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Why there’s no such thing as a gifted child | Education | The Guardian
"Even Einstein was unexceptional in his youth. Now a new book questions our fixation with IQ and says adults can help almost any child become gifted"

"When Maryam Mirzakhani died at the tragically early age of 40 this month, the news stories talked of her as a genius. The only woman to win the Fields Medal – the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel prize – and a Stanford professor since the age of 31, this Iranian-born academic had been on a roll since she started winning gold medals at maths Olympiads in her teens.

It would be easy to assume that someone as special as Mirzakhani must have been one of those gifted children who excel from babyhood. The ones reading Harry Potter at five or admitted to Mensa not much later. The child that takes maths GCSE while still in single figures, or a rarity such as Ruth Lawrence, who was admitted to Oxford while her contemporaries were still in primary school.

But look closer and a different story emerges. Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, one of three siblings in a middle-class family whose father was an engineer. The only part of her childhood that was out of the ordinary was the Iran-Iraq war, which made life hard for the family in her early years. Thankfully it ended around the time she went to secondary school.

Mirzakhani, did go to a highly selective girls’ school but maths wasn’t her interest – reading was. She loved novels and would read anything she could lay her hands on; together with her best friend she would prowl the book stores on the way home from school for works to buy and consume.

As for maths, she did rather poorly at it for the first couple of years in her middle school, but became interested when her elder brother told her about what he’d learned. He shared a famous maths problem from a magazine that fascinated her – and she was hooked. The rest is mathematical history.

Is her background unusual? Apparently not. Most Nobel laureates were unexceptional in childhood. Einstein was slow to talk and was dubbed the dopey one by the family maid. He failed the general part of the entry test to Zurich Polytechnic – though they let him in because of high physics and maths scores. He struggled at work initially, failing to get academic post and being passed over for promotion at the Swiss Patent Office because he wasn’t good enough at machine technology. But he kept plugging away and eventually rewrote the laws of Newtonian mechanics with his theory of relativity.

Lewis Terman, a pioneering American educational psychologist, set up a study in 1921 following 1,470 Californians, who excelled in the newly available IQ tests, throughout their lives. None ended up as the great thinkers of their age that Terman expected they would. But he did miss two future Nobel prize winners – Luis Alvarez and William Shockley, both physicists – whom he dismissed from the study as their test scores were not high enough.

There is a canon of research on high performance, built over the last century, that suggests it goes way beyond tested intelligence. On top of that, research is clear that brains are malleable, new neural pathways can be forged, and IQ isn’t fixed. Just because you can read Harry Potter at five doesn’t mean you will still be ahead of your contemporaries in your teens.

According to my colleague, Prof Deborah Eyre, with whom I’ve collaborated on the book Great Minds and How to Grow Them, the latest neuroscience and psychological research suggests most people, unless they are cognitively impaired, can reach standards of performance associated in school with the gifted and talented. However, they must be taught the right attitudes and approaches to their learning and develop the attributes of high performers – curiosity, persistence and hard work, for example – an approach Eyre calls “high performance learning”. Critically, they need the right support in developing those approaches at home as well as at school.

So, is there even such a thing as a gifted child? It is a highly contested area. Prof Anders Ericsson, an eminent education psychologist at Florida State University, is the co-author of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. After research going back to 1980 into diverse achievements, from music to memory to sport, he doesn’t think unique and innate talents are at the heart of performance. Deliberate practice, that stretches you every step of the way, and around 10,000 hours of it, is what produces the expert. It’s not a magic number – the highest performers move on to doing a whole lot more, of course, and, like Mirzakhani, often find their own unique perspective along the way.

Ericsson’s memory research is particularly interesting because random students, trained in memory techniques for the study, went on to outperform others thought to have innately superior memories – those you might call gifted.

He got into the idea of researching the effects of deliberate practice because of an incident at school, in which he was beaten at chess by someone who used to lose to him. His opponent had clearly practised.

But it is perhaps the work of Benjamin Bloom, another distinguished American educationist working in the 1980s, that gives the most pause for thought and underscores the idea that family is intrinsically important to the concept of high performance.

Bloom’s team looked at a group of extraordinarily high achieving people in disciplines as varied as ballet, swimming, piano, tennis, maths, sculpture and neurology, and interviewed not only the individuals but their parents, too.

He found a pattern of parents encouraging and supporting their children, in particular in areas they enjoyed themselves. Bloom’s outstanding adults had worked very hard and consistently at something they had become hooked on young, and their parents all emerged as having strong work ethics themselves.

