Thursday, February 26, 2009

Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Question

Recently @courosa tweeted this blog post The Interview Question you Should Ask.

The question is "What do you do with your spare time?" The answer should be, according to the article, pretty much the same thing I do at work. Thus you are putting in twice as much time as the next guy and will be that much better. It is sort of the same idea as Malcom Gladwell discovered in his book "Outliers: The Story of Success" I haven't read it yet, but it seems to be making the rounds in my particular echo chamber and I have picked up on the basic idea. (or what everyone says is the basic idea) That is that to become an expert at something you need 10,000 hours of practice. Or the difference between someone who is accepted to a school like Juliard and someone not accepted is that the first put in 10,000 hours of practice (about 8 hrs a day for 10 years) while the second wasn't as dedicated.

While I will conced the point that, "practice does make perfect", I won't go so far as to say we should focus specifically on the number of hours dedicated to a task.

I don't always remember everything, but one thing I do remember from my gifted education, education, (say that 10 times fast) is that one of the common differences between gifted students and regular students is gifted students often pick up a skill in one or two tries while a regular student will need on average six opportunities to practice.

Think for a second. (I love wait time) It means in first grade, as a gifted math student, when the teacher first shows me how to "count up" as a strategy for addition I remember it and use it on a regular basis. The student next to me forgets, or doesn't realize that the count up strategy used yesterday can be applied in today's lesson. The next day when the teacher asks how we can solve this example my hand shoots up right away, while the kid next to me has to think. He might remember, or he might go "oh yeah", when someone else answers, or he might need the teacher to reteach the strategy a few more times.

What if the regular student next to me really loves math? He can put in the 10,0000 hours and still not be as good as my 2,000 hours of study.

Now I love education and lately I have spent a lot of time building my knowledge. Does that make me a better teacher than the guy next to me? It certainly makes me better than I might have been if I didn't try to develop professionally, but not necessarily better than the guy next to me. On the other hand some of the hobbies and interests I have outside the classroom also go into making me a better teacher.

The fact that I read and write about education can tell a prospective employer that I value my skills in education and that I want to improve, but it doesn't necessarily make me a great teacher. On the other hand hobbies and interests outside of education can also enhance my skills in the classroom. At a former school in Kentucky teachers use interest in aviation to enhance the classroom experience.

All anecdotes pointing to the trap one must becareful of: just because someone practices a lot at one thing doesn't actually mean they are good at it.

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