Wednesday, September 16, 2009

10,000 Hours

What English teacher has not received a link to Nancie Atwell's video-recorded response to the NY Times article of August 30 about reading workshop? Either forwarded directly by a colleague, mentioned in a professional e-newsletter, or referenced in an edu-blog, the video has gone what passes for viral in our little online community.

I confess that I have watched it twice already. I'm all about Atwell-- plus, I've been to her school, and I've actually seen those bookcases behind her. (An aside... take a look at the cover of the second edition of In the Middle. Mm hmm... same white book shelves, just filled with quality literature.) Nancie makes a great argument on the video; her reasoning is clear and reassuring, and it will resonate with anyone who's struggled to create an effective language arts program lately. We're lucky to have her as such a rational voice for our profession.

Beyond her defense of "the audacity of kids choosing their own reading," it's her Malcolm Gladwell reference that I've been pondering today. In Outliers, he posits that to really achieve mastery of something, it takes 10,000 hours of practice. Atwell, of course, mentioned it in terms of reading fluency, but I got to thinking about teaching. The basic calculation for teaching time is 7.5 hours a day at 180 days per year. At that rate, with no absences, you can put in your 10,000 hours in about seven and a half years.

Teaching is a complex task, though, and so, with that in mind, I tried to break my time down into student contact hours, meeting hours, and planning and professional development hours. When I look at the numbers that way, I figure I probably hit 10,000 instructional hours sometime at the end of last year, my sixteenth. Mastery? Expertise? Maybe a little.

I have a feeling that Gladwell was referring to more than simply logging your hours at a given task. Diligence alone is not enough; passion and engagement are reliable indicators of the quality of one's practice. As teachers we know this to be true of our students and ourselves; after all, there's more to Nancie Atwell than just 10,000 hours.

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