Task 7 – No pain, no gain

Posted by Ray on May 18, 2016

The presentation by Matthew Syed further explores the idea, raised in the task 3 article by Daniel Willingham, that everyone can acquire skills through good learning and practice. Matthew discusses the nature versus nurture aspects of becoming competent at an activity and I agree with his conclusion that the quantity and quality of practice are major factors in becoming successful. He acknowledges that nature plays a part with regard to innate ability for physical or mental tasks but that the focus and effort of training will then determine how good someone is. This view challenges the generally held belief that someone has innate talent and that their performance is effortless. When the focus is on talent, mistakes and failures can be perceived as bad things and so improvement can be reduced by not taking any risks. When the focus is on stretching the capabilities of the individual, mistakes lead to valuable feedback going into the learning cycle and allow the individual to work towards maximising their potential. He also mentioned that the brain has plasticity and so, as you become an expert in a specific domain, the areas of the brain that deal with this type of skill will grow.

These are valuable concepts to take into the classroom. They highlight the need to provide work that will interest and stretch each student, allowing them to make and discuss mistakes. Formative assessment is needed to modify the teaching to the progress of the students and regular feedback and target setting is also needed. All of this will take time to do and so I have to accept that I will not be able to do all of this at the very start of my teaching career but that I will work towards that goal as I gain experience.

I thought the article by Daniel Willingham was interesting as I actually use some of the revision techniques described in it. I don’t remember ever being advised on how to revise but think that some of his ideas should be shared with students. I thought it was interesting to read the viewpoint that you don’t actually control what you will remember and that your memories can be considered as residues of thought. I think it is good advice to explain the concept of summarising the key points from a chapter or topic and to ask the question “why?” at appropriate stages. If we consider maths, it is good to ask why each stage of a calculation is needed and to be sure about the overall approach to a problem. Daniel makes the point that it is working on a task that reinforces the learning, rather than just reading the same pages over and over again, so that they become familiar but nothing is properly remembered. I also agree with his point that learning little and often over time is more effective than cramming information for an exam the next day. I’ve never used pegwords as an aid to remembering things and view the concept as confusing because you’re then adding extra things to the list to learn.

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