Thursday, December 12, 2013

Aptitude -v- Ability

A couple of years ago I read The Element by Sir Ken Robinson, recently I've started reading his follow up book Finding Your Element which I got from the bookshelf outside our R&D office.  Today I was chatting with our librarian about something I'd read in the book about the difference between aptitude and ability and how important it is for teachers to understand this difference.  Sir Ken describes aptitudes as "part of your raw potential" and writes that to realize your potential "you need to apply and refine them."  Just because you have the potential to do something or to be good at something, doesn't mean that this will automatically happen:  your abilities "often require a considerable amount of education and apprenticeship to develop."  The idea behind the latest book is that you need to find your natural talents and then practice them - being in your Element requires both aptitude and ability.

I'm interested in the idea of aptitude and how we might know what our potential is if this has never been explored or encouraged.  Perhaps, for example, given the right circumstances I could have discovered talents that could have been developed in art or music, subjects which at school were not valued very highly.  Readers of this blog will know that at one point at university I did an aptitude test for the company Control Data which led to me being offered training in computer programming - something I had never considered at all and something that I immediately rejected as not being me (how ironic that many years later I ended up as a computer teacher - the test obviously picked up an aptitude that I had no idea that I had, and because of that I never bothered to develop it).

Sir Ken writes that we need to expose ourselves to new experiences - we never know which of these might be the ones that will eventually change our lives or show up aptitudes that we never knew we had because the opportunity to discover and explore them just never arose.  As teachers I think we need to take this message to heart too:  we need to expose our students to many different experiences.  We need to show young people the possibilities.  We need to make sure we are not the sort of teachers who give students the hidden message that they don't have the aptitude for something because we are teaching it to them in a way that conflicts with how they learn.

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc

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