Being a musician and delving into mathematics, I am becoming more and more aware of the manner in which the way we do something, both literally and in the sense of mental approach, affects the cumulative results of any given activity.
We consider that we can do something, and so when we meet something that we are presently unable to, we say we can’t do it. “I can’t do vibrato…”, “I can’t see the solution to this maths problem…” These and infinite variations thereof, are commonplace assertions by students, it seems of every kind and level.
I have tried to cajole students into abandoning the word ‘can’t’ from their respective vocabularies. The result is initially a substitution; students find more inventive ways of telling themselves that they cannot do something. Then, the breakthrough; they get on with it, and stop faffing around with the quasi-poetic construction of phrases to the contraposition of ability, and instead accept that this thing they ‘can’t’ do they are going to try to do.
The next phase here begins, and we see Foucault’s “alembic of understanding” manifest itself; they crane their bodies and minds. Fidget. Squint. Reposition. The alchemy of technique has begun, and unless they are given the option to stop, the students persevere until the miraculous occurs; they CAN do it.
So, is success as simple as a change of approach?
Answer: No. But it bloody well helps.