When one reads The Genius In All of Us by David Shenk (I recommend it), it is impossible to avoid stepping into the high wire debate over talent versus experience. And from there, the jump to the subject of excellence in education is inevitable.
Looking at the results of the PISA test, only 1 percent of participating Latin American youth achieved a level of excellence. Clearly, this is alarming. However, anyone who interprets these figures as an indication that our students are less talented is wrong. In fact, talent does not even enter into it, because talent is overrated.
Excellence in education has to do with what Geoff Colvin calls “deliberate practice.” In education, “deliberate practice” rests on the teacher’s ability to help students achieve the following:
Increase their own knowledge beyond the skills they have previously acquired. To achieve this, lessons must be designed with “entry” and “exit” points tailored for individual students, both for content and the time required for its acquisition. Teaching the same lesson to all students ultimately discourages the ones who learn more quickly while hurting those who learn at a slower pace (but I’ll leave this for a future blog post).
Self-regulate themselves to establish their own goals―but not any kind of goal, nor the most obvious. It’s not enough to set goals for future results—which are necessary but not sufficient. It is also necessary to set immediate goals to put in place the process needed to achieve those results. The steps that students must take today are not a mere word game, but a strategy for success.
Monitor and evaluate themselves. This is related to the concept of meta-cognition, or the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking, i.e., self-assessment. This idea throws overboard the standardized assessment schemes―but not the need for evaluation. In a scheme of “deliberate practice,” says Colvin, individuals choose to compare their performance with their own best results, with that of competitors who they can expect to encounter, or with those who are the best in their field.
Receive and utilize feedback that is qualitatively different. Meta-cognition puts on trial the traditional notion of feedback. It’s not enough that the teacher analyze the student’s work to provide guidance; the analysis must be performed in terms of the goals that students set for themselves.
The best educational systems in the world already use these tools to help increase the number of top-performing students. Will do our region do so as well? What do you think?