While the jury is out on giftedness being innate and other factors potentially making the difference, what is certain is that the behaviours associated with high levels of performance are replicable and most can be taught – even traits such as curiosity.

Eyre says we know how high performers learn. From that she has developed a high performing learning approach that brings together in one package what she calls the advanced cognitive characteristics, and the values, attitudes and attributes of high performance. She is working on the package with a group of pioneer schools, both in Britain and abroad.

But the system needs to be adopted by families, too, to ensure widespread success across classes and cultures. Research in Britain shows the difference parents make if they take part in simple activities pre-school in the home, supporting reading for example. That support shows through years later in better A-level results, according to the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary study, conducted over 15 years by a team from Oxford and London universities.

Eye-opening spin-off research, which looked in detail at 24 of the 3,000 individuals being studied who were succeeding against the odds, found something remarkable about what was going in at home. Half were on free school meals because of poverty, more than half were living with a single parent, and four in five were living in deprived areas.

The interviews uncovered strong evidence of an adult or adults in the child’s life who valued and supported education, either in the immediate or extended family or in the child’s wider community. Children talked about the need to work hard at school and to listen in class and keep trying. They referenced key adults who had encouraged those attitudes.

Einstein, the epitome of a genius, clearly had curiosity, character and determination. He struggled against rejection in early life but was undeterred. Did he think he was a genius or even gifted? No. He once wrote: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

And what about Mirzakhani? Her published quotations show someone who was curious and excited by what she did and resilient. One comment sums it up. “Of course, the most rewarding part is the ‘Aha’ moment, the excitement of discovery and enjoyment of understanding something new – the feeling of being on top of a hill and having a clear view. But most of the time, doing mathematics for me is like being on a long hike with no trail and no end in sight.”

The trail took her to the heights of original research into mathematics in a cruelly short life. That sounds like unassailable character. Perhaps that was her gift."
sfsh  parenting  gifted  precocity  children  prodigies  2017  curiosity  rejection  resilience  maryammirzakhani  childhood  math  mathematics  reading  slowlearning  lewisterman  iq  iqtests  tests  testing  luisalvarez  williamshockley  learning  howwelearn  deboraheyre  wendyberliner  neuroscience  psychology  attitude  persistence  hardwork  workethic  andersericsson  performance  practice  benjaminbloom  education  ballet  swimming  piano  tennis  sculpture  neurology  encouragement  support  giftedness  behavior  mindset  genius  character  determination  alberteinstein 
july 2017 by robertogreco
John Berger remembered – by Geoff Dyer, Olivia Laing, Ali Smith and Simon McBurney | Books | The Guardian
"Ali Smith

I heard John Berger speaking at the end of 2015 in London at the British Library. Someone in the audience talked about A Seventh Man, his 1975 book about mass migrancy in which he says: “To try to understand the experience of another it is necessary to dismantle the world as seen from one’s own place within it and to reassemble it as seen from his.”

The questioner asked what Berger thought about the huge movement of people across the world. He put his head in his hands and sat and thought; he didn’t say anything at all for what felt like a long time, a thinking space that cancelled any notion of soundbite. When he answered, what he spoke about ostensibly seemed off on a tangent. He said: “I have been thinking about the storyteller’s responsibility to be hospitable.”

As he went on, it became clear how revolutionary, hopeful and astute his thinking was. The act of hospitality, he suggested, is ancient and contemporary and at the core of every story we’ve ever told or listened to about ourselves – deny it, and you deny all human worth. He talked about the art act’s deep relationship with this, and with inclusion. Then he gave us a definition of fascism: one set of human beings believing it has the right to cordon off and decide about another set of human beings.

A few minutes with Berger and a better world, a better outcome, wasn’t fantasy or imaginary, it was impetus – possible, feasible, urgent and clear. It wasn’t that another world was possible; it was that this world, if we looked differently, and responded differently, was differently possible.

His readers are the inheritors, across all the decades of his work, of a legacy that will always reapprehend the possibilities. We inherit his routing of the “power-shit” of everyday corporate hierarchy and consumerism, his determined communality, his ethos of unselfishness in a solipsistic world, his procreative questioning of the given shape of things, his articulate compassion, the relief of that articulacy. We inherit writing that won’t ever stop giving. A reader coming anywhere near his work encounters life-force, thought-force – and the force, too, of the love all through it.

