Posted by: tpierson | December 23, 2009

The Talent Code

I just finished the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.  The subtitle for the book is “Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown.”  To put it simply, Coyle’s premise is deep practice + motivation + skilled coaching = talent.  Notice talent is not equated with innate aptitude but rather a skill that can be developed through a combination of factors.  For a teacher like myself steeped in the Principles of Learning Coyle’s ideas resonate with the concepts of  an effort-based system of learning where “Smart isn’t something you are, it’s something you get?”

Coyle digs deep into the science of neurology to explore discoveries about a substance in the brain called mylin that wraps neurons and is in abundance in the brains of talented people.  What he discovers is mylin is created when people practice–but practice in a specific way that continuously corrects errors and pushes boundaries–practice that he calls deep practice.

Deep practice, when combined with motivation and coaching, leads to talent.  Motivation, in Coyle’s definition, is different than rah-rah cheerleading.  Often motivation is couched in a language of slow progress characterized by baby-steps in the learning experience.  Motivation is all about building confidence and identifying goals.  Motivation is what teachers are all about, so the key in this discussion is the idea that teachers need to create classroom environments that not only values learning but also embraces a culture of achievement.

So how about the talent ingredient of coaching?  For most teachers coaching is a core element of what they do.   For Coyle, skilled coaching has to be personal–identifying the boundaries that challenge students and targeting personalized encouragement and instruction.  I can’t help but think of clickers and how they might help teachers personalize their coaching by identifying where each student needs help.

Dr. Sun, creator of the 24 Game for math, put me onto The Talent Code.   It figures, since First in Math, the online version of the 24 Game, embodies much of what is talked about in The Talent Code.  First in Math creates an online game environment that leads students to deep practice through challenging problems that push students to discover new mathematical ways of thinking–as neurologist would say, “wrapping mylin around neuron pathways to successful solutions.”

First in Math is a example of an computer program that promotes learning that will lead to success and achievement through deep practice, motivation, and coaching.  Do you know of other programs that might meet this bill?  Add comments to this post to help assemble the best of the best!

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