Friday, December 21, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: "The Talent Code"

Does practice make perfect? I have often wondered about the truth of that aphorism. A brief look at any physical or intellectual endeavor shows that some people seem to practice just as hard as accomplished performers without achieving anywhere near the same level of mastery.

In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle argues that practice does perfect, provided that it is the sort of "deep practice" that triggers myelin, which is the material that wraps around the axons in the brain and is believed to be the source of mastery. As Coyle puts it, myelin trumps social prosperity, peace, freedom, mobility and paradigms. Deep practice fires impulses that strengthen myelin. It is no wonder that Florence of the late fifteenth century developed many of the greatest artists ever, Russia maintained a monopoly on the chess world for the latter half of the twentieth century, and the Dominican Republic produces more major League baseball players per capita than anyplace else. Their common denominator is an environment and coaching regimen that systematizes practice into appropriate, repeatable steps, which develop skill circuits to the point that the learners are unaware they're using them.

The three steps to deep practice detailed in The Talent Code are "chunking" by absorbing the whole skill and breaking it into small parts, repeating the activity, and "feeling" it. Coyle strongly suggests that learners cannot achieve mastery alone; rather, they need master coaches who can teach the required skills on infinitely deeper levels, perceive the learner's uniqueness, know the path to take for individual learners (what Coyle calls the GPS reflex), and point out learner errors honestly and memorably.

This book may well be one to which educators across the country will refer in reforming education, especially on the elementary level.