Research Bites: Purposeful Practice

12 July 2018

Author: Chris Runeckles

What does it mean?

Purposeful practice is practising at the edges of your capability.  It involves setting a clear goal, having several steps planned towards meeting that goal and getting regular feedback as you progress.

What does the evidence tell us?

“So here we have purposeful practice in a nutshell: Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation.”

  • Anders Ericsson, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

“Present new material in small steps, with student practice after each step.”

  • Barak Rosenshine, Principles of Instruction.

Furthermore, we should also consider continuing to practise even when we believe fluency has been achieved. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham estimates that, as a rule of thumb, students need to study a new concept for at least an additional 20% of the time it took them to master it to truly embed understanding and secure retention.  We need to guide and insist on this extra practice, as students are often a poor judge of their own fluency with a concept and will likely overestimate how much they will remember and underestimate how much they will forget.

How can teachers mobilise the evidence?

  • Devote more time in our lessons to student practice.
  • Ensure we have a good grip on students’ prior knowledge so we can push them gently out of their comfort zones.
  • Start with guided practice through modelling before moving on to independent practice.
  • Explicitly teach metacognitive skills to allow students to monitor and evaluate their practice.
Posted on 12 July 2018
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