Outliers Book Discussion, pt 1

I have been asked by Will DeLamater at the TeacherPlaces Book Clubs to lead the February discussion of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. For the first post, I elected to focus the discussion around how we at schools provide the 10,000 hours that Gladwell asserts are needed for to new teachers and to students to gain mastery of a subject to become expert.

New Teachers
To get us started, I want to take a look at the assertion that exists in chapter 2, the 10,000 Hour rule. When we take a look at our own schools, do we allow for individuals to gain the 10,000 hours of experience necessary to master a skill? With the looming teaching shortage, will we have enough teachers who will have invested enough time to develop into skilled practitioners?

When we take a look at new teachers coming out of college, do we provide them the opportunity to gain the experience necessary to become a Master Teacher. If we assume that they will spend:

  • 10 hours a day (8 hours at school, 2 hours at home)for 180 school days
  • 6 hours per weekend for 36 weeks out of the year
  • 8 hours a day for 20 days (4 weeks) in the summer

This means that a new teacher will accumulate 2136 hours per year honing their craft. This means that it will take five years for a new teacher to exceed the 10,000 hours that it takes to master a skill. But nearly 50% of new teachers will leave before the completion of five years. Have we built a sustainable system to retain and build teachers to gain the 10,000 hours before they give up?

Now, if we turn our attention to students, do we provide enough opportunities to develop their skills? In terms of reading and writing, we provide ample opportunities, since these skills can be and are developed across the curriculum. But what about math and science instruction? In many schools, these topics are covered in isolation. Starting in Lower Schools, if a student spends:

  • one 45 minute block per day plus 20 minutes of homework in grades 1-5
  • one 45 minute block per day plus 40 minutes of homework in grades 6-8
  • one 50 minute block plus 60 minutes of homework in grades 9-10

then before they begin to tackle the more advanced sciences or math classes, they will have only spent a little more than 2,000 hours of the 10,000 hours needed to master the skills. Additionally in many schools, these numbers may be a bit higher than what is experienced.

So where do we find the time to nurture students to provide the 8000 hours of additional training needed? Opportunities in the summer? At home, with enrichment activities led by parents?

I encourage you to come to the conversation and share your views. I look forward to the discussions.

One thought on “Outliers Book Discussion, pt 1

  1. Vinnie,
    These are great discussion topics! I stumbled across your page while searching for more information about summer enrichment + Outliers. For your first topic, I think an understanding of ‘reasons why teachers leave teaching’ would be valuable. For the second topic, I think that the US system is geared more toward a general or liberal education, which prevents single subject focus and mastery. My understanding of European systems is that students are tracked by age 16 into a specialty. Philosophically, we need to ask what education is primarily for: to broaden the mind, or prepare for a career.
    Thanks for leading this discussion!

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