It’s not just hard, it’s impossible, to think about what he’s given us over the years in any past tense. Everything about this great thinker, one of the great art writers, the greatest responders, is vital – and response and responsibility in Berger’s work always make for a fusion of thought and art as a force for the understanding, the seeing more clearly and the making better of the world we’re all citizens of. But John Berger gone? In the dark times, what’ll we do without him? Try to live up to him, to pay what Simone Weil called (as he notes in his essay about her) “creative attention”. The full Weil quote goes: “Love for our neighbour, being made of creative attention, is analogous to genius.”

Berger’s genius is its own fertile continuum – radical, brilliant, gentle, uncompromising – in the paying of an attention that shines with the fierce intelligence, the loving clarity of the visionary he was, is, and always will be.


Geoff Dyer

There is a long and distinguished tradition of aspiring writers meeting the writer they most revere only to discover that he or she has feet of clay. Sometimes it doesn’t stop at the feet – it can be legs, chest and head too – so that the disillusionment taints one’s feelings about the work, even about the trade itself. I count it one of my life’s blessings that the first great writer I ever met – the writer I admired above all others – turned out to be an exemplary human being. Nothing that has happened in the 30-odd years since then has diminished my love of the books or of the man who wrote them.

It was 1984. John Berger, who had radically altered and enlarged my ideas of what a book could be, was in London for the publication of And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos. I interviewed him for Marxism Today. He was 58, the age I am now. The interview went well but he seemed relieved when it was over – because, he said, now we could go to a pub and talk properly.

It was the highpoint of my life. My contemporaries had jobs, careers – some even owned houses – but I was in a pub with John Berger. He urged me to send him things I’d written – not the interview, he didn’t care about that, he wanted to read my own stuff. He wrote back enthusiastically. He was always encouraging. A relationship cannot be sustained on the basis of reverence and we soon settled into being friends.

The success and acclaim he enjoyed as a writer allowed him to be free of petty vanities, to concentrate on what he was always so impatient to achieve: relationships of equality. That’s why he was such a willing collaborator – and such a good friend to so many people, from all walks of life, from all over the world. There was no limit to his generosity, to his capacity to give. This did more than keep him young; it combined with a kind of negative pessimism to enable him to withstand the setbacks dished out by history. In an essay on Leopardi he proposed “that we are not living in a world in which it is possible to construct something approaching heaven-on-earth, but, on the contrary, are living in a world whose nature is far closer to that of hell; what difference would this make to any single one of our political or moral choices? We would be obliged to accept the same obligations and participate in the same struggle as we are already engaged in; perhaps even our sense of solidarity with the exploited and suffering would be more single-minded. All that would have changed would be the enormity of our hopes and finally the bitterness of our disappointments.”

While his work was influential and admired, its range – in both subject matter and form – makes it difficult to assess adequately. Ways of Seeing is his equivalent of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert: a bravura performance that sometimes ends up as a substitute for or distraction from the larger body of work to which it serves as an introduction. In 1969 he put forward Art and Revolution “as the best example I have achieved of what I consider to be the critical method”, but it is in the numerous shorter pieces that he was at his best as a writer on art. (These diverse pieces have been assembled by Tom Overton in Portraits to form a chronological history of art.)

No one has ever matched Berger’s ability to help us look at paintings or photographs “more seeingly”, as Rilke put it in a letter about Cézanne. Think of the essay “Turner and the Barber’s Shop” in which he invites us to consider some of the late paintings in light of things the young boy saw in his dad’s barber shop: “water, froth, steam, gleaming metal, clouded mirrors, white bowls or basins in which soapy liquid is agitated by the barber’s brush and detritus deposited”.

Berger brought immense erudition to his writing but, as with DH Lawrence, everything had to be verified by appeal to his senses. He did not need a university education – he once spoke scathingly of a thinker who, when he wanted to find something out, took down a book from a shelf – but he was reliant, to the end, on his art school discipline of drawing. If he looked long and hard enough at anything it would either yield its secrets or, failing that, enable him to articulate why the withheld mystery constituted its essence. This holds true not just for the writings on art but also the documentary studies (of a country doctor in A Fortunate Man and of migrant labour in A Seventh Man), the novels, the peasant trilogy Into Their Labours, and the numerous books that refuse categorisation. Whatever their form or subject the books are jam-packed with observations so precise and delicate that they double as ideas – and vice versa. “The moment at which a piece of music begins provides a clue to the nature of all art,” he writes in “The Moment of Cubism”. In Here Is Where We Meet he imagines “travelling alone between Kalisz and Kielce a hundred and fifty years ago. Between the two names there would always have been a third – the name of your horse.”

