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Effective Practice Tips (excerpt from the book)

posted Nov 1, 2016, 11:42 AM by Judi Munday   [ updated Nov 2, 2016, 7:55 PM by Brandon M ]

Effective Practice

Practice is essential for mastery in almost every subject. It is through practicing and applying new learning in both familiar and novel contexts that the student can retain knowledge and apply it to gain understanding. Practice in academics has an objective similar to practicing individual music skills such as piano, violin, or voice. The teacher demonstrates a skill, and the student matches the teacher during the lesson and later continues practicing at home.

Research in the field of effective instruction recommends that practice should occur in graduated stages, with the teacher transferring more of the task to the student, as shown below.[1] This is called “guided practice.” Sometimes, a teacher simply teaches a lesson and expects the student to start doing practice problems on his own. Guided practice is different: the teacher demonstrates a new skill or presents new lesson content, and then as the student attempts a new skill he has an opportunity to work with the teacher. Gradually, as you provide just enough feedback to keep him on course, you allocate more of the task to the student. In effect, you are not asking the child to “jump off the deep end” and start working on his own before he is ready. Instead, you launch him gently into learning by providing the appropriate level of support. Gradually wean him from requiring your help, but only as he demonstrates he is developing mastery to perform the task on his own.

Guidelines for Providing Guided Practice

  1. First, you demonstrate (or model) how to do a new skill while your child observes.
  2. Next, work the problem along with the student. This is “guided practice.”
  3. Next, you start the task, but turn it over to the student to complete it. If he cannot finish independently, you step in and work it again with him.
  4. Continue this process, each time giving more of the task to the child as he is able.
  5. Let the student attempt the new skill independently. Choose the problems very carefully so it is likely he can succeed on his own.
  6. If the student falters, you model it again, and repeat the guided practice steps #1-5.
  7. Do not initiate instruction on a new skill until the student demonstrates mastery.[2]

There is an important benefit of asking your child to give frequent responses. His responses give you immediate feedback about whether he has learned new information correctly. Unless your child has a language-based learning disability, try asking him to repeat the main idea or demonstrate the steps of a new math skill. This allows you to see whether he truly understands the material and can recall it and use it. If your child struggles to put his ideas into words easily, allow him to give short answers or provide another option by which he can show what he knows. Maybe he can point to the answer in a book or on a picture.

[1] H. L. Swanson and M. Hoskyn (2001), Instructing Adolescents with Learning Disabilities: A Component and Composite Analysis,” Learning Disabilities Research & Practice 16:109–119.

[2] Barak Rosenshine and Robert Stevens (1986), “Teaching Functions,” in M. C. Wittrock (ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd edn.), New York: Macmillan, pp. 376-391; Barak Rosenshine (1997), op cit.