Is There such Thing as a Natural Student?

Perfect Student

Does the naturally perfect student exist or is it something we can all learn?

As educators we often hear comments like “I can’t write” or “I’m bad at maths” which suggest that we are born being either good or bad at writing or maths.  Indeed, much of the way we praise children in the classroom supports this notion.  We praise results rather than practice.  Studies show however, that we should really focus more on practice and less on results (because in the long run, better practice will mean significantly better results).

Malcom Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers and titled one of the chapters “The 10,000 Hour Rule”.  He argued that people become experts in their field after 10,000 hours of practice.  He noted many famous people/groups (Bill Gates, The Beatles, and sports personalities) to highlight this rule.

The 10,000-hours concept can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.

It highlighted the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin, who had studied the practice habits of violin students in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.


All had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age 20, the elite performers had averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only done 4,000 hours of practice.

The psychologists didn’t see any naturally gifted performers emerge and this surprised them. If natural talent had played a role it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect gifted performers to emerge after, say, 5,000 hours.

Anders Ericsson concluded that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”.

While many of us do not have 10,000 hours (roughly 10 years of intense practice) to spend improving our academic work, what this does highlight is that none of us are really born good or bad at anything.  Anders Ericsson argues instead that while natural talent does play a role in how good or bad we are at something, it is how often and how well we practice that make the difference.  Rather than focussing on getting through a paper, focus on how to write well.  Not sure how to do that?  Come to one of our writing courses!

From the BBC:

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