Power of Practice – Is talent or hard work the answer to succeed in Education?

We previously posted a blog on “How to help your child reach their full potential in life” in 2011 which was written by Angela Mitchell, a teacher and Director of Kip McGrath Cambuslang.

In our blog, we referenced an article by Mathew Syed, former three-times Commonwealth table-tennis champion.  Mathew Syed has now a best selling book called Bounce based on his view that everyone can succeed if you put in the hours and work.  He refutes the myth of the “child prodigy” and “child genius” and is adamant that practice and hard work can make any child a success, whether that be academic or sports related.

I subscribe to an excellent education blog written by Bill Boyd whose blog is at literacyadviser.wordpress.com and tonight he posted an article based on Mathew Syed’s new book called “Bounce -The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice“.  This has prompted me to re-post our earlier blog.

We would thoroughly recommend reading this book and truly believe that born talent is a myth – the key to success in all aspects of life is not ‘born talent’ but is down to hard work and practice.

However, when we are dealing with children, this advice is only good if a child is receiving support from parents at home and teachers at school.  Many children are slipping through the cracks in education and not being engaged or encouraged to reach their full academic potential.  I despair at the number of children coming to me in primary school who cannot read properly.  How can children progress to Secondary School and learn and progress if their reading and writing skills are at P3 level?  Teachers are doing their best but with class sizes so big there are always going to be children with potential who are not achieving. What do we do?

This is our original blog post from 2011. I would like to mention Carol Dweck’s input from her link http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html

Praise Your Child’s Efforts

I read an interesting article the other day, written by Matthew Syed, a former table tennis champion, about how we can possibly hold our children back with the words we use and set them up for failure in the future both academically and personally.

We’ve all heard a phrase like”my daughter is not very good at maths or sports – she takes after her mother!”  People assume that talent is all about genetics and parents can unintentionally influence their childrens’ achievements by repeating this type of phrase to spare a child’s feelings if they struggle in a particular area and praise their children highly on achievements and results.

However, there has been lots of research into this subject (see link below) and it shows that every child has the potential to excel in all areas whether it be Maths, English, Science, Sports, Arts etc regardless of genetics.  The brain has the capacity to learn and excel at anything, as long as the effort is put in and encouragement given in the right way.

We need to remove the mindset in children that they have talent for certain things like sport but are not academically gifted.  This is not necessarily true – every child has the potential to be an academic given the correct teaching methods and putting in the effort.  It is very important that a child has the correct mindset and realises that effort will bring them to the top in any field, not ‘talent’.

My view as a Parent

As a parent I quickly became aware of the value of commenting on behaviour as this was something my children viewed as changeable.  They knew I was angry with the negative behaviour and I praised their effort for trying hard to change it.  Something as simple as teaching them to ride their bikes meant commenting on how hard they were trying and with practise/effort they could achieve their goal of no stabalisers. Shouting to remind my oldest about a previously learned skill, such as timing it right to put both feet down after breaking, saved her from smashing head first into a tree in the park, then praising her for working hard on this –  previously she fell off every timed she braked and nearly killed off a few cats in the process!

My view as a Teacher

As a teacher, you have to get to know the children you work with and build up a relationship with them.  However, the last thing you want is for them to perform a task just to receive praise from their teacher.  Praise can either be a bond or barrier.

Allan McLean, ‘The Motivated School’ (2010) talks about contaminated praise where a teacher gives praise with the add on of ‘but I wish you could do that all the time’ or ‘why can’t you always..’  McLean states that praise should be relevant, specific and immediate.  Praise for effort encourages children to concentrate on their learning as opposed to showing off their ability.  It teaches values and builds confidence and much research points to the fact that it is related to self-esteem.  It is important to be confident in your ability to deal with difficulties and to know you will progress if you work hard and use the correct approaches, especially when the going gets tough. Confidence in ability is only useful when pupils are doing well, therefore, praise for effort changes their mindset to cope when they come up against a challenge.

This links with Carol Dweck’s research where she states that praising effort and not talent encourages children to view challenges as learning opportunities rather than threats.  Hers and McLean’s research impacts on our beliefs about talent and influences the way we respond and think.  We need to promote the view that IQ is not fixed and the brain is like a muscle – the more we exercise it the more it grows and our skills expand with practise.

My experience at Kip McGrath Education Centres

The foregoing is at the heart of the Kip philosophy and the materials we use.  As tutors we have to remind ourselves the impact words have and can either hold back or encourage an individual.  The materials provide students with skills practise and as they move through the programmes they can experience first hand how their efforts reap rewards.

For example, I have a young student who is dyslexic.  The computer programmes use a multi sensory approach where he hears, sees, touches and responds.  The written materials provide practise and the tutor teaches the skills and approaches to use when meeting new challenges.  He told me he hated language work in school but after coming to Kip for a while he now likes to read books and enjoys sitting in the library corner at school.  He knows he finds reading challenging but now has the confidence to use his skills and knowledge about language to tackle words when reading.  His mindset has changed.  He views himself as a reader and believes if he works hard and keeps practising his skills will expand.  He no longer believes he can’t read because he is not as clever as the other children in his class but is something he can work hard on.  His mum told me today that his class teacher can’t believe the difference in his attitude.  He contributes in class, asks for help and is determined to succeed.  He still has many challenges to face but with the support of his tutor, the Kip materials and praise targeted to his effort he has the capacity to deal with the learning challenges he faces.

Getting it Right

As a person I am not saying I am perfect.  It has taken me years and lots of courses, assignments and analysing my behaviour to make sure the impact I have on children/students I teach is a positive one.  Sometimes I get it wrong and feel like kicking myself but self-reflection is a great tool to put you on the path to getting it right.

Angela Mitchell (right) runs the Kip McGrath Education Centres in Cambuslang together with Lesley McAteer (both fully qualified teachers).  To contact us, please click on the photo to take you to our main website or call us on 0141 646 2314.

Sources and useful links for this Blog

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/woman/3546553/Praise-your-kids-for-effort-not-being-bright.html

http://mindsetonline.com/

http://www.themotivatedschool.co.uk/

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