Building Skills

I recently finished reading a book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle which discusses the neurological means by which genius is built. In other words, how do you myelinize the right nerve pathways to make a skill come easily? The author suggests three parts to the process:
Deep Practice—specific strategies to make practice really count
Ignition—motivation which triggers passionate commitment
Master Coaching—teaching traits which inspire the previous two elements of genius.
I wonder, of course, how I can apply this to teaching my children. Coyle discusses the Bronte sisters: geniuses who started out as very ordinary children writing “little books.” He even includes an excerpt from one of their books. There are huge spelling and punctuation problems, and not much talent evident. Coyle concludes
“The unskilled quality of their early writing isn’t a contradiction of the literary heights they eventually achieved—it’s a prerequisite to it. They became great writers not in spite of the fact that they started out immature and imitative but because they were willing to spend vast amounts time and energy being immature and imitative, building myelin in the confined, safe space of their little books. Their childhood writings were collaborative deep practice, where they developed storytelling muscles.”
It makes me happy that L loves to write novels! Maybe I don’t have to wade through and edit all of them, if I can help her to apply the principles of deep practice while she’s writing.
What about math? Part of deep practice is making mistakes, then backing up and correcting the mistakes before forging onward. To apply that, it seems I need to sit with my children as they work their problems. When I see an error, we will correct it immediately and then practice another similar one. (That keeps Mom busy, but it’s worth a try!)
In the epilogue of the book, Coyle speaks specifically to how the talent code can be applied in various disciplines. The “Education” section mentions the Phonics vs. Whole Language debate, and Coyle points out that each is an incomplete part of building reading skills. “Phonics is about building reliable circuits, paying attention to errors, and fixing them. It’s about chunking: breaking down a skill into its component parts, and practicing and repeating each action involved in that skill….Whole Language, on the other hand, is about ignition, about filling motivational fuel tanks by creating environments where children fall in love with reading and writing.” Both are needed for reading success.
This book has certainly given me a lot to think about. I hope you will comment on how you feel these principles can be applied in homeschooling.

1 comment:

  1. As a strong sight-reader, I can read very fast, and with pretty good comprehension... on the other hand, my phonics skills are not great, and I struggle with new words, and frequently mis-read things (for example swapping words with similar letters, or mispronouncing things). Definitely a blended approach would have served me better. Which isn't to say that you didn't try--we all know I was a stubborn little mule about reading. ;) But just validating the idea with my own experience here...

    Also, I'm involved with a group blog right now (MotherWheel) and one of the ladies there posted something and then came to the rest of us in the group and said she was concerned that she was not a very good writer and wasn't sure if her post was good enough. It got me thinking about my writing, particularly via blogging. You may recall that I always detested writing. I still am not fond of assigned writing...and yet (once I learned to type) writing became a way for me to talk (and we all know how I love to do that!!). And writing--particularly blogging--became one of my favorite outlets AND I keep gaining new readers. It seems that a lot of people like reading what I have to say, even people who don't know me from anywhere else. It's humbling, yet also a testament to the idea that one becomes good at a thing via practicing it, not just because of 'inborn talent.'