Practice Perfect

practice-perfect

The book is not designed solely for teachers; it offers practical advice on improvement for people in all walks of life. However the tips can be applied by teachers in two ways; ideas for how teachers can improve their own pedagogy, and ways that students can coach their students in improving their examination performance. The author’s claim that the aim of the book is to engage the dream of better. They claim that  deliberately engineered and designed practice can revolutionise the most important endeavours, however frequently practice is not used to the best effect.

The book refers to Doug Lemov’s previous book ‘Teach like a Champion’ [a book that I have not read but will now]; and talks about characteristics of high performing teachers. The authors state that ‘Great teachers obsessed on things like how efficiently they used time in the classroom.’ …[they also had] questions which were artful; their assignments, demanding – but there was a clear tendency among positive outliers to see the power of the humdrum, the everyday. He talks about teachers rehearsing how they ask questions, how they start lessons, and also how they would deal with disruption. He gives case studies of teachers practicing non-verbal ways of dealing with students disruption and anticipating the response. There are examples of teachers spending 10 minutes a day to improve their questioning and responding to questions. This allowed teachers to then concentrate on the nuances of student answers and other aspects of teaching.

The authors state that outside the world of professional athletics it is rare for professionals to practice. The premise of the book is that all people can use practice to improve.However it is important that it is done correctly, as we can work hard without getting very far. The book states “it is not just enough to be busy”.

The author has put together 42 rules which can be used to improve practice; I have shared some of the rules below:

Rule 1: Encode Success

Practice makes permanent, It is important to practice doing the right thing; though it is important that practice is pitched at the correct level. Practice that is pitched at the wrong level is not useful as people the practice failing.Practice activities should be engineered so the success rate is reliably high.

Rule 2: Practice the 20

80% of results come from 20% of the ‘things’; it is important to practice the things that matter. This requires more time to be spent on planning, but this can be done in advance.

Rule 3: Let the mind follow the body

Learn skills to the way to autonomy; that way the skills can be used automatically. If skills are practised enough they will become second nature and used without thinking.

Rule 4: Unlock Creativity …. With Repetition

Repetition is often termed ‘drill and kill’ – the opposite of higher order thinking and creativity. However creativity often comes about because the mind has been set free as the basics are now second nature.

Rule 5: Replace your Purpose (with an objective)

Vague ideas of a “purpose” should replaced with a manageable and measurable objective that is made ahead of practice and gives guidance. This allows progress to be measured.

Rule 10: Isolate the Skill

If you attempt to practice too much at once the results will be mixed. Practice the skill in isolation until the learner has mastered it.

Rule 11: Name it

Name each skill or technique you practice; use this vocabulary, ask others to name them and then ensure those names are used correctly.

Rule 14: Make Each Minute Matter

Identify areas in which time is wasted; and create remedies to ensure all time is fully utilised; and create those remedies into routines.

Rule 16: Call your Shots & Rule 17: Make Models Believable

Before modelling something, explain what you are looking for. In addition the context that things are modelled in should be as similar as possible to context in which the learner must perform.

Rule 19: Insist they “Walk this Way”

I found this interesting, as frequently people try to put their own personal touch on things. However the authors argue that it is best to ensure that  people directly imitate the model.

Rule 20: Model Skinny Parts

Model complex skills one step at a time rather than demonstrating complex skills in their entirity.

Rule 23-30 Focus on Feedback (I have attempted to summarise the feedback section rather than dealing with each rule individually)

  • Get people to commit to using feedback, discuss when the feedback will but into action and build a culture of accountability.
  • Build a culture of people getting better at using feedback by doing it a lot.
  • Instead of reflecting on feedback get participants to apply the feedback first and then reflect.
  • Shorten the feedback loop and give feedback straight away – I think when considering lesson observations this may mean giving feedback at the end of the lesson even if it is not fully formed / written up.
  • Highlight what people do right as well as what they do wrong.
  • Limit the amount of feedback given so it is not overwhelming.
  • When people get multiple sources of feedback track the feedback so what people hear is consistent and not overwhelming – a really important one for schools!
  • When giving feedback don’t use “don’t” ; instead focus on telling participants how to succeed.
  • Lock in feedback, when giving feedback: 1. Ask recipients to summarise what they heard you say; 2. Ask recipients to prioritise the most important parts of the feedback; 3. Ask recipients to identify the next action they are going to take.

Rule 31 – 37 Creating a culture of practice

The final section of the book looks at how to create a culture of practice within an organisation. There are a number of suggestions; they create a fine line between accepting errors and ensuring errors are not minimised or ignored. They need to ensure that the barriers to practice are knocked down and anticipate some people will resist practice.

Some other elements are:

  • Utilise friendly and positive competition.
  • As the leader be willing to model and engage in practice.
  • As a leader ask for feedback on your own practice.
  • Allow team members to self-identify particular skills and areas of growth they want to focus on.
  • Normalise praise that supports good practice; actions not traits.
  • Create systems of recognition.

Post-Practice

The last section looks at how to make new skills stick.

  • If a particular skills are going to be evaluated; practice those skills first.
  • Use the names of skills to discuss skills post practice to keep them alive.
  • Reward hard work and communicate a sense of urgency when improvement is necessary.

The conclusion gives practical advice on how to implement some of the skills. I strongly recommend reading this book as it is relevant to all walks of life and walks the fine balance between theory and practice successfully.