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October 2010

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October's Corner

One Thing I've Learned

I’ve always found it interesting when ideas keep circling back, usually from different sources. While studying geology, triangulation was often used during mapping exercises. Triangulation is using three points of reference to pinpoint one’s location accurately. Here is an example of the concept in education:

I recall some years ago listening to NAGC Past President Del Siegle speak during a summer conference keynote. Something he said has stuck with me for years. He displayed a painted image of a horse, beautifully done by a female middle school student. In the corner was the message “great job.” Despite the obvious talent displayed, he went on to say that the girl never really painted much more after that. When asked why, she stated, “I know it was liked, and that it was a good rendering, but I didn’t know why.” This gave me reason to pause. Evaluating work by writing “great job” in the corner is not enough. Similarly, letting her know she was a great artist wouldn’t qualify either.

About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to interview Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning. One of the underlying themes in his book is the idea that individuals must focus more on effort than the outcome. We see this when the the creator, or student, comes to understand what it is they did successfully and what they need to work on in order to achieve a high standard. During further conversations with Josh, I began to understand and witness how this idea was manifested in his daily life. You can follow his Art of Learning Project through his website.  It is no surprise to me that Josh is a former student of Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford University. Dr. Dweck will speak at this year’s NAGC Convention, and is author of the book, Mindset.

Dr. Dweck’s idea of mindset is straight forward. Those with a “fixed mindset,” she believes, are under the assumption that their talent lies in fixed traits. Instead of developing their abilities, they rely on the praise of success, without mention of the effort and hard work required, qualities possessed, and embraced by those in a “growth mindset.” To learn more about her work, visit the Mindset website, or join us at her Saturday keynote, "Mindsets, Praise, and Gifted Education: How Our Messages Can Help or Hinder the Development of Talent," at the convention in Atlanta.

Four weeks ago I was offered the book, Bounce, by Matthew Syed, a two-time table-tennis Olympian from the UK. In it the author discusses the roots of some of the most talented individuals in a variety of sports fields. His analysis of competition, ability, practice, dedication, and other characteristics are directly in line with Dr. Dweck’s work, as he even states in one section of the text. I simply could not put the book down, and I highly recommend it. Check out Syed’s website for more information.

I sit back and take in the same message from three different places, yet in each of these three instances I am reminded of the impact in the classroom. The way in which we approach our students, and in turn speak to them and evaluate their work, makes all the difference. In order to encourage talent, educators need to praise the effort needed in order to create the quality of work we come to expect from our most talented students.