Monday, June 27, 2016

Peak Performance

I'm still thinking about peak performance and how all of it relates back to acquiring and improving our knitting skills. I posted earlier here about the book Peak. Yes, these are the things I ponder and I hope they make me a better teacher.

The writers listed some things that were likely to lead people to higher levels of performance. Interestingly, all are things I see happening in the knitting world. The list included that the skill often started as play. The individual received praise and encouragement as they learned more. That curiosity is a factor, I think we see that expressed by the technique junkies. Not surprisingly, there is often social time spent with people who share the same interest. Many students find role models. Sometimes they compete with others or themselves to improve. It's common to take lessons and engage in deliberate practice. Knitters develop habits which support their ongoing improvement. 

One of the most fascinating concepts to me in the book was the discussion of skills versus knowledge. It refers to what you can do versus what you know. Knowledge is considered to be facts, concepts and rules which go into long term memory. However when you try to use knowledge, short term memory and attention limitations get in the way of performance. The way to get around this limitation is by making the information part of a mental representation. Then all the knowledge becomes part of an interconnected pattern. This provides context and meaning. By trying, failing, revising and repeating the mental representation is formed. So to engage in deliberate practice we need to plan for what we want to be able to do not what we should know. When we are learning we need to break down the process into steps. Then master one at a time, while working towards excellence. The concept of mental representations works partially through what known as chunking to get around short term memory limitation. As in reading, we go from letters to words to sentences. You can't remember every letter in a sentence instantly but we remember many whole sentences as a single unit. You could however then focus in on individual words and letters. The sentence has created a high level, big picture view. So the mental representation is a structure which corresponds to an object or an idea or a collection of information. The mental representations of knitting are what's required to control your hands movements to produce stitches. These representations are used to respond quickly and accurately in specific situations. 

Interestingly not all experts can break down the steps verbally. Often when one knitter shows another knitter a technique we need to demonstrate it first to be able to verbalize it. I know right now you can instantly divide knit stitches into knit, purl, yarn over, and cable but you couldn't when you first started knitting. Do you remember struggling to identify garter versus reverse stocking stitch? 

When developing any new skill, comprehension comes slowly in the beginning. As you progress, the more you know, the more you will understand. More complex skills can be understood because you've already developed a mental representation of the underlying information. If you started to try to learn a more complex skill such as entrelac, brioche or steeks right after learning garter stitch, the information would seem random. You would be unable to use it at that point. Interesting isn't it?

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