Thoughts provoked by the recent New York Times article on talent.
It is fascinating, and both encouraging and scary, to watch the wave build for the coming age of neuroeducation. I am encouraged that the populous seems to find this as fascinating and game changing as I do. I am scared that all kinds of sources, both unscrupulous and well meaning, can easily lead people astray of the facts of the issues and their meaning.
I was inspired to write this blog post by the New York Times article, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Talent.” That piece is not research in cognitive, nor for that matter behavioral neuroscience and psychology. It is instead an invitation to do research if any of the areas the author has touched upon are meaningful to you. Do we get into conversations about these issues and offer tidbits from these types of articles as facts? Do we say, “Well, I read in the New York Times that. . .” and feel we know what we are talking about because we’ve checked the facts? We have not. If we want to truly learn about learning it will take more than some articles.
We may also be concerned with the motivations of those doing the research. There will certainly be those who get into this debate and make a name for themselves, whether intentional or not, on all sides.
I’ve also been very aware that this has become big business for some, and I think we have every reason to be wary when profits can be a higher priority than education.
Question the research, dig deeper, keep looking and observe these phenomena in your life – especially if you are a teacher, and if you are a parent you have the title of teacher. Let’s always strive to live up to that title.
In a paper published in the journal Neuroethics, “Neuroeducation, and Classroom Teaching: Where the Brain Sciences Meet Pedagogy.” (Hardiman, et al.) the authors recognize, “The popularization of neuroscientific ideas about learning – sometimes legitimate, sometimes merely commercial – poses a real challenge. . . Meanwhile, the success of our schools will continue to be narrowly defined by achievement standards that ignore knowledge of the neural and cognitive processes of learning.”
We have another issue to consider; what Hardiman and colleagues call, “neuromyths”. They write, “. . .these naïve misinterpretations of science have spread throughout the folk psychology of educators in recent years.”
Now we are in a different time. Answers to decades of research in cognitive psychology are being found in neurobiological processes we can, for the first time, observe. I think it is absolutely fascinating to be at this part of the journey, watch it unfold in hindsight, and see it begin to come to fruition for the benefit of humankind.
We are finally there.
However, the answers are counterintuitive to what most people, including many teachers, have thought for a long time. So, buried within all of the information one must sift through is a truth that seems to run opposite of what many of us think learning is. As researchers Bjork and Bjork write, “. . .optimizing instruction will require unintuitive innovations in how the conditions of instruction are structured.”
There is now a need to bridge the gap between good research and experience and the general public. Articles like the one the Times published are nice to get a little bit of a, “sound bite,” of information about divergent opinions. I believe that learning to read that with a researched eye would lead down avenues that reveal what is really behind the curtain.
“The need for translators and for greater collaboration between educators and neuro- and cognitive scientists has been previously described by a number of researchers [Ansari and Coch, Fischer et al., Hinton and Fischer, Kuriloff et al., Ronstadt and Yellin].” “These translators, trained in multidisciplinary programs tied to school of education, can return to schools and school districts with sufficient background in the neuro- and cognitive sciences to provide perspective and transmit knowledge to their colleagues.” (Hardiman, et al.)
I believe that is what I and others who mine this vein, and have used the classroom as a laboratory for implementing this stuff, are doing in the educational community right now.
Recently the American String Teachers Association posted a video taken at the 2014 conference in Louisville, KY featuring Richard Meyer, an accomplished educator. In it he asks the audience how many have been teaching for 15 years or more and has this to say, “You should be giving clinics. . .It is your responsibility to go get in front of people. . .It will organize your own teaching. . .Please consider giving back to your colleagues, it is time to do that.”
His observation that it organizes your teaching illustrates the highest level of learning. If you learn to teach what you do well (give it time, you won’t be great at it right away) you will learn to teach amazingly well. The idea of giving back once you have achieved a level of understanding speaks to the idea of the translator as well.
We even need to be careful of how we interpret things that are true. The following from the Times article illustrates a common argument that purports to illustrate that doing the work necessary, deliberate practice (Ericsson et al.), is not all it takes for skill development.
