By Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer
Recently, Renaissance had the pleasure of hosting a webinar with Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, the world’s leading authority on expertise. Numerous attendees asked great questions about the implications of Ericsson’s work, with many noting profound takeaways at the end. Given the lively dialogue, we wanted to continue this conversation and highlight the webinar for others.
Ericsson has referred to the deliberate practice undertaken by experts as “the most powerful approach to improving performance that has yet been discovered,” and after more than 30 years of study and observing the development of expertise, he and others are now beginning to apply their findings to teaching (Ericsson and Pool, 2016). I would like to highlight several major takeaways from the event, including the following:
Can you imagine memorizing over 200 digits read to you at a rate of one per second? People have. The record for consecutive push-ups had to be revised because people developed the ability to continue doing push-ups beyond their ability to go without drinking water or using the bathroom, so now the challenge is “How many push-ups can you do in a 24-hour period?” (The record is north of 45,000!) Chess champion Alekhine played 30 concurrent sessions of “blind chess” (where players don’t see the board but their opponents’ moves are described to them) and won against nearly every opponent. The takeaway is that with the proper training, humans can do things that sometimes seem unimaginable.
The focused, deliberate practice of experts is often so exhausting that sessions beyond 20 minutes are not possible. When the challenge aspect of deliberate practice is discussed, many connect it with Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD), but when discussions of ZPD are considered alongside ones of deliberate practice, there is a feeling that deliberate practice is on the extreme upper ends of ZPD and that the most successful individuals are more willing to continually engage in daunting activities than many of us are.
Ericsson and Pool (2016) noted that “no student, no matter how motivated, can expect to figure out [the intricacies of a domain] on his or her own.”
Feedback is not only necessary to guide improvement and refinement but also critical for motivation. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) asserted that deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable in and of itself. They noted that with feedback, “individuals are motivated to practice because practice improves performance.” If you can’t see yourself improving, you won’t be motivated to continue to work and improve.
This was the subject of many questions, and while we as educators seem to struggle with how to make this happen, we do know that providing role models and visions of future selves is critical as is having students set goals and actively track their progress.
This conversation on applying the findings from the “science of expertise” is just beginning, but there are already insights on and implications for K-12 education. Join the discussion by viewing the intriguing webinar.
Ericsson, K. A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Gene Kerns, EdD, is a third-generation educator with teaching experience from elementary through the university level, in addition to his K–12 administrative experience. As Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Renaissance, Dr. Kerns advises educators in both the US and the UK about academic trends and opportunities. Previously, he served as the Supervisor of Academic Services for the Milford School District in Milford, Delaware. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Longwood College in Virginia and a doctor of education degree from the University of Delaware. His first publication, Informative Assessment: When It’s Not About a Grade, focused on using routine, reflective, and rigorous informative assessments to inform and improve teaching practices and student learning.