Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Intentional Practice

Kim Marshall, an education author and expert, wrote a summary about this recently published work around intentional and purposeful practice.  I thought you might appreciate it!

Practice Makes Perfect – But Only the Right Kind of Practice

            In this Education Next review of Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s new book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Daniel Willingham (University of Virginia) highlights the distinction the authors draw between merely repeating a process and deliberate practice. The old adage says that practice makes perfect – “But if practice is all there is to it, why has my typing improved so little in the last 40 years?” asks Willingham. “Even though I type every day, my typing is not really practicing, because I’m not purposefully or systematically trying to improve it. Given that I have not formally studied typing, I may even be reinforcing bad technique.”
            According to Ericsson and Pool, several key components are involved in making mere practice deliberate:
-    Evaluating what needs improvement;
-    Selecting one small aspect of the skill to work on;
-    Developing a strategy;
-    Evaluating the results of the revised performance;
-    Practicing a lot (perhaps 10,000 hours).
In this construct, talent is much less important, except perhaps in athletics, where physical attributes give some people a big advantage. But Ericsson and Pool argue that in most domains, innate ability is important only before people start practicing. “The kid with a high IQ will play better chess than the kid with a low IQ,” summarizes Willingham, “but only because neither knows much about chess. If they both practice, the influence of IQ will disappear, and whoever practices more will be the better player.”
            What are the implications of this book for schools? Clearly it’s helpful to get past the innate ability/intelligence paradigm, and the concept of deliberate practice has wide implications. For example, teachers may think students will learn collaboration skills if they’re assigned to do group projects. “But working in a group is simply experience,” says Willingham. “If you want students to become better group members, they need to practice being a group member. They must be explicitly taught how to work in groups, and that’s something few schools do.”
It’s also important to work on one skill at a time – for example, breaking down the process of writing a research paper into smaller tasks, each of which needs practice, feedback, and refinement: using a database to locate research; evaluating the relevance of sources; creating an annotated bibliography; writing a rough outline; writing a detailed outline; and then the four or five steps of writing the actual paper.
Ericsson and Pool’s book got Willingham thinking about teachers’ professional learning curve, which tends to flatten out after the first few years. Could the reason be the lack of deliberate practice – and the time to engage in that kind of systematic analysis of areas for improvement, practice, feedback, and more practice? In addition, says Willingham, “Practice is only possible if practitioners agree on who the experts are, so the goals of practice can be articulated. In addition, educators will need to define the sequence of subskills to be acquired on the way to expertise. Practitioners need to know what ‘once you’re mastered X, you move on to Y.’”

“When Practice Makes Perfect: What Everyone Can Learn from Top Performers” by Daniel Willingham in his review of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin, 2016), in Education Next, Winter 2016 (Vol. 17, #1, p. 80-81),

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