gonna be tired and upset, etcetera. And now I got that to deal with on the other side. You just compound your problems over and over, and probably 94% of the reason that they didn’t get the work done is the fault of the teacher and the system to begin with.

0:12:37.4 AS: And coming back to the idea of the teacher that goes, “Oh, David, so what now, I have to inspire my students?”

0:12:46.2 DL: Well, that’s what… Books have been written on that, and that’s been going on for years and years and years. But the thing is, students are already inspired. So, the only thing you can do by trying inspirational methods is de-motivate them to give up. Right? And even… I remember having students come into my class on the first day of school, and just three or four of them just put their heads in their desk and not even look up, and it was hard for me to start to believe, “Oh yeah, these guys are inspired.” But if you go back in their history, and these were high school kids, well, for the last 10 years, what, they’ve been beaten down by grading systems and told they can’t do stuff and punished into compliance and rewarded and punished and over and over and over… “It’s just a whole lot better just to put my head down and pretend to go to sleep and endure this rather than actually try to participate.” So when you get to that kind of a situation, you have to think about, “Alright, I have to change this situation,” and watch how behavior changes, rather than what most educators even today are taught. They basically leave the situation alone and try to punish people into compliance with that.

0:14:10.1 AS: Yeah, so for the listeners out there, think about it. Where in your life are you trying to punish or browbeat compliance, versus inspiring excellence? And I’m thinking myself, David, about my challenge I faced with my mother and trying to figure out how to keep her healthy at 84. And, yeah, recently it’s been a bit of browbeating, and you’ve made me think. And I think that this discussion helps all the listeners think about that. I want to just go back to the topic and I wanna try to summarize and see if you can bring what you want the takeaways to be. The topic of today’s discussion is, “By What Method?” What are the key takeaways that you want the audience to get as we wrap up?

0:14:56.5 DL: Well, if I think about Deming talking about the evils of grading systems, so if I’m not gonna do that by what method am I gonna do? As a teacher I do have to track progress and I do have to know that people are achieving, etcetera. So by what method am I gonna do that? And what I’m describing is not necessarily the only method, it’s the method that I came up with the help of my students over many, many years. And that enabled for almost every student to get an A. And as a high school teacher I saw about 135 kids a day in about six different class periods. And before I met Deming, when I looked back at the grades that I had, the highest number of As I ever got was about 10-15% of students in that process. And when I went to this method I was getting, out of 135 kids, one year I got 133 kids that all had As. And I didn’t, it wasn’t like we got smarter kids. [chuckle] I got a new method by which students could get there. And change the method, you get a different behavior, and you get a different result.

0:16:14.6 AS: Great. So David, thanks for your contributions and on behalf of everyone at the Deming Institute, I wanna thank you and our listeners for striving to bring joy in learning.

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