Practice does not make perfect

Years of education research and doctrine has shown that top students in the country tend to do more practice papers than their middle or lower-performing counterparts. These studies show a direct relationship between practice and a student’s marks, concluding that the more practice a student does, the higher their marks become.

Does this mean that all your child needs to do is practise? A crucial part of achieving good outcomes, is to understand how the practice is done. The trouble with practise for practice’s sake was articulated by Michael Jordan when he said:

“If you have bad technique and you shoot a basketball a thousand times, all you are going to get good at is shooting really badly.”

Then how should students go about this in a way that will help them increase their marks?

Deliberate Practice:

The term ‘deliberate practice’ was first conceived by K. Anders Ericsson, who was a world-leading researcher and psychologist specialising in the field of high performance across various fields. Ericsson found that top performers didn’t excel because they were simply better than others, rather he found that these expert performances were an output of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice refers to a concept of practice that is purposeful and systematic, and done beyond one’s comfort zone. The distinguishing feature is the idea that there is a specific goal in improving performance.

Deliberate practice can be defined by these three characteristics:

  1. It is designed to enhance performance: Increasing one’s performance in any field is hard work at best and gruesome at worst. The most crucial element of deliberate practice is that it is designed to improve our skills one at a time. In the education context, we are not simply asking our students to do practice papers, but rather we are seeking to improve on one specific part of the students’ learning curve. The trouble most educators have with honing in on this is that this takes time to nurture and develop. Our education philosophy teaches our students that enhanced performance takes time and improving on results is a matter of tenaciously practising the targeted areas.

  2. Practice is made up of tasks that can be done repeatedly: Once we have identified our students’ learning curve, it is important to find a set of tasks that can be done repeatedly. This has multiple benefits such as being able to evaluate whether the practice actually improves students’ performance. More importantly, doing the tasks repeatedly allows students to develop muscle memory. Just like a golfer practicing aspects of their swing, a student’s constant conditioning and repetition will eventually become subconscious. This doesn’t mean doing the same set of questions over and over again, but rather, practicing the application of the concepts in various scenarios.

  3. Practice has clear outcomes: Like any task, the final characteristic of deliberate practice is defining a clear outcome or goal. Without this, students, parents and teachers will have no way of ascertaining whether improvement has been made, thus making the practice entirely redundant. Beyond setting clear expectations and evaluating performance, having clear outcomes and goals help to nurture the motivation of students to actually complete the task at hand.

In order for deliberate practice to be effective, immediate feedback is crucial as it encourages students to reflect on their progress and whether they are performing the task correctly. By capturing the timely feedback, students are able to better determine whether or not they have improved. Regardless of the type of feedback given, there are two significant outcomes to the function of feedback:

  1. Celebrating your small wins: Upon a successful outcome to deliberate practice, it is important to always celebrate the small wins which gives students a sense of accomplishment and students feel acknowledged for doing their efforts and achievements.

  2. Reviewing what didn’t work: On the contrary, should the outcome of performance have little to no positive impact, an opportunity is created for students to address and consult areas for improvement in their plan with an educator.

As noted in our article “The power of feedback”, feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement. And by embracing the use of deliberate feedback, we at EX Learning can truly equip students with the arsenal to propel them into education excellence.

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