English Composition Assignment 1 – Coursera

Remember when I talked, awhile back, about the rise of the low-cost to no-cost education options out on the internet? The following is my first writing assignment for the English Composition I: Achieving Expertise class on Coursera. Our first assignment is to read over the first chapter of Daniel Coyle’s book, “The Talent Code. Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.”. (First chapter is available for free online at ISSUU.com)

Coyle’s article, entitled “The Sweet Spot”, is his contribution to the endless search for perfection. In today’s go-go-go society, quite a few people invest their time in trying to find shortcuts for activities instead of putting in the time and effort involved in what Coyle calls “deep practice” (P. 8).

Coyle opens the article with “…began visiting tiny places that produce Everest-size amounts of talent” (P. 1) and just in that sentence alone we know that he’s most likely going to throw his hat in the ring in his own attempts to capture lightning in a bottle.

The article begins by describing two young people and their own practice.

“Brunio”, an eleven year old Brazilian boy, is practicing a soccer move.  His first attempts at “deep practice” are evident as “he fails, then stops and thinks” (P. 3) As he continues his deep practice, he eventually “does it even more slowly, breaking the move down to its component parts” (P. 3). After multiple tries where he has stopped, checked his form, and then restarted, Brunio successfully completes the tricky move of his feet. (P. 3)

Coyle’s second example is “Jennie”, a twenty four year old pop singer. Jennie is attempting a big finish to her song where she takes one particular word and breaks it down into several different notes (P. 3). Over the course of several attempts, where Jennie “screws up, stops, and thinks, then sings it again at a much slower speed” (P. 3), Coyle again puts on display the need to consciously slow down and reevaluate each step of the process. Luckily for Jennie (and us the reader), she nails it on her sixth attempt. (P. 3)

Coyle’s observed subjects, as he says, are all “purposely operating at edges of their ability, so they will screw up.” (P. 4) Why is this exactly? He postulates that when you are practicing something and have “experienced a microsecond of struggle” (P. 7), that brief moment of frustration can make all the difference. Coyle claims that while you may not have practiced harder, you have practiced “deeper” (P. 7).

One example of deep practice, is as follows; You have just met someone at a party and immediately forget their name (who HASN’T had this happen to them?). As opposed to “passively receiving” (P. 7) said name from a third party, if you can find a way to remember it yourself, using YOUR OWN power to fetch the information, you have practiced “deeper” (P. 7).

Coyle claims that “experiences where you are forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them” (P. 8) provide the richest opportunities for growth. Coyle quotes Robert Bjork, the chair of psychology at UCLA, as saying “We tend to think of our memory as a tape recorder, but that’s wrong. It’s a living structure, a scaffold of nearly infinite size. The more we generate impulses, encountering and overcoming difficulties, the more scaffolding we build. The more scaffolding we build, the faster we learn. When you’re practicing deeply, the world’s usual rules are suspended. You use time more efficiently. Your small efforts produce big, lasting results. You have positioned yourself at a place of leverage where you can capture failure and turn it into skill. The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does. (P. 9)”. Coyle summarizes Bjork’s quote by reinforcing the idea that encountering “events that we normally try to avoid – namely mistakes” end up being the strongest components of our deep practicing (P. 11).

Although I found the article fascinating, I really don’t think Coyle is treading new ground and passing along any advice we did not already know. His delivery is to be commended, and I definitely enjoyed the reading of his presentation, but he is basically saying (and reinforcing) the idea that “practice makes perfect”. As we have been told by our parents for decades, the constant repetition of performing of a certain task where you are attempting to improve your skills at is required. Very few people have the ability to pick up a skill with minimal practice.

Where Coyle excels in his writing is when he slows down the repetition itself. There are multiple occurrences, throughout the reading, where he touts the virtues of “stopping, reevaluating, and then starting back in with a different angle (P. 3).

Works cited
Coyle, Daniel. “”The Talent Code. Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.” New York, Bantam, 2009

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