"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."
Although he may not have been the first, it was Malcolm Gladwell that made famous the notion that natural talent wasn't the most important part of success, and that practice, hard work and determination were the keys to excellence. In his book, 'The Expert Learner: Challenging the Myth of Ability', Gordon Stobart takes this message and moves it into the realm of education.
All too often, education takes the back seat and is decades behind the latest trends and technologies. However, with this book, Stobart brings the news straight to schools, with examples, practical methods and advice, making it easier for teachers to change the learning environment of their classrooms for the betterment of their students.
This book is a collection of so many golden quotes, I found it difficult not to fill this post with spoilers. Although there are many others, I will concentrate on the four topics which inspired me most. Failure, Opportunity, feedback and motivation. These are things that a teacher can control within their environment.
It's often said that it's important to fail, but how are schools and teachers integrating that into learning? Stobart quotes Matthew Syed, a great athlete and author of 'Bounce' and 'Black Box Thinking' in the book.
"For those wanting to excel, failure is an essential part of training, from which we can often learn more than from routine success. Matthew Syed calls this the 'paradox of expert performance' - that 'excellence is about stepping outside the comfort zone...Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure.'"
Unfortunately, I do feel that schools can be bigger supporters of this, not just with students, but also with teachers (but that's another discussion).
For me, the best part of the book is how Stobart starts, by discussing famous geniuses and states what actually made them geniuses. They got their start not from the womb, or from their genes, but from opportunity. When talking about Mozart he mentions...
"What is less well known is that his father, Leopold, was a highly ambitious music teacher who wrote an acclaimed textbook on teaching violin and who had already taught Mozart's older sister, Nannerl, another child prodigy. It was Leopold who took down and tidied up his son's compositions and who gave up his own composing to concentrate on his son's."
This tells us that as teachers, it is not just the knowledge and skills that we give our students that can make them great, but the opportunities we can give them. Opportunity often comes through wealth (which is also mentioned in the book), but through our schools, through enrichment clubs, through competitions that we can enter students into, through inviting professionals to come in, or taking them to see professionals, we expose our students to opportunities that many may never have had the access to.
The key to good learning and correction is the feedback. If you nail the feedback, you can nail the learning. However, that is easier said than done. Stobart devotes a large segment of his book to this topic, and this quote is not even the tip of the iceberg, but it's something that resonates with me at this moment in time.
"The timing of feedback is a Goldilocks moment. It can be too soon, too late and is hard to get 'just right' As a general rule it is best done informally, and orally, during the production of work rather than after the work is completed."
This is something, I continually work on. Especially because I strongly believe that using technology is the key to great and timely feedback. Unfortunately, we don't yet have it quite right. Again, this is something, I will be discussing in depth in a future post, but this brings me to the next topic.
Finally, motivation. This is where I actually get to talk about tech. After all, this is a Educational Technology blog, and so far in this post, there has not been much talk about technology. Many see motivation as the allusive element to teaching, and often leave it by the wayside. "If they have fun, great, but if not, then...hey, they're not in school to have fun, anyway, they're here to learn." However, Stobart takes the opposite view and quotes motivation and gamification researcher and expert, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, who says
"The chief impediments to learning are not cognative. It is not that students cannot learn; it is that they do not wish to. If educators invested a fraction of the energy they now spend on trying to transit information in trying to stimulate students' enjoyment of learning, we could achieve much better results"
Gamification in education, using game dynamics and elements within an education setting for motivation and learning, is one of the avenues that Csikszentmihalyi talks about above. It also happens to be one of my own topics of research, and another topic to which I will devote a whole blog post. In fact, it is something that has been happening in classrooms for years already. It's not new. However, it's never really been a focus. With the growing realisation of it's power in industry circles, it's winning its way to the forefront of education, but it's not quite there yet. With the use of technology, gamification can be implemented in education much more readily, and Stobart discusses further how it can be implemented and the important key to why and how it is effective, flow. Flow is...
"..when we are so involved in something we lose track of time, are unaware of fatigue and of everything else but the activity itself (think of kids and video games, adults and a gripping novel)."
Stobart also discusses how this is very closely linked to feedback.
It's difficult to do the book justice in a simple short blog post. The book is concise, but is laid out in such a way as to give room for contemplation, having discussion questions at the end of each chapter. It also devotes some space to teacher growth and the role of schools and senior leadership.
All in all, a very important read and comes highly recommended.