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The Elephant In The Room In The Talent vs. Practice Debate

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An article in last week’s New Yorker, Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, is the latest salvo in attempts to debunk the popularized mythology that people can become experts in any field through practice. Of course, as I’ve previously written several times, these attacks are on “straw men” since few people actually take that position. In fact, deliberate practice is not the major factor in developing expertise, but it is the most important element in developing expertise that is within a person’s individual control. (see Deliberate Practice & Red Herrings and Deliberate Practice, The Olympics & Red Herrings).

But all these recent studies pitting genetic talent versus practice are missing a huge elephant in the room — “natural” talent isn’t really that “natural.”

Plenty of research has shown that a person’s environment plays a massive role in determining if that natural genetic talent actually develops. For example, a child living in poverty is less likely to have their genetic benefits realized than a middle-class child with less stress and better nutrition. You can read about these studies at my previous posts:

This Is The Most Accessible Piece Out There On The “Nature/Nurture” Debate

Study Finds That Nurture Equals Nature In The United States

New Studies Highlight Blurry Line Between Nature & Nurture

So, instead of beating up on the position that few people are taking that practice is more important than talent, I wish these researchers would put their energies into supporting getting our students’ natural talent maximized through social and political policy changes.

Why dump on a proven practice (deliberate practice) that has been shown to be an effective individual improvement strategy, and then contrast it with the inaccurate image that you have talent or you don’t?

You might also be interested in:

The Best Resources For Learning About The 10,000 Hour Rule & Deliberate Practice

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. I would add to this that most students will not reach their full potential just during the time they are at school – they will continue to develop and learn for many years afterwards (possibly for their whole life): and each person does this at their own pace. ‘Talent’ is plastic. Hence, it makes sense to give all students the opportunity to grow their knowledge and skills regardless of where they will end up by the end of school; and deliberate practice is one of the mechanisms of growing.

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