“Happier than a camel on hump day.” That’s how I’m feeling as I’m past the half-way point in my second of ten masters courses. The course is “Theories of Teaching and Learning” and it’s been a great course. One of the books we’ve read is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell asks “What makes high-achievers different?” A best seller and a fascinating book, he explores how the month or year you were born in, the events that happen in your life time, your culture, your opportunities, and your upbringing all have an effect on your success. For the purposes of this article, success is defined as excelling in your field, whatever field that may be: business, computers, sports, music, etc.
One of the goals of the book is to understand that we can help children to excel; that a child’s success is not dependent on a high IQ or a natural talent or skill. In most cases, success is the result of lots and lots of hard work. In fact, researchers believe the magic number for true expertise is ten thousand hours. Ten thousand! To put that into perspective, a person spending twenty hours a week, fifty weeks a year learning to play the piano, would have to do so for ten years to reach 10,000 hours. And yet, that’s what researchers have found to be true when they study concert pianists, basketball players, dancers, writers, computer programmers, etc.
That amount of work takes an extraordinary amount of dedication and love for what you do. We may not all have that kind of focus; I know I don’t. However, books like Outliers encourage us to realize we have the power to change our life or the lives of our children. Just giving children the opportunity to explore their passions and to spend time learning about them can give them an advantage.
One of the first things Gladwell mentions is that children who are seen as talented or smart at a young age begin to receive extra attention and advantages which means they get continue to excel. For many children, they are seen as more talented or smarter than their peers only because they are a few months older. In the preschool years, children change and grow very quickly. A child who is 3 1/2 may be far above a child who is 3. So, delaying a child’s entrance into school for a year can take them from being a struggling student and even a struggling adult to one who is successful. Personally, I’ve met a few adults (men and women) who feel their early entrance to school was a mistake; they were always behind their peers. I’m not sure we take this into consideration as much as we should when enrolling children in school.
There’s so much more I could say. I’ll leave you with one thought. What is the one area where your learner struggles most? For many, it’s math. We wish every child was just naturally good at math, but that’s often not the case. That doesn’t mean they can’t be good at math. Gladwell would argue that with more time and more opportunities, any child can be good at math, or sports, or whatever their struggle is. That doesn’t mean you lock them in their room to do math for twenty hours a week for the next ten years. Learners learn best in a positive environment where they feel supported and encouraged. Learning needs to be meaningful. How do you make calculus meaningful? I have no idea! LOL. But, you can give your learner a strong start. Don’t give up on them when it gets tough. They CAN do it with help and time!
Gladwell, M. (2011). Outliers: the story of success. New York: Back Bay Books.