kitchen table math, the sequel: another Chinese mom

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

another Chinese mom

Caught this line in a Wall Street Journal review of The Woman Who Could Not Forget:
..."As my mother used to say to me, the success in one's life was dependent on 70% hard work and only 30% talent or genetic makeup."
Stigler and Stevenson found that "American children, teachers, and parents emphasize innate abilites as a component of success more strongly than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts do."

I'd be interested to know what percentages American parents would slot into Ying-Ying's statement on the subject of math and math learning.

I'd really be interested to know what percentages American math teachers would pick - !

The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking- A Memoir

The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking- A Memoir

Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education

Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education


Anonymous said...

I'm not super confident that I agree with a split like X/Y because this implies that the two are things you can trade each other off against. I don't think that it works this way.

My view is that innate talent (genetic or otherwise ... the culture you grow up in and absorb seems like it has a large innate component to me) sets an upper boundary on what you can do in any given activity. Obviously, this upper limit will be different for different activities (Albert Einstein probably wasn't going to play professional football ... Bronko Nagurski wasn't going to win a Nobel Prize in physics). Below that limit, other factors influence how close you come.

Hard work is one of those factors, however working hard but stupidly isn't going to have much return. The point to targeted practice is to get the maximum benefit from the hard work you put in.

How good your teachers are (and whether you are in a rowdy class of 30 or have a tutor ...) will also contribute to how close you can come to your innate maximum.

I'm sure that there are other factors.

So ... within the large pool of "mediocre", I think you can compensate for a lack of innate talent with hard work. And because (at least from what I see watching my son and his age mates) it isn't all that difficult to outwork most people at most things, I expect that hard work may be a larger component in excelling at things like Little League baseball or high school academics.

Additionally, it is *USEFUL* to overemphasize hard work. You don't have much control over your innate talent level.

But if you keep pushing, eventually hard work just won't be enough. You can probably get onto a high school baseball team with enough work. You won't play in Major League Baseball without that and a *LOT* of innate talent. And you can't compensate for this lack of talent with even more hard work. Eventually, you just hit that ceiling.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

A followup on the non-innate-talent factors that I think matter.

My basic model for "how to do better" for most activities is that there are four big factors that matter. There might be more than four, but I know about four.

These four are:
1) People
2) Allocation of Resources
3) Tools/Training
4) Process

Those are the knobs you have to play with.

So ... want better engineering? You can:
1) Hire better people, and/or
2) Use them differently, and/or
3) Give them better tools or training, and/or
4) Change *how* you are doing things.

Some engineering examples:
1) You can hire smarter people. Or people who are more likely to show up to work on time. Or who will work longer hours.

2) You can specialize your workflow. Maybe instead of everyone doing everything, *ONE* person becomes really good at testing. The rest of the team becomes really good at other teams. You see hospitals do this all the time. Doctors and nurses have different roles, as do specialists.

3) Better tools would be upgrading a workstation so that things happen faster. Your engineers won't spend so much time waiting for results.

4) Better processes might include things like "adding a test step" before deciding that you are done.

In a school context, you might:
1) Get better students. Adding an entrance exam is one good way to boost the performance of the school. This won't help in educating the poor students, but if you just care about test scores, this is a winner.
Alternately, you can try hiring better teachers (and/or firing the underperformers).

2) Better allocation of resources would suggest specializing. Maybe you don't have one teacher in 5th grade responsible for teaching all subjects. Or maybe the school realizes that 50% of the salary budget is going towards non-teachers and decides to chop some of the non-teaching tasks and focus more on teaching the kids.

3) Better tools/training would include things like picking a math/reading curriculum that works and/or training the teachers in how to teach specific things (e.g. the long discussion on the misuse of '='. We could probably teach this to K-5 teachers).

4) Better processes might involve more (or less) testing. Or picking better places in the school year to test. Or maybe (getting radical here), grouping kids by ability rather than explicitly creating a wide range of abilities within a classroom.

Anonymous said...

Notice that for an individual in an academic context, you can use this model.

1) You can't replace yourself (although you can have a ringer take tests for you :-)), but you might be able to select better teachers. Or get a tutor.

2) As a student, your primary resource is time. But not all hours are the same. Some times of the day you will be sharper and more alert. Maybe you do your studying then. Or maybe you allocate better by ensuring that you get enough sleep.

3) Tools/training would be picking good textbooks from which to learn. Or getting the better of two teachers.

4) Processes might include when, where, how often, and what you review over a semester or year so that you don't forget.

Note that (1) - (4) do *NOT* include working harder. This is yet another axis to tweak, and one that stereotypically Asian parents emphasize. But same effort spent more intelligently by playing with (1) - (4) may have even more benefit.

You can, of course, play with (1) - (4) and *THEN* work harder, too. But an overemphasis on hard work and an underemphasis on (1) - (4) leaves a lot of potential performance gain on the table.

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

Additionally, it is *USEFUL* to overemphasize hard work.


Catherine Johnson said...

btw, there is one school of thought amongst geneticists studying intelligence (don't know if people are still pursuing it) that what we think of as "IQ" may actually be "intense motivation and interest."

In other words, a child who becomes a mathematician does so because something inside him (something innate) drives him to think about math, do math, pursue mathematical activities, etc.

