Oyster Learning with GriT: A new definition of Gifts & Talents?

(www.flickr.com/photos/annak/441319206/ by http://www.flickr.com/people/annak/ under Creative Commons License)

I really enjoyed this WIRED article by Jonah Lehrer, (@jonahlehrer) “Which traits predict success” (The importance of grit).  I have developed my own approach to gifted and talented education using similar principles but as with all great pieces of writing, this one provided a bit of a side-swipe on my thinking, which is always good.

Here’s my approach to how to foster gifts and talents in all our learners (rather than seeking to identify the gifted and talented learners) requires that we design opportunities where learning is underpinned by the concepts of:

1. Deliberate  & mindful practise (see Anders-Ericsson’s work on this)

2. Positive “Growth Mindsets” (see the recent publication, “Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S Dweck)

3. Task Commitment (Joseph Renzulli) .

Jonah Lehrer’s article made me consider an additional angle on the whole discussion about what we are looking for when we are identifying the ‘gifts and talents’ in our learners.

What Jonah says about measuring talent and intelligence by exploring the degree to which somebody displays resilience, stickability (what he refers to as ‘grit’) is a refreshing way to consider how schools might provide for their most able students. 

So often, we identify high ability and attainment first and then find ourselves looking for inventive ways to develop resilience, determination or ‘grit’ through the learning opportunities we provide. What if we flipped this model around and identified the ‘grit’ first and then, with the collaboration of the learners, designed activities that allowed them to really thrive? We would then have an approach that (a) provides opportunities for learners to demonstrate ‘grit’ (b) identifies it when it shows and (c) explicitly develops this ‘grit’ as a talent in its own right.

What would a cohort of learners who are identified as having the talent of ‘grit’, resilience and determination look, sound and be like in school?

Would a ‘grit’ talent pool include the same learners as a ‘high ability’ talent pool?

Could such an approach be used as an early intervention strategy. We spot the grit before the intellectual ability, celebrate this and then, through quality learning conversations, seek to apply the ‘grit’ talent to specific subject domains. What if they were yet to show high ability in a particular subject or domain area, but were picked up on the simple fact that they had stickability and determination to do their best. How would identifying such a cohort of learners inform the provision we then design for them?

A whole new cohort of young people may well be identified as ‘talented’ if we were to incorporate this in our definition of ‘gifted and talented’ in schools. Not only that, if we then design learning opportunities that explicitly seek to nurture resilience, tenacity and determination, then we can provide young people with the opportunity to deliberately and mindfully practise just the ‘talent’  of ‘grit’ that we are seeking to nurture.

As I said to Jonah when I wrote and thanked him for his insight, I LOVE the metaphorical connection that can be drawn between ‘grit’ and the way in which oysters make pearls…something we can easily latch on to. And Jonah very kindly said that he liked the metaphor too.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about this…



8 thoughts on “Oyster Learning with GriT: A new definition of Gifts & Talents?

  1. I like the logic( and the Metaphor ) and could argue that it supports those teachers who often voice that ALL their pupils are talented……….I suppose then we might look at the differences between those with ‘grit’ and those with ‘true grit’.

  2. Hi Ian,I completely agree with the concept that we all have talents. Sir Ken Robinson would certainly agree with this! It would be interesting to unpick the distinction between ‘grit’ and ‘true grit’…Speaking of the power of metaphor, I’ve written about this on my other site http://www.teducation.posterous.com, in reference to James Geary’s fabulous TED talk.Thank you for your comment. I hope you enjoy the rest of the blog.

  3. This has really had me thinking. There are so many complex and interlinking ideas at play here. My first thought related to how we might identify grit so as to support students, or anyone for that matter, in making the most of it and potentially developing their grittiness further. If someone were in full flow or in their element, it may be more challenging to observe “grit” as they might not need to draw upon it quite as much. It would likely be easier to identify and evidence someone’s grittiness if they were finding something difficult to achieve, but worked through their barriers and were either successful in the end or able to accept their current failure but see a way forward for the future. One would need to observe somebody in a range of personalised “challenges” to gauge how much grit they possessed.I may appear to have grit because I am happy putting substantial effort into the things I enjoy doing, such as writing at length. However, when faced with a 10 mile run or even just a pile of ironing, my grit can miraculously disappear. It would be interesting to consider our curriculum and the other information we have about situations in which the students we teach might demonstrate grit, before deciding on whether they posess it or not. I also began to consider a list of those things which might impact on someone’s grittiness. The list included:The inherited cultural perception of the task in hand. For example, if the challenge the person faced were artistic and their society places little worth in the arts, then this could impact on the effort they put into their endeavours. What has been said to them in the past about their achievements when faced with similar, previous challenges. The manner in which they have learnt to reflect on their own achievements and/or the way in which they compared their achievements to those of others. Of course, one might argue that true grit would survive despite these factors. I’ve found it interesting though considering how we could identify, nurture, develop and unleash it. Thanks for your original post.

  4. Hi Nick,Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I think I will continue to grapple with the degrees to which we require ‘grit’ when we are in our flow…maybe that is when we are really drawing upon ALL our reserves, and everything is working seamlessly. In which case, it’s more like a fast flowing deep river, where the speed and power of the water is undetectable to the naked eye, and only if we plunge into it do we feel the might of the flow.Or maybe not!Still thinking!!Z

  5. Wow, this is a fascinating discussion. I’m intrigued by the idea of identifying who has grit first, and then cultivating their talents and gifts.I also think grit is necessary, even with activities that are conducive to flow (for each individual). For example, someone might get into the flow swimming laps back and forth but you still need the grit to “show up” — i.e. to get out of bed early in the morning and go to the pool, and do it on a regular basis. You need grit to create the conditions to get into the flow.Renita

  6. Dear Renita,Thank you for your comments and reflections. I love the swimming analogy! (Plus the pun on ‘getting into the flow’…or maybe that was unintended?!). I’ll check out your sneak peek. I read the Talent Code last year and found it very interesting and it chimes with much of what Gladwell and Dweck and Robinson assert about gifts and talents and abilities…that effort is at the heart of all expertise. Thank you – I’ll be following your tweets on twitter!Z

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