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The “Three R’s” aren’t enough

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You know that if you subtract 56 from 73, you’ll need to “carry the one”. We all know to “carry the one” but very few of us understand why.

This is because we were taught this skill, but not the concept behind the skill.

In the past (and unfortunately, often in the present as well), schools have taught students how to follow a formula so that they “know” the 3 R’s—reading, writing and arithmetic. Students learned to remember facts from a reading passage, to write an essay in the form required, and use a formula provided by a book to solve a math equation.

However, using this teaching method our schools are preparing students for the wrong future. In the name of building skills, we are rewarding our children for behavior that won’t help them in future careers.

Don’t get me wrong — reading, writing and math skills do matter and, in fact, are crucial even in the 21st Century. However, today I want to focus on the dangers of placing too much emphasis on the skills without really learning how to think.

Many teachers already know about an education framework that addresses this. We use it for training all our tutors; it’s called Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy revolves around the idea that true mastery comes down to conceptual understanding or “fluency”. As a student progresses from remembering to evaluating to creating, they demonstrate true conceptual understanding.

Developing these higher order thinking skills in a student is easier said than done.

After years of working with thousands and thousands of students, we synthesized our approach into what we call the Three M’s. These are Mastery: deep conceptual understanding of mathematics, reading, and writing; Management: the right study and organizational habits to give a student time to focus on developing that understanding; and Mindset: the right attitude to develop understanding further despite challenges.

Having the Three R’s alone means students know what to do when they receive a formula. Having the Three M’s means students are driven to develop concept mastery in and outside of the classroom. They are prepared for success in the 21st century.

Parents and teachers, share with me on my Facebook page how you’ve helped your students develop beyond the Three R’s. In my next 3 posts, I will dive into each of the Three M’s in more detail. I’ll cover what they are, why they are important and how you can develop them in your child.


Follow me on Facebook to be the first to read more
on each of the Three M’s.


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Ramit Varma  

Helping parents navigate the politics and the jargon. Math. Test Prep. Learning. I co-founded Revolution Prep with the goal of profoundly improving students’ lives.


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