When I first read this concept, I thought of it as an appetite.

Anonymous said...

Interesting idea on appetite. I have one child who has a grazer's appetite. He learns quickly, but also moves on quickly. He becomes "more of an expert than you" pretty quickly, but doesn't stick with anything long enough to make it be his thing.

Another child definitely develops those appetites -- and it almost seems like he chooses. He has realized that hard work can sub in for innate talent pretty easily. Not that he picks things he's not interested in, but that he chooses to work hard at them even if his initial efforts aren't showing that he's going to be one of the best at it.

And then he usually does end up pretty damn good at it.

I wish there were some sort of appetite sharpener, discriminator that we could give to the first son. It would make his life easier. That or he needs to write books with lots of characters with different interests!

Glen said...

I doubt that IQ is "intense motivation and interest," but a lot of "talent" may be, which could be what you meant.

Intense motivation and interest are domain specific, but IQ is domain general. Your intense interest is in something specific, but your high IQ is not. Intensity of interest ("That kid is crazy about tennis!") seems a poor estimator of IQ in general, though seeing a passion for differential equations, I might raise my estimate of a five-year-old's IQ a point or two.

Talents, though, are domain specific, like interests. The correlation between intensity of interest in a domain and talent for that domain is probably significant, though causality is still debatable.

And a kid in diapers who develops an obsession for music may well become a musical "genius," but is probably no more likely than any other kid to have a genius IQ.

I just don't see any reason to believe that "IQ is interest," but a lot of talent could be.

Allison said...

I agree with Glen. IQ is best understood as a speed of processing, whether that's an equation, a joke, or long chain of inferences. People with very high IQs are extremely fast at everything they undertake--and by fast, I mean they've computed and considered the implications of something in a few minutes that would take mere mortals weeks or months. That applies to things that they have no innate passion or interest for, too, but are just topics that happen onto and then off of again.

Genius or talent is certainly highly correlated to intense motivation, and it's easy to understand that such a feedback loop creates geniuses when nothing else will--if you have intense motivation and interest, your reward mechanisms are keyed to you keeping practicing, and if that practicing quickly improves your skill, then you're keyed even more to keep up that motivation and interest. The rest of us get discouraged when we don't improve, and find it difficult to stay focused. But those who are truly talented at something have both pieces at work in concert. Yes, higher IQ is a piece of that--if you're not as bright, you can't rationally figure out what to improve, or can't think fast enough to respond to new stimuli. The best professional athletes have higher IQs than their athletic colleagues, because clearly processing information faster makes you able to be better at goal stopping or pass throwing or whatever. But IQ alone won't make you able to play hockey like Gretzky because it doesn't mean you've got his intensity of motivation.

Bonnie said...

I am not so sure that IQ = processing speed. My son has a neuropsychological evaluation done every 3 years - he takes a battery of tests measuring all components of intelligence (he does this because he is at risk for problems due to medical treatment when young). As it turns out, he scores very high - at the gifted level, I was told - in the mathematical and verbal reasoning components, but he scores very poorly in the processing speed component. The psychologist told me that this is common with some gifted kids. In any case,it doesn't affect him in school - he is well above grade level in every topic except gym.

Anonymous said...

Some years ago, I remember reading about a study that found that, among kids in American public schools, the parent/kid reaction to a poor (lower than expected) grade varied by race; Asian parents/kids attributed a poor grade to failure to work hard enough and non-Asian parents/kids attributed it to "not being good at math."

I'm sure there are exceptions, but my experiences have led me to conclude that there is a very significant correlation between IQ and learning speed. Even the "average" gifted kids will tend to "get" and remember new material the first time it's presented. As you go down the IQ scale, progressively more time, more repetition etc. is necessary for learning. It's one of the reasons I like ability grouping; every kid should be appropriately challenged and time should be used productively and efficiently.

Jo in OKC said...

My first thought was that it's not just talent + hard work but talent + hard work + interest.

I think the interest really drives the hard work and makes the work go longer/harder/deeper.

Sometimes that interest may be stimulated by a competition (either a formal competition or informally competing with classmates) and sometimes it may be stimulated by the subject matter itself.

One of the things I thought that Tiger Mom had right was that she said that kids had to get over the hump of the beginning hardness of something before they could decide whether they liked it or not. Sometimes it's interest that drives that and sometimes it's just hard work because you're told to or know you should.

kcab said...

I like the idea of appetite, in that it's seemed to me that a child that prefers to spend free time thinking about math is probably going to get better at math than one who chooses something else to think about.

More generally though, in talking about models of giftedness and talent, I prefer Gagne's model: diagram of differentiated model of giftedness and talent as a framework. As far as IQ, definitions of that seem to vary over time (and probably culture).

palisadesk said...

I am not so sure that IQ = processing speed.

There is often a close correlation, but processing speed can be low (and so can working memory) and a person can still score in the gifted range.

Students with a double exceptionality, such as gifted/LD, may show a profile like this.

Or, a person with slower processing speed/WM may score in the gifted range and perform well academically.

The reasoning components of IQ testing have more weight for the full-scale IQ than some of the processing tasks.

IQ correlates with a number of positive attributes (longevity, health, physical appearance, job performance) but cannot be equated with them. There is huge variation, both intraindividual and among populations.