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Research School Network: Purposeful Practice and Practical Implications


Purposeful Practice and Practical Implications

by Durrington Research School
on the

Practice is an imperative element in the acquisition of learning something new. Practice is utilising, applying, enacting, thinking about, writing about or speaking about new knowledge and skills so that can be consolidated or enhanced. To learn how to do something students must have the opportunity to practice. Graham Nuthall, in The Hidden Lives of Learners, suggests students need to encounter something a minimum of three times to begin to fully understand it. Therefore, it is our job as teachers to give students opportunities to practise what is required of them in order to succeed in our settings.
Practice with Purpose is a systematic study which looks at the practical implications of deliberate practice: this can be found here.

This blog aims to summarise the key findings of the study and offer a few tips into implementing effective practice.

Deliberate practice is defined as practice that is purposeful and designed to maximise improvement. The five key principles of deliberate practice are outlined below along with the practical implications for each key principle:

Push beyond one’s comfort zone – deliberate practice requires presenting challenges that push students just beyond their current abilities.

• Teaching is challenging work; new teachers face significant challenges early in their teaching and are unlikely to learn the skills necessary to overcome these challenges if their learning is left to chance.
• Programmes can design practice experiences that new teachers are challenged through a purposeful trajectory throughout their preparation, with specific goals for what a beginning teacher should know and be able to do, and provide the support necessary to work through those challenges.

Work toward well-defined specific goals – deliberate practice requires setting goals that are well-defined, specific and measurable.

• Practice activities should focus on improving a particular aspect of teaching rather than working toward broad, general improvement.
• Goals should be sequenced, with basic skills and progressing to more sophisticated ones.
• Goals should be measurable where possible, and these measures should inform the choice of future goals.

Focus intently on practice activities – Deliberate practice requires significant level of focus; the practice involves conscious effort on the part of the students in order to improve.

• Opportunities to focus intently on practice may effectively occur outside of typical student teaching opportunities; two mechanisms for this type of practice are decompositions and approximations of teaching.
• A decomposition of teaching isolates a specific element of classroom practice for a new teacher to practice, such as focusing on transitions between activities within a lesson.
• An approximation of teaching imitates a classroom situation and provides opportunities for practice similar to an actual teaching experience – but with lower stakes.
Receive and respond to high-quality feedback – Deliberate practice requires providing high-quality feedback to the student and adjustment by the student in response to the feedback.

• Feedback should occur immediately or as soon as possible after practicing specific skill.
• Feedback should focus on specific features of a teachers work relative to a task or goal.
• After feedback is given, there should be opportunities to attempt a similar task involving the same skill again – and with adjustment by the student based on that feedback.

Develop a mental model of expertise – Deliberate practice both produces and relies on mental models and mental representations to guide decisions. These models allow practitioners to self-monitor performance to improve their performance.

• Teachers should have a clear understanding of how students learn that is based in part on principles of cognitive science.
• This knowledge should include how students understand new ideas retain information, solve problems, transfer their knowledge to new situations and find motivation to learn.
• Teachers should have a clear idea of how they will know students are learning, and compare evidence of student performance with their mental model of student learning.


There are many different ways to support purposeful practice, a few of which can be found here .

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