What about Talent?

If you’ve taught long enough, I’m sure you’ve been able to recognize certain talents in your students. How much of that talent was nurtured so that your students were able to practice for over 10,000 hours? If you’ve read Sir Ken Robinson‘s books or seen him speak, you’ll know that his main message is to find the talents that lie within your students and then fuel them to ignite their passions. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he claims that passion is a key ingredient for intrinsic motivation and learning. The Harvard Business Review often has articles about hiring, inspiring, and retaining your talent. They often have entire issues dedicated to talent.

On the other hand, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, based on over a decade worth of analyzing research, says that it’s important to praise and focus on effort, not intellect. It builds resiliency and helps kids become life-long learners. In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell cites the 10,000 hours study and asserts that it is indeed effort, not IQ, that make a difference in becoming successful. And Dan Cole’s, The Talent Code, also looks at the 10,000 hours study, pushing the idea of talent to the side.

An article came out in today’s nytimes saying that we can’t dismiss IQ (or talent), and simply think effort alone will help us get from good to great. The title of the article, “Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters” doesn’t suggest that effort and practice doesn’t count. It just wants us to know that we cannot dismiss intellect and talent.

If you asked me which is more important, talent or effort? I’d say both, but both should allow for mistakes – something some kids are being deprived of in the name of ‘accountability.’

In any case, I’d like to end this post with a quote from Sir Ken Robinson.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

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2 thoughts on “What about Talent?

  1. It’s hard to believe that someone would downplay talent. Talent is like any other gift (or characteristic, or potentiality): some have more, some have less. (It’s Nature’s way of reminding us that the world stops being “fair” right after kindergarten.

    I remember reading about the 10,000 hours figure – it’s what most people (those who have gone there) feel it takes to achieve mastery of a subject (or art, like playing the piano, the violin, or tennis).

    Someone without talent might need 20,000 or even 30,000 hours to achieve mastery – and more than a few will never get there. Sometimes, that may be due to not recognizing where the real talent lies. (A quick calculation shows that it takes about 6 years, at 4 hours/day, to log 10k hours (I didn’t account for weekends or holidays, so it really takes longer).)

    For those with talent, though, it takes nowhere near as long. There’s a PBS weeken radio program that features young musicians. There are 10- and 12-year-olds who play piano, violin, &c, at concert levels. In those cases, talent does indeed matter.

    Just as some are stronger or faster, others are weaker and the slower. That doesn’t mean that we should set them aside. What it really means, I think, is that we (by which I mean you, the teachers) should look for whatever talent each student has. In some, it maybe well hidden – for various reasons. The trick is to find it, and nurture it.

    I would certainly hope that the parents would play a large part in that effort.

    As to that other effort – “… says that it’s important to praise and focus on effort, not intellect….”: Talent without effort leads nowhere (you still need those 10k hours). Effort without talent can take you as far as you can go.

    But it’s really foolish to ignore intelligence (IQ, if you like) or talent. We are not all dough, to be formed by the same cookie-cutter.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful response. I think we want to ensure our students are motivated to take themselves as far as they can go in as many areas, find their passions, and help them nurture them. Your last line, “We are not all dough, to be formed by the same cookie-cutter,” really speaks to the importance of personalizing students’ curriculum. With today’s over emphasis on standards and accountability measures, I’m afraid many schools try to be that cookie cutter.

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