kitchen table math, the sequel: deliberate practice

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

deliberate practice

Debbie Stier just pointed me to this terrific passage on the nature of deliberate practice:
What separates experts from the rest of us is that they tend to engage in a very directed, highly focused routine, which Ericcson has labeled "deliberate practice." Having studied the best of the best in many different fields, he has found that top achievers tend to follow the same general pattern of development. They develop strategies for consciously keeping out of the autonomous stage while they practice by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented, and getting constant and immediate feedback on their performance. In other words, they force themselves to stay in the "cognitive phase."

Amateur musicians, for example, are more likely to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros are more likely to work through tedious exercises or focus on specific, difficult parts of pieces. The best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they've already mastered. Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
by Joshua Foer

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (pdf file)
K. Anders Ericsson
Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100, No. 3. 363-406


Daniel Ethier said...

Deliberate practice is fascinating stuff and I have been trying to incorporate it into my math teaching.

Giving odd problems so students can check their answers immediately (or even problems and telling them they need to check in with me before leaving).

Giving hard warm-up problems that are guaranteed to cause them trouble, and going around giving them immediate feedback on where they went astray.

This stuff works. Some of the averages on my tests this year are 5-10% higher than in any of the previous four years.

John said...

I've been banging on about Ericsson's work for ages. Ericsson, Charness, Feltovich and Hoffman produced The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance in 2006, since which time Malcolm Gladwell, Matthew Syed, Geoff Colvin and others have produced books on the enormous value of deliberate practice.
To be successful at any activity more complex than sucking a lollipop, you need lots of practice if you want to achieve proficiency.
The other essential element is expert tuition - a requirement that should be music to the ears of kitchen table math fans, of which of course I am one!
However, in order to be able to provide expert tuition, the tutor needs to be an expert (!) and know how to teach from simple to complex. This means teachers having an excellent knowledge of their subject, how to break it down into discrete parts, recombine the parts into a coherent whole and apply it. Which, it seems to me, is pretty much what Singapore maths does.
Would that we applied the same principles to other areas of the curriculum, starting with the teaching of reading and spelling.