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Applying the 80/20 Rule to Homeschooling


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I have applied this principle in homeschooling, especially during the early years. During K-6, we focus on reading, math and handwriting. Once they are reading well, we substitute phonics lessons for spelling and grammar.

 

We work very consistently in these areas 4 days a week. Our school days are not very long, and once they can read, I work at teaching the kids to work independently. Kindergarten lasts about 30 min, and the time spent on school increases a bit with each grade. My 5th grader spends less than 2 hours on schoolwork.

 

In addition to the above, we do Bible in the mornings, the kids read independently during quiet time, and we listen to audiobooks in the car.

 

We do not do reading comprehension pages, literature guides, science projects, vocabulary lessons, etc. We do art, history, science, etc. seasonally. For example, one summer we did art with a friend. This spring we worked through SOTW 2 and built/planted a square foot garden. This summer we'll do drawing lessons. In the fall I'm planning to do nature walks and some science read alouds.

 

We are not doing a high volume of work, but I found that it was better for us to do a little bit consistently, than to attempt too much and crash and burn.

 

So we have focused on that 20% that produces 80% of the results.

 

This is how I school my younger children. My middle and high schoolers are doing more through Classical Conversations.

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I am interested in that, as well, and have been thinking a lot about it (and reading a lot of old threads here), as my oldest two are only 8th and 11th grade and I don't have a lot of experience at this level.

 

What I have been thinking is that in addition to math and foreign language, they need strong study skills and writing skills. So I have been thinking that maybe I should look at science as an opportunity to work on study skills, history for research/writing, and literature for analysis/writing. We would still cover all of the content areas (biology, chem, etc.), but would be more focused on skills.

 

This is something I'm still thinking through. My older kids are doing fairly well, but I'd like to see their time spent in a more focused and productive manner.

 

ETA: I am trying to find ways to focus the bulk of our time on things that add value and doing those things well vs. spreading ourselves thin on tasks that offer little long-term benefit.

Edited by Jazzy
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I kind of did that with some curriculum choices.

 

We did not use Classical Writing although I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.  But we used as much less labor intensive writing program that was awfully good, and it was fine.  (FINE, I tell you!)

 

We did not do those cute file folder presentations until DD was old enough to design her own and cut everything out herself.  Because she would not have enjoyed it nearly as much if someone just gave her a bunch of stuff to glue in, and she wouldn't have learned anything from it, and it would have taken a lot of my time.

 

OTOH, we did sit around and discuss stories and history and books and poetry, a lot.  Totally worth the time.  Totally enjoyable.

 

We opted out of the local gold standard weekly science experiment/demo program, because it was so noisy that DD got totally distracted and didn't learn anything from it.  That one killed me, but there you have it.  But we would drive an hour to a science demo field trip at a superb children's science museum, and see 4 experiments in a quiet setting, and actually learn the material, and stay there for the rest of the day, soaking up other great hands on learning.  Doing something like this at least once a month, usually more, added up to quite a bit of science, albeit in long day bundles rather than spread out.

 

 

 

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I was just thinking about this the other day. I might have even posted about it in a private forum. It is hazy, but I remember dwelling on it and thinking about whether is was 80/20 or 90/10.

 

So much happens with so little effort. But when we get into competitive schooling, even 1% is critical and it takes like 99% to close up that 1%. Is it worth it?

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I don't know what this is supposed to mean in a  homeschool context.

How do we define "80% of the achievement"? What is 100% supposed to be? The maximum (of what, precisely?) that is possible?  The maxiumum that is possible for this particular child? How would we even measure?

Likewise, what does "20% of the effort" mean? Does "effort" equal "time spent"? 

 

Before we define what we are talking about, statements like this are platitudes.

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I don't know what this is supposed to mean in a  homeschool context.

How do we define "80% of the achievement"? What is 100% supposed to be? The maximum (of what, precisely?) that is possible?  The maxiumum that is possible for this particular child? How would we even measure?

Likewise, what does "20% of the effort" mean? Does "effort" equal "time spent"? 

 

Before we define what we are talking about, statements like this are platitudes.

I take it to be more heuristic than numerical.

It makes the (accurate) point that there are high effort/low reward and low effort/high reward activities in homeschooling, as there are in the rest of life, and that it is worthwhile to consider the effectiveness and efficiency of our efforts.

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I'm just as confused as Regentrude.

 

 

I take it to be more heuristic than numerical.

It makes the (accurate) point that there are high effort/low reward and low effort/high reward activities in homeschooling, as there are in the rest of life, and that it is worthwhile to consider the effectiveness and efficiency of our efforts.

