Talent isn’t born. It’s made.
In Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’ he travels the world to seek out groups of very successful people and in an attempt to discover why they are so successful. Through his observations of multiple different groups from musicians to football players he noticed one recurring trend – deep practice. In fact he has created an equation that summarises the elements needed to make progress and succeed at something. It looks like this…
Ignition or primal cues relates to the motivation a person has to be successful in the first place. As a teacher I believe it’s part of my job to talk to students about what motivates them to succeed. Some students are able to easily articulate this. whereas some will need some help finding the reason why they need to be successful. Either way I need to support the students I teach in understanding their ignition to succeed.
Continual deep practice is about increasing the amount of myelin in the brain*. Have a look at this great interactive guide to Myelin on Daniel Coyle’s website. Myelin is…
Myelin is a lipid and protein sheath-like material that forms an insulating cover that surrounds and protects nerve fibres.
The general idea is that the more myelin you have insulating your nerve fibres, the faster impulses (or information) can travel between nerve cells. Some scientists believe that myelin can be increased with regular deliberate practice. It’s similar to bandwidth in the speed of an internet connection. The more bandwidth you have the faster the transfer of data. The more practice you put in, the more the myelin wraps around the nerve fibre increasing the bandwidth (the diagram below shows this in a bit more detail). It’s worth noting that this works both ways and needs to be maintained with regular practice.
Daniel Coyle uses the example of Brazilian soccer players to explain deep practice in action. From an early age they play a game called Futsal and they continue to play it into their teenage years. Futsal is played on smaller court with a smaller ball which means that players will touch the ball more often than playing 11 a side on a full size pitch. This is deep practice. It’s quality controlled by a master coach (someone with expert knowledge of the game / subject) who intervenes with striking impact to ensure learning is meaningful. The video below examines more examples of where deep practice has produced successful outcomes.
How does this apply to revision?
If we want students to be successful in exams then they need to practice – sounds simple enough, but is not entirely true. If we want students to be successful they have to fine tune their practice so that it is deep, deliberate and regular in order to build up a thicker insulation of myelin. What follows are few strategies that I am currently trialling to achieve this.
1) Regular self assessment with input from the teacher.
It’s important to let students assess their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to a topic to revise. Teachers are the master coaches described in ‘The Talent Code.’ We have to know our students well and track their learning and use this information to intervene with self assessments so that students know what they are actually good at and areas that they need to improve. The key to good revision (I believe) is to focus more time on the weaker areas (being deliberate) rather than spending lots of time revisiting knowledge/skills that a student is already competent in. Below is an example of a self-assessment I have used with students. The black ‘X’ represents the student response. The green Y’s represent my response based upon prior testing and my knowledge of the students competencies through questioning and classwork. If I have agreed with the students response I have not added an additional symbol.
The grid provides a clarity. Students get validation for what they think they already know or an opportunity to discuss area for improvements. It also helps students to focus in on the weaker areas and thus provides a starting point for revision.
2) Chunking information.
Once students have self assessed their strengths and weaknesses and they have been agreed, they can then begin revising required knowledge. In order to not overload the students working memory I have created a resource that chunks the information down in smaller sub-topics (see the list on the self reflection diagram above). Each sub topic has a series of questions that students answer in an open book environment. Example answers to these sections are released to students once they have attempted to answer them. They also have access to past paper exam questions and answers. Students are free to work through this revision pack using the self assessment as a rudder to guide them towards topics that will require more attention.
3) Regular rigorous multiple choice tests.
The ‘chunked’ revision materials are sync with a multiple choice test. I have created the tests using Joe Kirby’s brilliant posts on designing rigorous multiple choice tests (Post 1 | Post 2). I’ve attempted to increase rigor by adding more incorrect answers that are based on common student misconceptions.
The tests can be taken multiple times and using a platform like Edmodo means the tests are also tracked and scored without the teacher lifting a finger. Edmodo also allows students to go back through the test and see where they dropped marks.
