I have been trying to consolidate my beliefs and understandings about practice the last few weeks. As the mother of a hockey player and two dancers I am all too familiar with the idea of practice in sport. In their activities my children have the opportunity to work on isolated skills repeatedly until they become fluid, efficient and second nature. Their coaches are constantly giving them feedback, modelling and helping them get the “feel” for their sport. These practiced skills are constantly being put into use…be it a game or a dance. It is in those game situations where I really see my kids light up. They love to play, perform and just plain have FUN!! In those moments all of the practice becomes worth it and it is in those moments they become reenergize for and reinvested in further practice.
It is with this notion of practice in my head that I began to explore what practice is in education. How it is like practice in sport? I do believe that practice is important in both sport and students learning, but I also believe that not all practice is created equal. Some practice can support learning, consolidate understanding and build confidence for students while other practice can frustrate, confuse and create a barrier for learning. Practice can make “perfect” or at least better but it can also make permanent…and if the practice isn’t effective we run the risk of making permanent misconceptions.
But what is “perfect” practice? Can “perfect” practice really exist? I do not think that “perfect” is an attainable goal but I do think that purposeful is. Purposeful practice implies that teachers and coaches have an aim…intent…goal…target for the practice they want students to engage in. They identify a student/player need, envision what success would look like and with those things in mind create a plan to support the learning with practice. Purposeful practice takes careful thinking into the what, how and why of the practice with the goal of furthering individual students’ learning in ways that are the most meaningful. It is more than just practice for practice sake, more than a stack of worksheets for all students to complete…it is practice with purpose, practice that is deliberate, powerful and focused. The thing that I think we as teachers need to remember and that coaches do so well, is to put the practice into the game. After all it is in the game where the FUN is.
As I continue to think about Purposeful Practice I am consolidating my beliefs into what it truly is in education. These beliefs are far from set in stone but are hopefully the start of a discussion.
My Purposeful Practice Beliefs:
- Students should practice what they understand. Practice without understanding can change the goal of the practice from fluidity of skills to simply getting to the end of the page to make the teacher happy.
- Practice should focused on supporting individual student learning challenges and enhancing strengths.
- Practice should be focused on progress and monitored constantly. If a student is not progressing then the practice needs to change.
- Practice can be and should be messy…we need to see where errors are occurring so that we can help.
- When students make mistakes (and they will) teachers need to be there to help them by offering support, feedback and additional instruction. We should use practice to inform instruction.
- Practice should be sustained over time. It is not a one time thing. In order for practice to become permanent students will need to move the learning into their long-term memory
- Students should be given opportunities to put their practice into authentic “game like” situation as often as possible. It is through the game that students can discover the purpose for the skills, transfer them to new situations and make connections.
- Practice can be cooperative and noisy. Students can learn from each other.