 

 

I thought that the principle is more about describing situations than about being useful. Like, according to the Wikipedia page, 20% of pea pods have 80% of the peas in them... okay, nice observation, but not super actionable. In homeschooling, yeah, you can say, cut out the busywork... but you don't need some fancy theory about that. Just... what specifically is the Pareto Principle adding to homeschooling? I don't get it.

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I agree with Carol's definition.

 

OP, I found it helpful to read articles on The Robinson Curriculum website when I was making decisions about what to use and how to spend our time. I don't follow that program, but the articles helped me think things through.

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For me, the model is helpful in determining where it is best to spend my time and energy. I've applied it to housework, business, weight loss, and all kinds of things.

 

There are articles on the web about applying the principle in a variety of areas. It isn't necessarily needed, but can be helpful for people who are trying to determine where to focus.

 

You could also just say, "Cut the busywork." The 80/20 rule helped me identify and cut the busywork, and focus on the tasks that produced the most value in our homeschool.

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I agree with "cut the busywork" - but the 80/20 rule makes no sense to me when it comes to schooling.

My kids do not learn 80% of what they learn in 20% of the time they spend. Nor do my college students.

Nor do I get 80% of my job done in 20% of my time.

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Interesting idea!! I'm not sure if it holds true for upper grade material.  But, applying that principle has made my phonics tutoring 5 to 10 times faster and more efficient.  Based on the way words are distributed in sentences and stories, 50% to 90% of the words in any passage are repeating, so working on targeted word lists instead of a mix of word lists and sentences and stories has made my tutoring and phonics teaching much more efficient.  (Also nonsense words and syllables are more efficient for breaking guessing habits, but that is a separate issue not related to the 80/20 principle.  However, limiting sentences and stories during remediation keeps sight words out of the study of words I use, I find that the sight words also trigger guessing habits.)

 

I add in games and exercises to make the study of word lists more fun, but find that working on targeted lists with breaks in-between is very efficient.  The way words are distributed in passages is described by Zipf's law, it is similar to a logarithmic distribution but slightly different.  

 

Perhaps reading efficiency might be one area of upper grade level work that would apply if the student is reading below 400 WPM.  I have a theory (based on recent brain research about reading) that targeted study of nonsense words along with modified quick use of the program I use with my remedial students may help an older student improve their silent reading speed, which would speed up their work in other areas.  Here is what I use with my students, it includes a silent reading speed test and the nonsense word document.  It has improved the reading speed of my remedial student but has not been tested with non remedial students.

 

http://www.thephonicspage.org/On%20Reading/syllablesspellsu.html

 

Literacy level is more highly correlated with earnings than IQ, and only 5% of Americans are reading at a college level (they dropped that level for the most recent adult literacy survey and now the top level is around the 12th grade level, but still less than 20% of Americans are reading at that level.)  Here are the percentages and correlations to earnings:

 

http://www.thephonicspage.org/On%20Phonics/litpercent.html

 

http://www.thephonicspage.org/On%20Phonics/profitable.html

Edited by ElizabethB
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I find it interesting that our European board members are confused!  

 

We lived in Germany for 4 years, perhaps Germans are too efficient to do things in an inefficient manner and then come up with a principle to fix it!  The European schooling system seems a lot more efficient than ours.  Especially in the early years, American education, especially public schools but also to a degree private schools, do have a lot of busywork and work on the 80% side of the scale, that is probably one of the reasons many of us here have for homeschooling.  But, there are also some homeschool programs that are not efficient.

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Any ideas on applying this for spelling?

 

I use Spelling Plus, it focuses on the most frequent 1,000 words, which account for 90% of any average running text.  That is one use of frequent words that I can get behind.  She has the lists organized by pattern and includes rules.  I could teach it all myself from my years of teaching phonics, but it was way easier to just buy her book, it was just under $20.  I have the dictation book to show people who need dictation sentences, but my son didn't need them.  My daughter didn't need either book, I used Natural Speller with her and taught her the rules quickly.  While not a good beginning book for most, is a good follow on for 7th and 8th grade level words for a non Natural Speller.  (Spelling Plus words end at about a 6th grade spelling level.)

 

http://www.susancanthony.com/bk/sp.html

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I use Spelling Plus, it focuses on the most frequent 1,000 words, which account for 90% of any average running text.  That is one use of frequent words that I can get behind.  She has the lists organized by pattern and includes rules.  I could teach it all myself from my years of teaching phonics, but it was way easier to just buy her book, it was just under $20.  I have the dictation book to show people who need dictation sentences, but my son didn't need them.  My daughter didn't need either book, I used Natural Speller with her and taught her the rules quickly.  While not a good beginning book for most, is a good follow on for 7th and 8th grade level words for a non Natural Speller.  (Spelling Plus words end at about a 6th grade spelling level.)

