The method of the grandmother

A researcher, studying how children can learn without supervision from trained professionals, set up an impossible experiment. He gave a group of Indian children a computer program that taught biotechnology in English. None of the children in the group studied English.

After two months, though, the researcher returned and asked if the children understood any of the program. He assumed they wouldn’t understand anything and as a result could conclude that self-directed learning in peer groups like this doesn’t work for some subjects.

Turned out, they shot from 0 to 30 on the standardized test covering that material. “But 30 is not a pass,” he said.

He discovered the children had a friend, a local accountant, a young woman, and they played football with her.

He asked that woman, “Would you teach them enough biotechnology to pass?”

“How would I do that?” she said. “I don’t know the subject.”

“No,” he said, “Use the method of the grandmother.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, what you’ve got to do is stand behind them and admire them all the time. Just say to them, ‘That’s cool. That’s fantastic. What is that over there? Can you do that again? Can you show me some more?’ ”

She did that for two months, and their scores improved to 50, which is what the posh schools in New Delhi with the trained biotechnology teachers were getting.