The last time we met was a few days before Christmas 2015, in London. There were five of us: my wife and I, John (then 89), the writer Nella Bielski (in her late 70s) and the painter Yvonne Barlow (91), who had been his girlfriend when they were still teenagers. Jokingly, I asked, “So, what was John like when he was 17?” “He was exactly like he is now,” she replied, as though it were yesterday. “He was always so kind.” All that interested him about his own life, he once wrote, were the things he had in common with other people. He was a brilliant writer and thinker; but it was his lifelong kindness that she emphasised.

The film Walk Me Home which he co- wrote and acted in was, in his opinion, “a balls-up” but in it Berger utters a line that I think of constantly – and quote from memory – now: “When I die I want to be buried in land that no one owns.” In land, that is, that belongs to us all.


Olivia Laing

The only time I saw John Berger speak was at the 2015 British Library event. He clambered on to the stage, short, stocky, shy, his extraordinary hewn face topped with snowy curls. After each question he paused for a long time, tugging on his hair and writhing in his seat, physically wrestling with the demands of speech. It struck me then how rare it is to see a writer on stage actually thinking, and how glib and polished most speakers are. For Berger, thought was work, as taxing and rewarding as physical labour, a bringing of something real into the world. You have to strive and sweat; the act is urgent but might also fail.

He talked that evening about the need for hospitality. It was such a Bergerish notion. Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, a word that … [more]
johnberger  2017  geoffdyer  olivialaing  alismith  simonmcburney  marxism  capitalism  migration  soundbites  hospitality  storytelling  hope  hopefulness  utopia  hierarchy  consumerism  compassion  unselfishness  questioning  skepticism  simoneweil  creativeattention  attention  goldenrule  humanism  encouragement  relationships  friendship  equality  giving  generosity  solidarity  suffering  seeing  noticing  looking  observation  senses  kindness  commonality  belonging  ownership  thinking  howwethink  care  caring  blackpanthers  blackpantherparty  clarity  money  communalism  narrowness  alls  difference  openness  crosspollination  hosting  hosts  guests  strangers  enemies  listening  canon  payingattention  audience  audiencesofone  laughter  resistance  existence  howtolive  living  life  howwelive  refuge  writing  certainty  tenderness 
january 2017 by robertogreco
How Elementary School Teachers’ Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math and Science -
"Beginning in 2002, the researchers studied three groups of Israeli students from sixth grade through the end of high school. The students were given two exams, one graded by outsiders who did not know their identities and another by teachers who knew their names.

In math, the girls outscored the boys in the exam graded anonymously, but the boys outscored the girls when graded by teachers who knew their names. The effect was not the same for tests on other subjects, like English and Hebrew. The researchers concluded that in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys’ abilities and underestimated the girls’, and that this had long-term effects on students’ attitudes toward the subjects.

For example, when the same students reached junior high and high school, the economists analyzed their performance on national exams. The boys who had been encouraged when they were younger performed significantly better.

They also tracked the advanced math and science courses that students chose to take in high school. After controlling for other factors that might affect their choices, they concluded that the girls who had been discouraged by their elementary schoolteachers were much less likely than the boys to take advanced courses.

Although the study took place in Israel, Mr. Lavy said that similar research had been conducted in several European countries and that he expected the results were applicable in the United States. The researchers also found that discouragement from teachers in math or science wound up lowering students’ confidence in other subjects at school, showing again the potential importance of nods of encouragement."
gender  math  science  mathematics  encouragement  2015  howweteach  teaching  bias 
february 2015 by robertogreco
If I Were a Black Kid... - Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic
"I try to get them to think of education not as something that pleases their teachers, but as a ticket out into a world so grand and stunning that it defies their imagination. My belief is that, if I can get them to understand the "why?" of education, then the effort and hard work and long study hours will come after. I don't know how true that is in practice, but given that I am asked to speak from my own experience, that is the lesson I have drawn."

"What I have come to believe is that children are more than what their circumstance put upon them. So my goal is to get kids to own their education. I don't think I can hector them into doing this. I don't think I can shame them into doing it. I do think that might be able to affect some sort of internal motivation. So I try to get them to see that every subject they study has the potential to open up a universe. I really mean this."

"So when I talk to young black kids, I try to talk about the "why?" as much as the "what?" And, for the record, I do the same thing at MIT. I start my class explaining that learning to write is their moral duty. I told them they had access to more information that 99 percent of all humans who have ever lived. It is a moral duty to learn how to communicate that information, clearly and compellingly. I think everyone should own their education.

I don't know if any of that works. But I am convinced that my problem was not mere laziness nor a lack of work ethic. Work ethics don't magically appear. Mine is most evidenced when I understand why I am working and when I find that "Why" compelling. I never really had that as a student. "Try harder" has to have some actual meaning beyond sloganeering."