 

http://www.susancanthony.com/bk/sp.html

 

I would agree that Spelling Plus is using this principle.

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Looking back at my adult children, long before I heard of anyone else talking about 80/20, I was noticing 90/10.

 

I think some college teachers and other similarly educated and employed people are so focused on the top 10 percent that they don't realize how much ELSE is happening so easily. 

 

I often use competitive gymnasts as examples. Not only are they highly gifted at their sport, but most learned all the basics so quickly and early, but they are hyper focused on very small details and fraction of points, that they lose a true picture of the whole. Their world is not reflective and the choice or even a possibility for the majority. Their entire world is not just the top ten, and not just the top 1% but fractions of percents of 1%.

 

Learning a cartwheel is gymnastics. It needs to be counted as part of the whole.

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This is such an interesting question!

 

How I would answer, though, if you were in my livingroom having a cup of tea and a chat, would depend on what we were chatting about ten seconds ago.

 

As far as raising and educating my kids, I'd say I'm roughly 1/5 of the adult personages involved, however I get 80% (at least) actually done. Principle: applied.

 

It was Writing Tales that got one of my kids to sit down and write. It was definitely, for sure, no doubt that program that did it, and not any of the other things. So i could say, oh, using a straightforward program like WT was 20% of the work (because we do many things) but 80% of the outcome (because the goal outcome was writing, and WT got him to do it). BUT! It's not like I could raise this child from infancy, wait til he was 9, and hand him WT. Many many many other things had to be in place before that program could stand a chance to make any kind of difference. And, possibly anything I had thrown at him at that exact time, after doing all those same things beforehand, would have had exactly the same strived-for outcome. There's no telling!

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I find it interesting that our European board members are confused!  

 

We lived in Germany for 4 years, perhaps Germans are too efficient to do things in an inefficient manner and then come up with a principle to fix it!  The European schooling system seems a lot more efficient than ours.  Especially in the early years, American education, especially public schools but also to a degree private schools, do have a lot of busywork and work on the 80% side of the scale, that is probably one of the reasons many of us here have for homeschooling.  But, there are also some homeschool programs that are not efficient.

 

As a German-American, I attribute this to the tendency to be very literal, which I tend to be.

Literally, the 80/20 thing would drive you crazy.  80 of what?  20 of what?  How do you measure?  How do you know?  Argh!

But as a principle, thought of heuristically, it can be very helpful.  And for some reason, despite my normal German literalness, I see this as a principle to use beneficially rather than as something to try to measure.

 

 

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For me, the model is helpful in determining where it is best to spend my time and energy. I've applied it to housework, business, weight loss, and all kinds of things.

 

 

Not to hijack the thread, but please tell me how you applied it to weight loss? I'm interested!

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Okay, I remember for example a behavioral neuroscience class in which you could just show up, read over the handout just before the next class and before the tests, and get a B without ever opening the book. My wife did that, and got like an 85 in that class. I took the same class, but actually read the book too (probably twice, not 100% sure), etc, and I ended up with something like a 106 in that class. I don't think I spent 5x as much time on that class, but maybe I spent 5x as much effort (there isn't much effort involved in just showing up for class). 

 

I'm still not entirely sure what the conclusion is you could draw from that. That you can get by on 20% of the effort and get a "good enough" grade? I mean, "good enough" for what? You might be able to get through college that way (and, realistically, not all classes are like that), but it's not going to get you into a top grad school, so if that's your goal, then you have to put in all the effort, and not just the 20% you need to get 80% of the result, because you're competing with people who put in 100% of the effort and got 100% of the result. I could see maybe saying that you should put in 20% of the effort in non-major-related classes and save all the extra effort for courses in which it really matters... and that may or may not be good enough. I don't know. 

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Even if I thought that the 80-20 rule applied, I'm not sure I like the lesson that it is teaching.  Many things in life are worth doing right, worth doing 100%.  I don't want my car mechanic only fixing the brakes on one of the four wheels on my car, just because a car with brakes on one wheel can stop almost as well as a car with brakes on all wheels.

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I find it interesting that our European board members are confused!  

 

We lived in Germany for 4 years, perhaps Germans are too efficient to do things in an inefficient manner and then come up with a principle to fix it!  The European schooling system seems a lot more efficient than ours.  Especially in the early years, American education, especially public schools but also to a degree private schools, do have a lot of busywork and work on the 80% side of the scale, that is probably one of the reasons many of us here have for homeschooling.  But, there are also some homeschool programs that are not efficient.

 

When my nephews were young, they would put in an 8 hour day for school, by the time they took the bus there and back. On top of that, there was homework, beginning in Kindergarten. So basically, a 40+ hour work week for a five year old child. Talk about inefficient! We used to say, "How can they have homework when they've been there all day? What did they DO all day at school?" The boys needed time to play, but it was hard to come by.

