kitchen table math, the sequel: Doug Lemov has a new book out

Friday, July 19, 2013

Doug Lemov has a new book out

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

For several years now, when I think of the public schools, the first issue that springs to mind is the stark absence of any mention or consideration of the need for practice. In the 14 years we've had kids in our local schools, I don't believe I've ever heard an administrator use the word 'practice' in any context other than 'football practice' or 'basketball practice,' etc.

When the subject is academics, the word is always 'understand.' Students will 'understand.' Not practice.

That's a problem because although class time is all about understanding, the tests are about remembering: students are tested on what they know. Which means students have to practice the content taught in the classes, but the school doesn't worry about providing effective practice. Teachers give homework, but no one collects or corrects the homework, and no one asks whether the homework actually works. Does the assigned homework increase knowledge? Nobody knows, and nobody asks. Practice is not a topic of conversation. At least not within my hearing.

Naturally under this system (Teach, test, and hope for the best), parents end up hiring a lot of tutors --- but tutors can't really provide effective practice regimens, either. (Even if a tutor would like to provide a practice regimen, parents don't need a whole new set of homework-from-thetutor to deal with.)

So the core requirement of all learning -- practice -- is left to the kids.

Let's just hope they're following the literature.


SteveH said...

This book seems to be mostly about sports and physical activities, such as giving a presentation or rehearsing for a special situation. I've mentioned before that I've seen parents, who LOVE skill practice in sports, turn all sorts of funny when it comes to academics. Is there a difference? I say no, but many say yes.

Another key issue is whether something is optional or not. Sports, music, and dance are optional, but math isn't. Some don't like the idea of separation of kids in academics, but it does happen by high school. Is there something special about K-8 where biologically, it's not OK to separate kids?

I think it's a fundamental difference in philosophy. Many educators use critical thinking and understanding as some sort of magical elixir to avoid the hard work of practice. They separate "rote" skills from understanding. This makes it easier for them to isolate areas like sports, music, and dance. Thinking is special and they love the idea that thinking and understanding drives all skills.

That's hogwash. It's superficially pleasing, but it doesn't pass the sniff test. In math, all you have to do is to look at those who are properly prepared for STEM careers. How did they get there? They got there with direct teaching, proper textbooks, and nightly individual homework.

I will also quibble with one of the "myths" offered in the book.

"Myth 1: Practice to improve your weaknesses. Not true. You should in fact focus on practicing strengths. You’ll get stronger results this way. "

Nope. A mistake is like gold. They should be cherished in the sense that they are a tangible thing you can work on to improve. You don't want to just practice the things you are good at.

While success breeds success, Much depends on careful practice and having a very good teacher, coach, or mentor. I've seen specific issues with my son in music. Many assume that passion will get the job done; that if you are not getting the job done, then you just don't have the proper passion. I call it a passion Catch 22. It reflects how a teacher or coach deals with success. Does the teacher wait for the passion, or does the teacher help create it. Many think that it's a completely internal thing, but I disagree. Success breeds passion, but if the teacher is not part of that cycle, then the student get damned for not wanting it enough; not having the appropriate passion.

Is success a natural outcome of passion? Not in the real world. One can have a passion for a sport or subject, but when you add in the competition for sports or jobs, that passion could all but disappear, or just not get the job done. In a story I've told before, my son's piano teacher told him after a competition years ago that he was trying to have too much fun "down here", and he held his hand low. "If you work really hard, you will have much more fun up here.", and he held his hand high.

In any case, success, passion, and understanding are driven from the bottom up with skills; not the top down with vague ideas of critical thinking and understanding. There is little that is "natural" about success or passion.

momof4 said...

Yes. Learning to juggle a soccer ball is excruciatingly frustrating, at first - and almost as painful to observe. It takes a LOT of practice to get to be able to juggle 5 times successfully,and weak players are likely never to learn, but the eventual progression is geometric. "All of a sudden" (perhaps after 10 hours or more), the kid is regularly doing 10, then 20, etc. It's not a skill used on the field, during a game, which makes it less "fun" to learn, but it's necessary to develop a feel for the ball; to create the proper "touch", to be able to control the ball with a single touch (while running) and to be able to control the ball without looking at it. Only strong players ever persist enough to get to that level, and they'll never be strong players without it - just walk along while flipping the ball from one foot to another, foot to knee, foot to head etc - once that's learned, it's just automatic to do it while hanging around in the vicinity of a ball. It just takes years and uncounted hours of practice to get there.

Jen said...

""Myth 1: Practice to improve your weaknesses. Not true. You should in fact focus on practicing strengths. You’ll get stronger results this way. "

Nope. A mistake is like gold. They should be cherished in the sense that they are a tangible thing you can work on to improve. You don't want to just practice the things you are good at."

Have you read the book? This point isn't speaking about mistakes. It's talking about choosing how and where to practice most successfully. While there are lots of analogies to sports, it's more in the service of describing good and bad practice.

For instance, one point made is that scrimmages are not the most effective way to spend large parts of practice time in sports. Better is to spend most of the time on highly focused drills based on specific skills.

The analogy would be to spend less time as a class or on homework on learning "how to problem solve" and the steps to "problem solving" and more time on practicing the individual skills that lead to those problems.

Allan Folz said...

That's pretty interesting... for our math apps, from practically day one, we made a conscious and considered decision to call what they do practice. We bill our apps as math practice.

They aren't tests, quizzes, games, tutorials (yet), or anything else... they're practice. I didn't realize we part of a vanguard. :)