The newest addition is eating a lot and sleeping, well, not so long as Baby Whisperer says she should be, so suffice to say I’m getting a lot of reading done these days [okay, mostly nights], particularly since my library started eBook lending.
So far this summer I’ve read, for example, Brain Rules for Baby and The Litigators and I’m halfway through Twelve Extraordinary Women, Spiritual Depression, and The Voluntourist. As always, some books on my list are for professional development. I’ve been first on the waiting list at the library for Punished by Rewards for almost two months now – I wonder if someone lost it – so I’m about to give up and get it myself. Meanwhile, I was able to get the eBook Lending version of The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.
Is talent a myth?
In this book, Coyle supposes that talent is something developed rather than innate, that people who are extraordinarily talented in a sport or other skill have actually engaged in a level of practice that increases and strengthens the myelin wrapping the nerves involved in that activity. He investigates so-called “talent hotbeds”: areas that have produced an unusually high number of very talented participants in a particular activity. Examples are Russian tennis stars, South Koreans in the LPGA, Brazilian soccer players, and so on. He investigates skateboarders in California, violinists in a northeastern camp, and pop singers in Texas.
Coyle’s major finding, if you want to call it that, is something he calls deep practice. For example, instead of practicing a piece over and over on the piano, someone engaging in deep practice will pay close attention to what’s happening in a particular part he’s struggling with. She’ll go back and focus on what went wrong. He’ll embrace the struggle and work through the one mechanic that is going wrong until it’s right. She’ll use her mistakes to perfect the talent.
Talent in WL acquisition
What does this mean for the world language student?
I’ve long believed and said that the number one factor in success in learning a language is motivation, not aptitude or age or any other factor. If a student is motivated enough, he will seek the opportunities needed to succeed. So if motivated students succeed, how do they do it?
They practice. Deeply and often. They accomplish in a short period of practice what unmotivated students take weeks to do.
My first year at my current school, I had a student who had the highest combination of aptitude and motivation I had ever seen. He was in my AP Spanish class after skipping Spanish 3. His father was in construction and so he had a lot of opportunity to work with native speakers. He would hear them say something a certain way, ask them why they said it that way, come and talk to me about it, and then determine to work it into his conversation every day for at least a week. That is exactly what Coyle is talking about with “deep practice.”
In our classrooms
This concept reminds me of a question that has been asked several times in #langchat, about what kinds and frequency of error correction in the classroom actually work. Based on Coyle’s book, here is what I recommend.
As you notice student(s) making a specific mistake consistently, focus on that mistake. Encourage them to go back over what happened and figure out what went wrong. Ask how they think they can work this into speech or writing every day for a while. Give them opportunities to do so, and reward them (even just with compliments). By fostering a habit of deep practice in your class, rather than the hit-everything-and-miss-most-of-it practice that is so prevalent these days, I think you’ll see your students’ accuracy improve greatly.
Photo credit: Harsh1.0 (Anna Kournikova)