Debunking the talent myth
I have looked back through the previous tasks and cannot see anything that obviously conflicts with any of the messages about learning and memory given by Matthew Syed and Daniel Willingham in the article. If anything this seems to add to the concepts and notions already discussed about how all students are capable of success given the right support and can achieve real learning with the right techniques. This is one of the founding principles of the Khan Academy which we have already considered in detail.
Syed’s ideas about the destructiveness of the concept of natural talent present an interesting angle on the way success is viewed (particularly in Western culture). It is now so clear to me that describing success in any field in these terms is not only unhelpful but clearly damaging. It strikes me how important the language that teachers use is to the overall progress of their students. Praising effort and not talent is paramount, but I fear that the disease of praising talent is so far imbedded in our language and culture that this is not something that will be easily changed. I wonder whether the culture of celebrity which seems to have grown over the years is a barrier to changing this mind-set. As a society we seem to instil in each other the idea that some people are naturally good at things and celebrate this (without considering the effects on those labelled as “untalented”). Willingham touched on the ideas of natural talent in an article we read in an earlier module when he stated that maths is often considered a subject that people are either naturally good at or not. This clearly complements the ideas of Syed. Importantly, it was in the same Willingham article that the importance of culture in learning and maths in particular was explored. Culture is clearly central to the way people learn, progress and succeed.
Willingham sets out a clear structure as to how we can make the most of our memory (and by definition how teachers can help their students to as well). Both Syed and Willingham highlight the importance of engaging with material. This is key in how memories are created and recalled. Syed’s emphasis on “high quality practice” sums up the key to success in a nutshell. This is for me what it all boils down to. Willingham’s ideas about how to train memory are very useful in terms of micro-managing individual students and helping them develop strategies to retain more information and achieve more conceptual understanding. The idea that we need to learn how to learn is often overlooked in the modern education system. Perhaps if more time were devoted to this in the formative years better student engagement could be achieved in the long run and following on from this more successful students.