"One other thing I try to do is avoid talking about education in the negative. So I rarely talk to kids about what they "shouldn't be doing" or what they "can't do. I prefer to talk about what they can and should do."

"So my argument to black twelve year-old boy isn't that he should stop dreaming of being a rapper or a ball player, but that he should understand that that isn't the end of their possibilities. And one way to see more of what it is possible is education.

I would not urge you simply to get off the PlayStation. I would urge you to understand who made the game. I would not urge you to take down your King James poster. I would urge you to think about the business that makes him possible. Perhaps you'd like to be part of that business some day. I would urge you think about what Kendrick is doing in his lyrics, to think about music. Do you know how to read music? Have you learned an instrument? Would that interest you? How about poetry? Have you ever read any? Would you consider trying to write some of your own?

I think we all get frustrated with the state of our community. I think it is easy to turn that frustration into a kind of catharsis by denigrating the dreams of children. I believe in taking the dreams of children seriously, and then challenging them to take their own dreams seriously. Again--ownership."
ta-nehisicoates  education  ownership  thewhy  learning  motivation  intrinsicmotivation  agency  epowerment  2013  cv  howweteah  howwelearn  encouragement  inspiration 
june 2013 by robertogreco
The prime mover — The Sea of Fog — Medium
"when you move through the world believing the best about people at all times. Jim’s beliefs became self-fulfilling prophecies, because he told people these things he believed about them—great things, improbable things—and they believed him. (You wouldn’t think so, but it requires tremendous courage to tell people great things about themselves, particularly in private. Amplified accolades at retirement dinners are easy; whispered appraisals across the desk divider are not.)

Grace: when you extend an offer of allegiance to everyone around you. Jim’s allegiance was not the allegiance of what can you do for me, nor was it the allegiance of you will bring honor to my house. Instead, it was the allegiance of… we are here together.

We are here together. You could call it a low bar; I call it an open door. And the fact that it was so plentiful made the fierceness and durability of Jim’s support even more remarkable. Basically, it made you feel like you’d won the lottery…"
encouragement  toaspireto  accolades  allegiance  enthusiasm  optimism  trust  grace  jimnaughton  2012  robinsloan 
december 2012 by robertogreco
Encouragement is like an apple; praise is like candy.
[Praise] can only be given after success. Encouragement is so potent that it can be given after failure.
Praise is general and high-energy. Encouragement is low-key.
By the way, “thank you” is a powerful form of encouragement.
thinking  appreciation  encouragement  psychology  failure  praise  teaching  learning  success  via:litherland 
may 2012 by robertogreco
Criticizing (common criticisms of) praise - The Answer Sheet - The Washington Post
"Like much of what is called “overparenting,” praise doesn’t signify permissiveness or excessive encouragement; to the contrary, it is an exercise in (sugar-coated) control. It is an extension of the old-school model of families, schools, and workplaces — yet, remarkably, most of the criticisms of praise you’re likely to read assume that it’s a departure from the old school, and that that’s a bad thing.

Praise is typically faulted for being given out too readily (see point #2, above), with the bar having been set too low. We’re told that kids should do more to deserve each “Good job!” they get — which is a way of saying it should be more conditional. Again, this is exactly the opposite of my objection to the conditionality inherent in rewards. The problem isn’t that kids expect praise for everything they do. The problem is with our need for control, our penchant for placing conditions on our love, and our continued reliance on the long-discredited premises of behaviorism."
obedience  children  teaching  parenting  encouragement  control  manipulation  praise  caroldweck  alfiekohn  2012  behaviorism 
february 2012 by robertogreco
Open Studio - Wikipedia
"A studio or workroom which is made accessible to allcomers, where artistic or creative work can be viewed and created collaboratively. An Open Studio is intended to foster creativity and encourage experimentation in an atmosphere of cultural exchange, conversation, encouragement, and freedom of expression."

"In the 21st Century, the Open Studio (often taking the form of a virtual or internet location) focuses on the creative act of making and sharing, in a flexible space equipped with a range of contemporary media and multimedia. Artists and non-artists come together in a social act of collaboration, the only entry requirements being an inquisitive nature, a curiosity about new and traditional media, and a lack of inhibition about creating in a semi-public space."

[Previously cited here: ]
openstudio  tcsnmy  cv  lcproject  creativity  collaboration  sharing  conversation  encouragement  engagement  exchange  culturalexchange  expression  art  history  theory  practice 
july 2011 by robertogreco

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