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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
The End of Creativity — Medium
"People living in the twentieth century heard a lot of talk about “creativity.” People living in the twenty-first century will not. Creativity is not dead yet, but its end is in sight. Alfred North Whitehead invented the word in 1926."

75 years later, it was one in every 70,000 words published and had become the name of a popular hypothesis: that new things are created by “geniuses” who solve problems by deliberately not thinking about them — a step called “incubation” — until they receive answers in sudden, dramatic moments of “insight.” One of the most frequently cited examples is attributed to Mozart:
“When I am, as it were, completely myself, and of good cheer, my ideas flow best and most abundantly. My subject stands almost complete in my mind. When I write down my ideas everything is already finished; and it rarely differs from what was in my imagination.”

These words, which I have edited for length, first appeared in a letter to Germany’s General Music Journal in 1815, then in many other places, including Jacques Hadamard’s 1945 The Mathematician’s Mind; Creativity, edited by Philip Vernon in 1976; and Roger Penrose’s 1989 The Emperor’s New Mind. They remain popular: in 2015, they have already appeared in at least one book and one journal.

But Mozart did not write them, they do not describe how he composed, and we have known this since 1856, when Mozart biographer Otto Jahn showed that they were forged.

"Why do so many people writing about creativity keep citing them as if they were true? Because there is little else to cite. Psychologists have been trying to prove the creativity hypothesis for nearly a hundred years. Their results are, at best, mixed.

In the 1920s, Stanford’s Lewis Terman sought to prove the existence of the general, hereditary superiority called “genius” by testing 168,000 children and placing them on a scale “from idiocy on the one hand to genius on the other.” He identified 1,500 “geniuses,” then tracked their accomplishments for the rest of their lives. Some did creative work, like making movies, but many did not. And what of the “non-geniuses” Terman rejected? Two, William Shockley and Luis Alvarez, won Nobel Prizes. Terman’s results are typical: all other attempts to predict future accomplishments by measuring “genius” have also failed.

“Incubation,” or solving problems by not thinking about them, has been widely studied. Berkeley’s Robert Olton spent the 1970s looking for it. In one experiment, he asked 160 people to solve a brainteaser, giving some breaks, while making others work continuously. The breaks made no difference. Olton was forced to conclude that,
“No evidence of incubation was apparent,” and added, “No study reporting evidence of incubation has survived replication by an independent investigator.”

And “insight” — the fully formed solution in a flash? German Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker was one of the first to study that. In his most famous experiment, he gave people a box of tacks and a book of matches, and asked them to fix a candle to a wall so that it could be used as a reading light. The solution is to tack the tack-box to the wall — to see it as a thing for holding the candle, not a thing for holding the tacks. The shift from “tack-box” to “candle-holder” is the supposed “insight.” By having people think aloud, Duncker showed that the solution came incrementally, not instantly: everyone who discovered it thought of making a platform out of tacks, then realized the tack-box would be a better platform.

These experiments, although a few of hundreds, are representative. There is probably no such thing as creativity. But Duncker’s work laid the foundation for an alternative hypothesis: that extraordinary solutions come from ordinary people doing ordinary thinking. Robert Weisberg, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, put it this way:
“Although the impact of creative ideas and products can sometimes be profound, the mechanisms through which an innovation comes about can be very ordinary.”




"This idea that extraordinary creations come from ordinary people and ordinary thinking has become more popular recently. Jon Gertner wrestled with the problem of “the great men versus the yeomen,” in The Idea Factory, his history of Bell Labs, and concluded that innovation needs both; Walter Isaacson found he had to tell the story of many lives, not one, to describe the invention of computing in his latest bestseller The Innovators; and Steven Johnson refutes the “non-explanation of genius” and argues that “innovation comes out of collaborative networks” in his new book and PBS television series, How We Got to Now.

It is an important change. We are rejecting the myths of “creativity” and developing a better understanding of how we create at a time when, because of the growing problems of our growing population, we need creation more than ever. We are not all equally creative, just as we are not all equally good at anything. But each of us is more like Mozart than not. We can all create, we can all contribute, and we all should."
via:anne  2015  creativity  incubation  ideas  ordinariness  kevinashton  jongertner  walterisaacson  stevenjohnson  innovation  robertburton  georgeherbert  diegodeestrella  johnofsalisbury  bernardofchartres  alberteinstein  ernstmach  carlfriedrichgauss  bernhardriemann  marcelgrossman  gregorioricci-curbastro  mozart  karldunker  ottojahn  alfrednorthwhitehead  lewisterman  genius  williamshockley  luisalvarez  psychology  robertolton  history  insight  ordinary 
march 2015 by robertogreco

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