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Talent issues and ELT: a Folk Psychology view
By Lia Metal
The issue of talent has always been in my mind since my childhood years. I still remember statements like: “That child has got a talent in painting, just like her father”. Thus, I have always believed that talent is an inherent quality that only very few people possess, agreeing unquestionably with the folk theories (Bruner, 1999a) that prevail in everyday life. Who can deny the fact that some persons find it easier than others to make progress in a specific field? It is that fact that makes people assume that talent is inherent, that some persons have in-born potential to be gifted from birth. But is that belief correct?
To provide an answer to that question I will mention the relevant theories of a team of linguists (Sloboda et al, 1999) who investigated the origins of musicality (Sloboda et al, 1999). As one young musician reported, his mother thought he had got ‘a gift of music’ while his sister had got ‘a gift in school work’ (Howe and Sloboda, 1991 cited in Sloboda et al, 1999). This belief (a folk psychology view) is still ‘widely held by musicians’ (Sloboda et al, 1999, p.46), but it remains controversial.
First of all, the investigation into the origins of musicality revealed that the discovery of one’s talent in a specific field encourages the gifted person’s achievement and promotes self-confidence, aspects that are both missing from a young person lacking talent. In the latter case the folk psychology view (Bruner, 1999a) has got damaging effects. The main factor is self-esteem (Bruner, 1999b) which is high in talented persons, and low in the non- gifted ones. Thus, gifted children are confident and have more achievements that other, less talented children (Sloboda et al, 1999). Consequently, this leads to education issues. Bruner (1999b) mentions the crucial role education plays in the formation of ‘self’, while he emphasizes that different cultures shape it differently. Therefore, schooling plays a major role in the shaping of self, ‘judges the child’s performance and the child responds by evaluating himself or herself in turn’ (Bruner, 1999b, p.173). Therefore, evaluation and self mix and create self-esteem. How low self-esteem is experienced varies, depending on one’s culture. In cultures that emphasize achievement, high self-esteem increases level of aspiration.
On the other hand, not gifted children lack self-confidence and as a result, encounter problems and lack opportunities to learn, as in the case of music where the lack of talent may be used as ‘a reason to justify failing to make musical opportunities available to them’ (Sloboda et al, 1999, p.47).
Sometimes it appears that musical ability runs in families, but how can this be explained? Innate talent is not necessarily the most satisfactory explanation. Based on research (Sloboda et al, 1999), it was found that children whose families have no musical expertise make good progress in music if they are given opportunities and encouragement to learn. However, early experience can influence musical ability. It is said that musical learning can begin before a child is born. Also, when parents sing to their children, for example at sleep time, every day form birth they promote talent. These activities seem ordinary and are often taken for granted, but they should not be underestimated. Research has shown that acquired skills which become systematic with experience can lead to superior musical abilities. Expressive skill in music is affected by emotional and motivational circumstances. One kind of motivation (Sloboda et al, 1999) develops from pleasurable experiences, while the second one is concerned with achievement. However, emphasis on achievement can inhibit the first kind of motivation as children become concerned about what others may be thinking of their performance and thus they do not get the pleasure of music. In conclusion, early differences in exposure to music can lead to variability in children’s ability to take advantage of later formal learning opportunities such as instrumental lessons.
Applications in the ELT field
The aforementioned research in the origins of musicality leads to the following simple conclusion: Given the opportunities, children can make progress. Talent or no talent, all children must have equal opportunities to promote achievement and through a series of pedagogic applications they can develop self-esteem and acquire skills and expertise in the required field. Therefore, the following aspects should prevail in ELT teaching:
- Encouragement that will develop self-esteem (Bruner, 1999)
- Opportunities to learn
- Systematic skills with experience
- Emphasis on achievement
It should be highlighted that all aspects should be equally applied to all children, regardless the level of their performance, in order to give them a sense of achievement that will consequently develop their self-esteem and expertise in a field.
To sum up, a preoccupation with everyday beliefs of innate gifts and talents can only ‘inhibit efforts to gain a proper scientific understanding of this complex phenomenon’ (Sloboda et al, 1999, p.56)
Bruner, J. (1999a) ‘Folk pedagogies’ in Leach, J. and Moon, B.(eds) Learners and Pedagogy, London, Paul Chapman Publishing, The Open University.
Bruner, J. (1999b) ‘Culture, mind, and education’ in Moon, B., and Murphy, P. (eds) (1999) Curriculum in Context: A Reader, London, Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd, The Open University
Sloboda, J., Davidson, J. and Howe, J.A. (1999)’Is Everyone Musical?’ in Murphy, P.(eds) Learners, Learning and Assessment, London, U.K., Paul Chapman Publishing, The Open University.
Lia Metal is an EFL teacher, book reviewer and writer living in Corfu. She is an MAEd (Applied Linguistics) holder and she has been working in the ELT field for many years. She loves writing articles in a variety of genres for publications worldwide. For any questions or comments, you can contact her at email@example.com
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