May 18, 2009
Dear LoMA Family,
Let me start by updating you on some of the student successes I mentioned a few weeks ago. Last week our Fidelity Future Stage acting troupe passed an audition in front of an all-star group of judges and will now perform Vivienne Dayoa’s play, Culpa, at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway next month. LoMA’s Basketball Team is nearly undefeated and last week Jay Almieda sang and played at Carnegie Hall as a part of a cultural exchange program that was telecast to India. Finally, the RENT performance last week was a tremendous hit with its superb singing, energetic dancing and professional sets.
People used to believe that successes such as these grow effortlessly and automatically out of talent. But as David Brooks and Malcolm Gladwell have pointed out, IQ and natural ability are generally very poor predictors of greatness. Instead, new research says that greatness only comes through guided, rigorous practice – a lot of it. Something that all geniuses like Mozart, Einstein and Michael Jordan have in common is that they only became great after 10,000 hours of practice. This rings true for me as I remember that none of my students practiced their craft more than Alicia Keys – and she found time to graduate number one in her class.
However, simply practicing for hours and hours is not enough, as the practice must be focused. When someone is really focused in their craft, they become so attentive to every detail that they shut the rest of the world out. You can see this with Tiger Woods taking a shot, the Williams sisters playing tennis or Jock Soto dancing on the stage. Their focus becomes so strong that they enter into something called a flow. They lose track of time, become incredibly productive and everything else becomes less important to them. While I’m no genius, I have felt the flow when doing research, riding long distance on my bike and fixing my car. I have also seen my students in the flow when they are working on essays or completing labs.
Practice must also be very conscious and deliberate in order to be effective. Many artists and athletes say that they practice slowly by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating them, often with a coach or director guiding them. This is why successful actors rehearse scenes and basketball players to run drills. In the same way, students need to put the same effort into studying for tests by breaking information and skills down and practicing them over and over. Our students are showing their success on the courts and on the stage, but in three weeks they will have to show their skills on Regents and final exams. In order to do so, they need to get in the hours of practice by studying every night, keeping their focus and attending tutoring.