Tuesday, November 19, 2013

80% of Success is...

“Eighty percent of success is showing up” - Woody Allen

The video below shows a laborer demonstrating an amazing talent.  Do you think you could do this?



If your answer is that you don't think that you could, I would ask you, "Why not?"

What causes the success or failure of anything that we attempt? What makes some people more successful than others in any field or endeavor?

In the absence of that video, most people would immediately answer that success is typically related to natural ability. Being able to do something – shoot a jumpshot, solve a math problem, play blackjack, write a poem– and do it better than most people we know, has it's roots in natural talent. But, what is talent? How do people get so good at hitting a three-point shot or making beautiful artwork? For a long time, people believed that talent was about inheritance, being blessed with some specific, magical ability, or possessing a set of genes that somehow support that particular skill. The corresponding argument then, is that you and I can’t eventually become well known artists, wealthy investors, or golf pros, merely because we weren't gifted with the genetic lottery that provides those aptitudes and skills. No matter how much we work, it won’t compensate for our inherited limitations. When fate was handing out talents, we got something else (hopefully).

However, all is not lost. Recent researchers, such as K. Anders Ericsson, believe that talent is truly about deliberate practice, and that putting in approximately 10,000 hours of intense training (give or take a few thousand hours) is what actually makes people successful. Michael Jordan wasn’t born Michael Jordan– he had to work really, really hard to become "Like Mike."

As Ericsson wrote in his article “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”: “The differences between the talents of great performers and other adults are susceptible to change. The difference between high achievers and duffers is "a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance."

So, success is about deliberate practice. Success is about effort. Success is about having a great coach. And unfortunately for those who would prefer to blame fate, success is not about some random genetic lottery. You can become smarter. You can develop any talent. You just have to want it bad enough to earn it.

Clearly, there’s a huge contradiction between how we measure success or failure and the causes of that success. Generally speaking, we tend to measure potential for future success and talent using tests that are administered under what we believe will bring out the subject's maximum performance- typically under stressful, high-stakes situations- believing this will show them in their best light.

Annually, college football's best players assemble at the NFL Combine where they perform many different tasks designed to demonstrate their athleticism, football-specific skills, and sound decision making (40 yard dash times, throwing/catching/blocking drills, IQ tests, physicals, team interviews, etc.) under conditions of high stress and competition. The purpose of the combine is to see what each player is capable of, and to project where they will fall on the continuum of potential to contribute to an NFL team. "It's a cold, cruel world, and no one cares about you." "Respond to competition and perform or you will be left behind." These are the archaic arguments that NFL coaches and many current political leaders would have you believe about the world that we live in.

The problem is, the real world doesn’t resemble the NFL Combine, just as the real world is in no way reflected in a student's success or failure on the standardized tests that in many states will decide whether that student will graduate, whether their administrators and teachers will remain employed, and in an increasing number of states, whether their public school will be closed down and replaced by a for-profit charter school staffed by underqualified teachers, some with just six weeks of preparation.

Success or failure in the real world requires sustained performance. Skills and practices such as working hard and multitasking, thinking critically, problem solving, communicating effectively and collaboratively while working in groups and teams, acquiring and evaluating information about what you need to know when you need to know it and put it into practice- those are the skills that very successful people implement every day. All of those skill are grounded in deliberate practice, and the ability to utilize these real-world skills, regardless of the endeavor or field of practice, largely depends on engagement with the task.

The problem, of course, is that the potential for enormous success can’t be measured in a single combine or a single test of mathematics or reading. Our long-held and clearly flawed beliefs about what makes some people successful have led to incredibly flawed tests of aptitude and "ability." This would explain why in the 2000 NFL Draft, 198 players (and six other quarterbacks) were drafted ahead of Tom Brady, despite his ability to become arguably one of the five greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in terms of both statistics and championships won. Brady's draft status following the 2000 combine is one of the many reasons that statistical analysis has shown that there is "no consistent statistical relationship between combine tests and professional football performance.”

If we truly want to remain "globally competitive" and ensure future success for all children, we need to develop experiences, opportunities and assessments that will support the likelihood of kids showing up every day, becoming engaged in the learning opportunities and working hard, not simply judging how students have complied and performed on a random task once they get there.

Decisions about the futures of our kids and our schools that are based on a single assessment with an arbitrary and moving target of a cut score that measures how a student performed on one day while that student was tested on content that they may or may not perceive of as interesting and relevant is indefensible.

Modern research indicates that the most important skill related to future success is having the desire to work hard, to practice hard, for being consistently engaged on a task. Success is never easy, even for Michael Jordan or Tom Brady. That’s why we as educators need to develop work that engages students and develops skills and talents related to effort and persistent desire to learn more. That's why we need to re-think the path that the current politically and financially motivated over-testing "accountability" oligarchy is leading us down if we are to truly remain globally competitive and producing successful students nationwide.

80% of success is... not measured in standardized tests.  

Teachers work so hard to engage and prepare kids to be successful in the future, so why are we wasting time preparing kids to take tests instead?


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