Plentiful Practice

By Robert Holl, Cofounder

In my previous post, I addressed the importance of high-quality direct instruction and its components. In this post, I conclude our series on effect size and teacher clarity by discussing the importance of practice.

Regardless of what a student is being taught, practice is essential to mastery. Whether a student is learning to play the piano, to hit a tennis ball, or to read, performance can only be improved through plentiful practice. A quality lesson on any skill must be followed by sufficient practice to ensure each student can demonstrate proficiency with that skill.

Essential to Success

Malcom Gladwell’s popular book Outliers places practice at the base of his “success pyramid,” with mastery resulting from 10,000 hours of practice. However, not just any practice will do. True success requires smart, persistent practice.

Practice should be plentiful and structured with a gradual release of responsibility to the student. It should also provide opportunities to revisit and apply previously learned skills whenever possible.

Unique to Each Student

When teachers plan practice opportunities, they must recognize that some students will require more practice than others before mastering a skill. It is also crucial to set clear expectations, and to make learning visible by helping students know what success looks like.

Two Models of Practice

  • Here’s one model of practice to consider: after teachers introduce and model a skill using direct instruction, students are placed in small groups for teacher-guided practice on the skill, providing opportunities for collaboration, speaking, and listening, while also promoting social emotional learning. By guiding and monitoring small-group practice, teachers are able to evaluate each student’s readiness for independent practice, when they’ll have an opportunity to demonstrate their individual mastery of the skill.
  • Another model of practice is known as spaced practice. Rather than assigning students a long session of repeated practice on a skill, practice is distributed into several shorter sessions over a longer period of time. Spaced practice can be very successful, because it gives students’ minds time to form connections between ideas and implantation, allowing long-term memories to form.

In the end, proof of mastery occurs by consistently demonstrating proficiency with the newly acquired skill, along with other previously acquired skills, on a multi-task activity.

Successful Students

Monitoring student performance on practice activities will continually inform teachers as to whether more instruction and practice are needed. In a competency-based learning environment, students can only advance after demonstrating competency in the skills they’ve been taught. Using practice effectively can accomplish this outcome even without formal assessment. The goal, as always, is for our schools to produce successful, well-educated students.

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