A key element here is frequency and over a 6 week revision period it’s important to space the timing of these multiple choice tests to aid retention. As Joe points out in his most recent post on curriculum design,
Repeated retrieval improves long term retention: frequent quizzing prevents forgetting.
4) Regular ‘Walking – Talking’ mock exams.
One new strategy that has been trialled at my school this year has been ‘walking-talking’ mocks in all subjects. For those not familiar here’s how they work. The students revise for a mock as normal. When the mock exam takes place the teacher walks them through the first question and then gives students an appropriate amount of time (depending on the number of marks available usually) to complete the question and then get some instant feedback on how well they did. It’s hard to judge the real impact of doing this exercise but it certainly helps students feel more comfortable in exam conditions. I know I have been guilty in the past of running a mock exam in ‘exam conditions’, students tend to score poorly on it, get feedback but didn’t get an opportunity to re-draft answers (my fault) and the whole scenario was demotivating and not very productive. A walking-talking mock provide students to feel success in an exam environment. This new found motivation can then be used to drive revision sessions. As the year goes the strategy is to get students to sit 3-4 mock exams and by the end of the process provide them with less and less support as their confidence grows.
This post is by no means a ‘you should run revision sessions like this’ post. It’s a reflection on some of the ideas that have inspired my thoughts around how to do revision better. It is very much a work in progress and feedback is very much welcome!
I often tell my students to not be upset with the results they didn’t get from the work they didn’t do. I feel the same and care deeply about their results. When my students walk into the their exam I want to make sure I’ve done everything within my power to ensure they succeed.
Myelin – by Daniel Coyle
How to grow a super athlete – by Dainel Coyle
The myelin in all of us – by David Shenk
Why use multiple choice tests – by Joe Kirby
How to design multiple-choice questions – by Joe Kirby
Research on multiple-choice questions – by Daisy Christodoulou
Walking, talking mocks: are mock exams the way forward? – by Martin Jones
Hardwiring learning and effort = success – by Domini Choudhury
*I am not a scientist. For more information on myelin please see this interactive guide or even better still, read Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code.
A few years ago I decided to start running after a period of inactivity. New Year’s Day 2008 to precise. I ran about 4 miles around the woodland trails where my parents lived, got home and entered the New York Marathon. November 2008 I completed my first marathon in New York, just scraping under 4 hours. The last 4 miles felt like a marathon in itself – it was excruciatingly painful, but I finished. Since then I haven’t looked back, running is now habit rather then a scheduled session, embedded into my way of life. Marathons have made way for ultra marathons as I look to continually test myself mentally and physically. When I race I am simply celebrating the hours and hours of training I have put in before hand to ensure I enjoy the experience and hopefully learn something new about myself. There is no better feeling then crossing the finishing line after being on the trails for 10 hours! Ultra running has taught me patience, made me more determined to be successful in anything I do and has also increased my work ethic. “Hard work pays off!” Classic cliché, but very true.
These traits of ultra running have transferred very nicely into other areas of my life at home and at school. I demand a lot from my students and I try to highlight the rewards of hard work and the satisfaction it can bring. I’m also a lot more patient then I use to be, which is an extremely valuable asset when working with young people!
Running is also a great way to de-stress after a long day at school. If you are a teacher and you’re reading this and you don’t run – try it. Next time you get home after a long day and head straight for the couch for some TV action, try getting changed straight into your running gear (the hardest mental battle of all) and head out for a 20 minute run. You’ll feel great afterwards and come back with a clear head!
Last year I completed a 31 mile charity run, visiting 5 secondary schools in the local area on route. Me and a colleague raised money for the MAJI SAFI project (a charity which raises money for schools in Kenya). This year on Friday 3rd of May I will be running 48 miles to raise even more money for the same project. Students from 6 different schools will be joining me on the way to run small sections and hopefully this may encourage some of them to take up running as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Why am I writing this post? I need your money!! If you would like to help these guys out….
Then please donate what you can here.
Now go run!