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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
Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu: Tiny Desk Concert : NPR
"Fresu's work on trumpet and flugelhorn provides a perfect foil for Sosa's introspective intersection of jazz, Afro-Cuban sounds and a chamber-music mentality. In this concert at NPR Music's offices, the duo's quietly energetic performance hangs over the crowd like a soft mist."
tinydeskconcerts  tinydesk  musicomarsosa  paolofresu  2013  jazz  trumpet  flugelhorn  piano 
august 2013 by robertogreco
Inner Voices - Radiolab
"From the silent words of a child forming her first thought, to the inner heckler that taunts you when the pressure's on, a look at how the voices in our heads shape us -- for better and for worse."

"Where would we be without the voices in our heads? To get at this question, Charles Fernyhough raises another: can children think before they have words? According to Fernyhough, a Russian psychologist named Lev Vygotsky developed a theory about how the words and voices we hear as kids turn from speech outside our heads, to speech inside our heads... and help steer our reasoning and decision-making.

But, of course, not all the voices echoing inside our skulls are friendly helpers. Claude Steele describes how big an impact negative inner voices can have when we're stressed, and just how powerful words and stereotypes can be."

"Mel Blanc was known as "the man of 1,000 voices," but the actual number may have been closer to 1,500. Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety, Barney Rubble -- all Mel. His characters made him one of the most beloved men in America, and they may have also saved his life.

Producer Sean Cole heads to the Blanc family house outside LA to ask Mel's son Noel Blanc about the night when Mel nearly died in a car crash on Dead Man's Curve, and the moment two weeks later when Bugs Bunny emerged from Mel's coma before Mel did. Neurosurgeon Louis Conway, who attended to Mel at the time, and NYU brain scientist Orrin Devinsky help Sean and Noel weigh what it might mean to be rescued by a figment of your own imagination, and whether one self can win out over another in a moment of crisis."

Bob Milne is one of the best ragtime piano players in the world, and a preternaturally talented musician -- he can play technically challenging pieces of music on demand while carrying on a conversation and cracking jokes. But according to Penn State neuroscientist Kerstin Betterman, our brains just aren't wired to do that. So she decided to investigate Bob's brain, and when she did, she discovered that Bob has an even more amazing ability... one that we can hardly believe, and science can't explain. Reporter Jessica Benko helps us get inside Bob's remarkably musical mind."
radiolab  melblanc  brain  thinking  neuroscience  bugsbunny  music  voices  vygotsky  charlesfernyhough  language  claudesteele  education  iq  codeswitching  personalities  acting  bobmilne  jessicabenko  kerstinbetterman  piano  ragtime  schizophrenia  2013 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Eric Lewis strikes chords to rock the jazz world | Video on
"Eric Lewis, an astonishingly talented crossover jazz pianist -- seen by many for the first time at TED2009 -- sets fire to the keys with his shattering rendition of Evanescence's chart-topper, "Going Under.""

[See interview: ]
ericlewis  music  jazz  piano  ted 
march 2009 by robertogreco
At Home In Paris With Pianist Martial Solal : NPR Music
"Though still little-known in the U.S., Solal is one of the greatest European musicians alive today. His life at the piano ranges from lessons with his opera-singer mother in Algiers to post-war collaborations with Django Reinhardt and Sidney Bechet in Paris, to a wide variety of film work.

Solal's music is as complex as his life. Born to Algerian Jewish parents, he moved to France in 1950 when he was 23. He began playing in the underground jazz dives around St.-Germain-des-Pres, and before long, he was recording with the great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and ex-pat American saxophonist Don Byas. Fame came to Solal for the music he composed for Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 breakthrough film, Breathless (A Bout de Souffle)."
music  jazz  npr  martialsolal  france  piano 
january 2009 by robertogreco
Modded Pianos Delight Indie Audiences, Classical Buffs | Listening Post from
"Ten-year-old Volker Bertelman couldn't afford a synthesizer, so he modified the family piano to sound like a harpsichord by pressing metal tacks into its hammers. Mom was not amused, but she couldn't have known that her little boy would soon make a living doing more or less the same thing.

Bertelman has become an accomplished player of the "prepared" piano -- a piano that has been modified by any number of hardware additions -- under the name Hauschka. For a typical piece, he makes more than 20 adjustments to the innards of a grand or upright piano using duct tape, felt, cellophane, bottle caps, leather wedges, aluminum foil, sheets of paper and E-bows (normally used to sustain notes on an electric guitar), as well as materials donated by his fans."
music  hacks  hacking  piano 
december 2008 by robertogreco

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