Practice is something most of us take for granted as part of the learning process yet as a process unto itself few of us think about how to get the most out of practice to learn quickly and efficiently.
Luckily there is an excellent new book by teachers Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi called Practice Perfect, 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.
Here is a look at what the this book has to offer and why we can learn more efficiently by changing the ways we use and think about practice.
- Practice and Perfection are Different for Everyone
Practice means many different things to different people. Some people practice long enough to be proficient at something while others are determined to practice until they have mastery of a subject. Real mastery of anything, a new language, a new sport or a new subject comes when the process of using the skill becomes effortless and requires little or no thought. Once the topic is mastered there is no longer a need to practice and the skill can be used. Until this point of complete understanding practice can be used to improve and improve.
Don’t go to sleep! One of the things that separate Practice Perfect from many other books about learning is that the authors acknowledge both the importance of practice and the fact that practice is under-appreciated and boring to many students. To quote Practice Perfect: “Generally seen as mundane and humdrum, poorly used and much maligned, or too familiar to be interesting, practice is often considered unworthy of deep sustained refection and precise engineering.”
- Tell that to Yo-Yo Ma
This is something that parents and educators need to think more about in conjunction with teaching. How children react when faced with practice is somewhat cultural. According to one study comparing Japanese and American students, Japanese students persevered much longer and harder when faced with a difficult task. The study attributed much of this to the Japanese attitude towards struggle. In Japan struggle, associated with practice is viewed as a common part of learning and it is something to be worked through rather than avoided. While not pleasant there isn’t any negative stigma attached to having to struggle to learn a new task. The study concluded that it was this attitude towards practice and struggle that made it easier for the Japanese students to persevere. In other words, their attitude towards struggle made them more likely to continue with practice until they had mastered a new task.
The techniques laid out in Practice Perfect take a more comprehensive approach. Rather than looking at struggle as part of a necessary part of learning the authors take the position that struggle reflects a poor presentation of tasks. According to Practice Perfect new tasks should be kept to the level of challenging rather than difficult in order to AVOID struggle. Complexity is added as a student masters simple steps. In this way students and teachers can largely avoid much of the frustration related to learning and practice. Practice Perfect deals with the psychological barriers presented by practice and struggle. The authors then divide the book up into six main sections to help educators implement new thoughts and ways to practice that can be helpful for all kinds of learners.
- Tools for Practice
Here is a quick look at some of the most useful practice tools presented in this book. Rule #1 in Practice Perfect is to encode success. The idea is to make practice permanent rather than perfect. By this the authors mean that the goal of practice should be to do something right- again and again- until it becomes encoded and effortless. Once this level of mastery occurs the student can proceed to the next level of complexity. Furthermore, teachers are encouraged to correct bad practices quickly so that they do not become bad habits.
Interestingly, rule 31 seems to fly in the face of rule #1, encoding success. Rule 31 encourages teachers and mentors to normalize error. In other words- to accept mistakes. Normalizing error focuses on giving students the license to push beyond their normal performance by intentionally taking calculated risks to improve. According to the authors this combined with encoding success leads to higher levels of excellence and allows students and teachers to isolate regions of failure.
Another interesting insight in Practice Perfect is found in rule 37, praise the work. Most teachers are aware of the value of praise in the classroom. However, Practice Perfect suggests praising actions rather than traits to encourage further work by students.
One of the most important sections of this book comes at the end of the book in rules 38-42. These rules are geared towards post-practice and cementing new skills. These include strategies to couch rather than teach once skills have been learned and ways to develop strategies as a teacher to measure and encourage further success.
In summary, Practice Perfect is a book by teachers for just about anyone who wants to improve the effectiveness of practice. The book is well organized and easy to understand. It comes complete with sample practice activities, notes to further resources and a summary of the rules at the end of the book.
Lisa Pluth, PhD, is a researcher and writer for Our Campus Market the leading supplier of dorm room essentials in the United States.