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Developing Talent

The Development of Talent Research Project
Dr. Benjamin Bloom
The University of Chicago

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"We believe that societies that emphasize only minimal standards of competence are likely to produce only minimal levels of competence and talent."

 

INTRODUCTION
"After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn if provided with appropriate prior and current conditions of learning."

"The Development of Talent Research Project began with the speculation that there must be a very large pool of potential talent available in each society that can either be developed or neglected."

"By talent we mean an unusually high level of demonstrated ability, achievement, or skill in some special field of study or interest. This is in contrast with earlier definitions, which equate talent with natural gifts or aptitudes."

"(For the study project) We chose Olympic swimmers and world-class tennis players, concert pianists and sculptors, research mathematicians and research neurologists."


In the Middle Childhood Years

FINDING A NEW TEACHER
"Most of our talented individuals had very good experiences with their initial teacher(s), and many of them had developed a very comfortable relationship with them. However, after a number of years during which they had made relatively good progress in the talent field, someone--a parent, a friend of the family, an expert in the field, or even the teacher--thought that the child could make even greater progress if a new and more expert teacher was chosen."

"At this point the parents began the search for the best teacher available in the area. During the search, experts and other informants were consulted to determine what expertise was necessary at this stage. A short list was compiled of the teachers who could satisfy these requirements."

"Typically the (next) teacher had a good reputation for developing talent in the field, lived some distance from the student’s home, charged much more for the lessons, and was careful in selecting the students he or she would teach. In most cases there was an audition or tryout before the student was selected. The teacher sought evidence of the student’s capabilities to date, the seriousness of his or her intentions in the field, and the evidence that there was a strong interest in the talent field."


THE NEW TEACHERS
"The new teachers had a larger perspective than the previous teachers had. They usually taught only the outstanding students in the talent field and they expected some of them to reach very high levels of attainment."

THE PARENTS
"The parents had been much involved in the talent development of their children during the early years. However, during the middle years the major role of setting expectations and demands was assumed by the new teacher. The parents helped their children set schedules and plans for the practice, but by this time they did not need to monitor the practice, since the students had already developed the appropriate habits."

"Perhaps the major point about the middle years is that most of the talented individuals became fully committed to the talent field and needed less and less emotional support from parents to maintain practice schedules and to give so much time and involvement to the talent field. They did need help in scheduling school and other activities around their great involvement with the talent field. However, much of the external motivation and direction was provided by the teachers during these middle years."


THE MIDDLE YEARS: EMPHASIS, EXPECTATIONS, MOTIVATION
"The emphasis in the middle years was on precision and accuracy in all aspects of the talent field. The teachers at this stage worked only with outstanding students in the talent field and they expected much from their students. They were businesslike in their teaching and demanding of great perfection in what the student was to do."

"The student was expected to put the talent field above all competing activities, and the typical student at this time put approximately twenty-five hours per week into practice and preparation for sessions with teachers. Only individuals almost fully committed to the talent field could make the progress expected of these students."

"Most of these students were highly motivated to learn in the talent field by this time and depended less and less on encouragement and support from the family. They received much of this motivation from the evidence of their progress and from the support of teachers and peers in the talented field, as well as from their relative success in public events such as tournaments, contests, and recitals. Although their parents were supportive in many ways, increasingly the talented students became more responsible for their effort and progress in the talent field. And they were now working toward the highest goals in their fields."


EARLY SUCCESS IS NO PREDICTOR OF LATER SUCCESS
"We believe that only a small percentage (10% or less) of these talented individuals had progressed far enough by age eleven or twelve for anyone to make confident predictions that these would be among the top twenty-five in the talent field by the ages of twenty to thirty."

"We believe it is so hard to predict because what the individuals have learned by ages ten or eleven is very different from what and how they will learn at a later age. There is so much to learn and develop to reach the heights of talent development that no matter how much the individual has learned by these early years, it is only a small portion of what he or she must learn before reaching extreme levels attained by the individuals included in this study. Being very good at one phase of learning may not have a very high relation to being very good at a later phase, even though both phases of the learning are in the same talent field."

"The motivation to learn in an early phase is not necessarily related to the motivation to learn in the more complex and difficult later phases. And finally, the continued support of parents, teachers, and others is necessary to help the individual move from the initial learning process to the increasingly difficult and demanding learning process of the later stages."


LONG-TERM COMMITMENT AND INCREASING PASSION ARE ESSENTIAL
"It typically takes these individuals ten to fifteen years to move from the relatively simple beginnings to the complex and difficult processes that characterize the later learning in each of the fields. And as long as they remain in the talent field, the learning is never complete."

"Precociousness in a talent field is not to be dismissed, but it can only be realistically viewed as an early stage in talent development before the mature and complex talent will be fully attained. No matter how precocious one is at age ten or eleven, if the individual doesn’t stay with the talent development process over many years, he or she will soon be outdistanced by others who do continue. A long-term commitment to the talent field and an increasing passion for the talent development are essential if the individual is to attain the highest levels of capability in the field."


GENERAL QUALITIES OF SUCCESS

"The general qualities that appear to be present in all talent fields include the following:

  • Strong interest and emotional commitment to a particular talent field.
  • Desire to reach a high level of attainment in the talent field.
  • Willingness to put in the great amounts of time and effort needed to reach very high levels of achievement in the talent field.

These general qualities appear again and again, even though in each case they are related to a particular talent field."