Instant Recall…….sometimes?

Posted by Alison W on May 19, 2016

I found listening to Matthew Syed’s idea’s of practice making perfect interesting. He argued that anything can be achieved by anyone should they practice enough and that our own inherent cerebral elasticity will eventually overcome any inhibitors that we have. This seems to be in contradiction to all the other articles that we have considered regarding the benefits to learning of things on a relational basis.

On some level I do agree with what Syed is saying, anyone can learn to play the saxophone, learn to read music and practice enough anyone can pass an exam, but do they do so with passion and flair? Can we all play the Blues like John Coltrane? I don’t think so, otherwise why would he be so special? There is no doubt the Coltrane achieved his standing through years of practise, it is hugely unlikely that he just picked up the Sax and was that good, but what makes him better than the rest? He practised more or did he just have a natural ability? I don’t think that ability can be dismissed, but neither do I see it as an excuse for not achieving your own potential.

Like so many things practise does have it’s place but surely learning, whether it be mathematics or something else, has to be more than just continued repetition to make it memorable? Surely it is just as important to inspire and encourage a depth of understanding that will stay with a student for life. Once again we look at an article by Willingham that suggests a strategy for recalling information that are not necessarily dependant on Syed’s principle of practice, practice, practice.

Again I think it is pertinent to reiterate the dangers of putting all your eggs in one basket, how is it possible to inspire and encourage students to achieve their best if every time they are exposed to mathematics or anything else for that matter, it takes the same form. I have to point out that even Syed admitted that not everyone who competed nationally in his street achieved Number 1 status, was that because he practised more than them or, like Coltrane, did he possess some natural ability that elevated him above the rest?

In conclusion practice has it’s place. Learning the times tables until they become almost instinctual is a building block within mathematics for greater things and should be encouraged, learning strategies for accessing memory could potentially help but making a lesson memorable, fun and relevant isn’t that the most important strategy to aid understanding and overcome students ‘natural’ aversions to certain subjects, including Mathematics?

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