“Practice time is critical indeed, and its contribution to accumulated expertise is likely to vary from one field to the next as the new paper found, experts said. Personality is an enormous variable, too, (although partly genetic). ‘Things like grit, motivation, and inspiration — that ability to imagine achieving this high level, to fantasize about it,’ Dr. Kaufman said. ‘These are things we don’t know much about yet, and need to study more directly.’”
There is more than a little research that has been done in those areas. Why is the reader not being encouraged to consider it?
That view expressed in the article is prevalent and is based in fact. However it is describing the necessary traits to engage in high level deliberate practice. The goal is to do deliberate practice. The other areas are the things needed to engage in deliberate practice over the course of time for high level skill development.
The way that argument is framed by many suggests that these are additional elements to deliberate practice thus reducing the central significance of it. That is analogous to me saying all you need to do to win a race is run the fastest and then have someone contradict me by saying, “No, in addition you need coordination, blood, bones, healthy joints, a cardiovascular system, on and on,” Those things are the necessary components we assemble in support of using running to develop those things to run better. And by the way, that is deliberate practice.
The other areas mentioned by Dr. Kaufman in the Times article are not in addition to deliberate practice, but the components of, and contributors to it.
More importantly all of these areas can be developed through deliberate practice. If you do not possess the needed desire, determination, inspiration then you can create it. That research is a subject for another article entirely.
I hope that the popular appeal generated by popular articles in sources with a far reach like the New York Times will create a nascent interest in really investigating these important issues for oneself.
Interestingly the opening of the Times article has intuited the answer his article appears to challenge – that everyone has to work to acquire skill and it is not easy for anyone at the beginning. “How good can I get? How much time will it take? Is it possible I’m a natural at this (for once)?”
Go get ‘em.
Ansari, D., and D. Coch. 2006. Bridges over troubled waters: Education and cognitive neuroscience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10: 146–151.
Bjork, E. L., Bjork, R. A. “Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning.” Psychology and the Real World: Essays illustrating fundamental contributions to society. Eds. M. A. Gernsbacher, R. W. Pew, L. M. Hough, J. R. Pomerantz. New York: Worth Publishers, 2011. 56-64. Print
Carey, Benedict. “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Talent.” New York Times 14 July. 2014: n. pag. Web. 15 July 2014.
Ericsson, K. Anders, Ralf Th. Krampke, and Clemens Tesch-Romer. “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.” Psychological Review 100.3 (1993): 363-406. Print.
Fischer, K.W., D.B. Daniel, M.H. Immordino-Yang, E. Stern, A. Battro, and H. Koizumi. 2007. Why mind, brain, and education? Why now? Mind, Brain, & Education 1: 1–2.
Fischer, K.W., U. Goswami, J. Geake, and Task Force on the Future of Educational Neuroscience. 2010. The Future of Educational Neuroscience. Mind, Brain, and Education 4: 68–80.
Hardiman, Mariale, Luke Rinne, Emma Gregory, and Julia Yarmolinskaya. “Neuroethics, Neuroeducation, and Classroom Teaching: Where the Brain Sciences Meet Pedagogy.” Neuroethics 20 May. 2011: n. pag. Web. 15 July 2014.
Hinton, C., and K.W. Fischer. 2008. Research schools: Grounding research in educational practice. Mind, Brain, and Education 2: 157–160.
Kuriloff, P., M. Reichert, B. Stoudt, and S. Ravitch. 2009. Building research collaborations among schools and universities: Lessons from the field. Mind, Brain, and Education 3: 34–44.
Meyer, Richard. “How-To Tips for Highly Efficient and Effective Rehearsal.” American String Teachers Association. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014
Pickering, S.J., and P. Howard-Jones. 2007. Educators’views on the role of neuroscience in education: Findings from a study of UK and international perspectives. Mind, Brain, and Education 1(3): 109–113.
Ronstadt, K., and P. Yellin. 2010. Linking mind, brain, and education to clinical practice: A proposal for transdisciplinary collaboration. Mind, Brain, and Education 4: 95–101.
Roskies, A. 2002. Neuroethics for the new millenium. Neuron 35(1): 21–23.