 

As a solution to this, we decided to homeschool our girls. We have, thankfully, the autonomy that comes with homeschooling. We have that lovely red pen, so we can cross out the busywork! Beyond that, we have a protective parental sensibility, so we can say, "That's enough for today, now go play."

 

I think the key is to be tuned in to the child -- when has she maxed out and stopped learning? Just going through the motions of checking off "school work" gets you nowhere in that case. It's better to stop sooner, pack it up, and move onto the rest of life. Honestly, it's better to make a pot of soup together.

 

My 80/20 principle has been learning to say, "That's enough for today." Near the end of a school year, I apply the same concept to the entirety of the year's work -- "We've done enough here (slash, slash), enough here (check, check), but we'll focus on this and this. That will wrap it up." A teacher ought to know what constitutes "enough," and possess the autonomy to free students from busywork or pure grind when that point has been reached. HTH.

Edited by Sahamamama2
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Applying the Pareto Principle is not as much about taking shortcuts as it is knowing how to spend time/energy on that which produces the most output.

 

For example, two college students both have 2 hours to spend getting ready for an exam. One student spends that time at the library studying the text and class notes. The other spends that 2 hours at a study group wrestling with classmates over an obscure concept that may not even be covered on the exam. They both spent 2 hours studying, but reading text and class notes might be that 20% that leads to 80% mastery of the material while attending study group is in the 80% of tasks that are not as productive.

 

Two homemakers (whose houses are both the same amount dirty) have an hour to get the house clean before their spouses arrive home. One makes the beds, folds a load of laundry, washes the dishes, and has the kids pick up their toys. The other vacuums under the couch cushions, dusts the baseboards, and scrubs the tubs and shower stalls. Both have been cleaning, but one has done the 20% of the tasks that make the house look 80% clean. The other's spouse might come home and ask what have you been doing all day? 😂

 

Two businessmen want to grow their businesses. One spends time nurturing relationships with the 20% of the clients who produce 80% of the orders, while the other spends time chasing new business. Both are working hard, but one is working in a way that might produce more results.

 

The idea is not to take shortcuts, but to key in on those things which produce the most output and focus the time and effort there. This will often lead to accomplishing more in a shorter amount of time because you are being more efficient.

 

There are several good examples in this thread of how this could apply to homeschooling, but one way I apply it is to teaching my children to read. We spend about 15 minutes per day doing a page of the Handbook for Reading, a phonics worksheet, and a beginning reader. Another mom might spend 1-2 hours doing a full lesson - a poem for the letter of the week, a letter craft, picture books that feature the letter, a related snack. IMO, there is nothing wrong with either method and at the end of the year out kids may both read at the same level. However, I have chosen to focus on the 20% of tasks that I feel are essential to learning to read. (Obviously my method wouldn't work for all children. Just using it as an example of how I've made decisions.)

 

Now there are times people may have very good reasons for choosing not to do the most efficient thing. They might just enjoy the longer lessons. There are times, like with Hunter's gymnastic example, where a person is at an elite level and needs to put in another 80% capture that extra 20% or even the very tippy top 1%. Then there are times when pursuing that 20 or 10 or 1% is not a good use of time.

 

Maybe the kid gets overloaded or mom gets burnout or there is a family crisis and no time for 6 hours of kindergarten or 3 math programs.

 

It is not an exact science. 🙂

 

But it has been helpful for learning how to meet goals in a more efficient manner. There are also times when I'm working hard and not getting the results I want, and I find that it is because I'm not focusing my time and attention on the tasks that produce the most results.

 

"The vital few vs the trivial many."

Edited by Jazzy
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Not to hijack the thread, but please tell me how you applied it to weight loss? I'm interested!

I think weight loss (like homeschooling) is an area where things will look different depending on the individual. The principle is the same, though, focus on that 20% that produces 80% of the results.

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This is a really smart question.

 

Weight loss: do squat and lunge based exercises, which use glutes, hams and quads, 50% of your muscle mass, in one exercise for efficient use of your exercise time to build fat burning muscle.

 

Teaching: Leapfrog letter sounds DVD. Preschool prep videos.

 

In life: give a warm smile to everyone a lot. Builds tremendous good will without expending a lot of effort otherwise.

 

I love Tim Ferriss, who has a very popular podcast, not homeschool related. He focuses on this principle, the Pareto principle, and asks very many other smart questions.

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And if this 80/20 rule is really a thing, why can't I apply it, say, three times, and get 80% * 80% * 80% = 51% of the benefit of something for 20% * 20% * 20% = < 1% of the effort?

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