Educational goals and long-term thinking

Published by Lori Pickert on December 8, 2012 at 11:32 AM


“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people,” Bezos told Wired in 2011. “But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that." — The Jeff Bezos School of Long-Term Thinking @ 99U

Part of the problem with how we think about children and learning is our focus on very short periods of time.

If you prioritize a “well-rounded education,” you have to preplan everything, label it, chop it up into smallish chunks, and then distribute it across the time you’ve allotted — usually a nine-month school year.

If you have to fragment your learning goals and pour them into your schedule first, then you will have a difficult time fitting in a self-directed, long-term project.

If self-directed learning is a goal, you have to fit that big rock in first. Set aside the idea of a nine-month “school year” and forget about artificially separating out subject areas (history, literature, science). Prioritize slow learning. Focus on holistic learning. Instead of requiring X amount of a certain subject area each week/month/year, measure it over a more generous period of time — say, two or three years. Look at your child’s long-term project work (no planning ahead) and make your authentic assessment then:

What was read?

What was written?

What experiments were planned?

What knowledge was gathered?

What was built/created?

What was shared?

What habits were formed?

What learning was accomplished?

You may find your child is getting a balanced educational diet and requires very little adult-directed supplementation. But you won’t know unless you try. And it requires a leap of faith: a belief that child-directed learning is complex, multilayered, and inherently multidisciplinary.

Investing in your child’s education and taking a long view — giving them time to grow and develop interests, ideas, and plans over months and even years — allows your child to achieve something most schoolchildren never experience: deep, authentic engagement.

There are three levels of learning in project-based homeschooling:

- learning about our topic (primary)

- acquiring the skills we need to meet short-term goals (secondary), and

- developing the habits of mind that help us solve problems, communicate, think flexibly, and so on (tertiary).

One way we can help our children get to those deeper levels is by developing a long-term mindset toward meeting authentic learning goals.

The short-term, preplanned, fragmented form of education was created to fit a particular schedule. Once you break free from that schedule, you can hack that method of learning as well. Living a learning life means you have the freedom and time to fill it with something more meaningful.


Comment by Daydreamer on December 9, 2012 at 10:07 PM

I'm interested in how you assess your child's progress usi g the long term approach. What do you do after, say, three years if you're not seeing what you'd define as success or progress in skills or habits of mind?

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 10, 2012 at 09:19 AM

essentially we keep track of their work and take into consideration the fact that one project may involve a LOT of writing and the next project much less. and we’re okay with that. one project may heavily involve science and the next may barely touch on it. rather than trying to artificially include a certain amount of each subject area in each project (or each week/month), we take a long view and decide whether they are truly “behind” in any area. then we ask ourselves, “is there anything that they’re just not getting through project work that we should consider supplementing with?”

another benefit to taking this long-view approach is that all of their work is authentic — when they are engaged in learning about science, they are *truly* engaged. they are deeply inerested and immersed. so all of their learning has more impact and more staying power.

Comment by Michelle on December 10, 2012 at 08:07 AM

Fear blocked this kind of thinking for me. When we started homeschooling, and even when my oldest was stull in public school, I always valued self-directed learning. It was definitely a long-term goal for us. But, there was that fear. What if homeschooling doesn't work out for us? What if I have to get a full-time job again? What if? So I focused way too much on one year, month, or even day at a time, so she could slip back in if she had to go back to school.

Since I've fully committed to homescooling and let go of those fears, we've been able to focus on long-term goals and extended projects. She is learning so much more, and everything seems to be so much less of a battle.
Those big rocks fit now!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 10, 2012 at 09:24 AM

yay! :)

Comment by jacinda on December 17, 2012 at 03:22 AM

You are so darn good Lori ;)

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 17, 2012 at 09:43 AM

aw, thank you, jacinda. :)

Comment by Michelle on January 3, 2013 at 01:39 PM

Can I 'stick my toes in' or do I just need to 'dive' into this? I really love the philosophy of long term learning, but I'm TERRIFIED!!

Comment by Michelle on January 3, 2013 at 01:42 PM

I love the philosophy of this but I'm terrified! Can I dabble a bit without jumping in all the way?

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 3, 2013 at 02:01 PM


my suggestion for giving it a try would be (if you’re currently doing traditional curriculum) to help your child choose something she wants to learn about, help her figure out how to plan her own curriculum, support her with time/space/materials, and pay close attention to see how much she learns/what skills and knowledge she acquires.

it looks different depending on the age of the child and what you’re doing the rest of the time... please think about joining the forum and i will hold your hand while you get your toes wet! :)

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