Mastery (New York: Penguin Audio, 2012)

Thanks for reading installment #3…

In Mastery, author Robert Greene tells a series of vignettes about inventors, athletes, and celebrities to describe the 10,000-hour process of mastery. All math and science teachers (and their students) should read this book. Greene completely explained the frustration of helping struggling students that may seem incapable of learning. The problem is often that we are trying to teach a concept for which the proper foundation skills have not been cemented in the autonomic nervous system. If you’ve ever heard the expression, “it’s like riding a bike,” then read (or listen) to Robert Greene’s Mastery.

What resonated?

The author explains how new and challenging activities are processed in the frontal cortex. He relates how the process of skills acquisition requires a great deal of “band width.” Skills acquisition requires so much band width, in fact, that trying to learn anything new can be frustrating, often seemingly fruitless. Only after a skill is mastered does its storage place move to other parts of the brain where its recall becomes like “riding a bike.”

This resonated with my classroom math-teaching experiences. To me, Greene’s explanation of skills acquisition completely described what I see in the classroom. The educational culture of feeling good (as opposed to doing good) has resulted in the social promotion of many students prior to skills acquisition. When these students arrive in a high school math class, like algebra, their band width (i.e., frontal cortex) is tied up processing what were supposed to have been rudimentary skills. As a result, the acquisition of the conceptual is effectively blocked by the continuing process of still trying to acquire the concrete operational skills of grade school.

What else?

The other area of the book I see reflected in the classroom is when the apprentice tries to move on too fast without learning all he can from the master. Greene explains how the inability — or sometimes unwillingness — of a protege to fully submit to his mentor often slows the protege’s growth. While the hope of all good masters is for the apprentice to eventually become an even better craftsman, this will not happen if the apprentice wants to skips the blood, sweat, and tears of being a journeyman. Our instant-fix society tells American youth that they are special and can “hack” tried-and-true learning methods.

Although this is more prevalent than it should be in a classroom, it is often not the student’s fault. As I mentioned, so many erstwhile students are products of social promotion that the level of expectation is such that the “apprentice” student may not acquire the necessary foundation skills, yet still be promoted to “journeyman” student. In fact, I see many average to below-average students who fancy themselves as perspicaciously extraordinary.

The verdict?

Mastery is the first Robert Greene book that I have read/listened to. Fred Sanders narrates, and he is easy to understand, even at speed of 1.5X. This is nice as the book is listed as 16+ hours in length.

I give Mastery two thumbs up! It contains some of the best content I’ve consumed, and I read/listen to 2-3  books a week. There was no part of this book that I felt was slow-moving.  It delivers interesting, if not gripping, information that helped me not only identify peculiar classroom behaviors, but how to approach the behaviors and move my instruction into a whole new realm.

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