Making deliberate practice work

Previously, I have written about the need to turn ideas about deliberate practice as part of CPD into firm actions. I have, in the last week, attempted to make this work in two different situations, with varied success. This post is my analysis of why one situation worked better than the other.

The first session I tried out was for a group of 30-40 teachers and head teachers. It was part of a training day in Talk for Writing, specifically around developing writers’ toolkits with children, which I have written about here. After a demonstration of a couple of variations of how it could be done, there was some discussion about what the teacher actually does to generate a writers’ toolkit with children. This was fine and understood well by the delegates, so the next stage of the plan was to set up some deliberate practice, which I explained using the following model.

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And it didn’t work. I can think of a few reasons. In Doug Lemov’s book, Practice Perfect, his rule number 24 is: Apply first, then reflect. The delegates, either through having a lot to talk about following what they had seen and heard, or through avoidance of potentially awkward acting in role, did a lot of reflecting. Having started the process in earnest, the first moment that arose that caused a discussion was grabbed and this disrupted the intended deliberate practice. Alas, I was not skilful enough to redirect such a large group and the moment passed. Plus it was lunchtime.

Lesson learned. It’s very difficult to keep a large group focused on deliberate practice.

I had an altogether different opportunity to try out setting up some deliberate practice later in the week. Having observed a colleague’s maths lesson (Year 1, division), I selected an aspect of what the teacher did, that if tweaked, could have been great. It was to do with explicitly addressing a common misconception. Here’s what I wrote as a plan:

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I talked through each part with the teacher and asked them to talk through each bit, writing / drawing on a prepared IWB file as necessary. When the teacher presented effectively, I said so and asked them to repeat that bit. When the teacher presented something ineffectively, I referred to my plan, suggested or modelled an improvement, then they did that bit again. Some bits worked better than others. I thought I knew the content very well, but clearly not well enough for all the subtleties of what the teacher could have said. As such, my feedback could have been clearer at points.

Next, I’ll find 5 minutes a couple of times over the next week to run that practice drill again. Then, the teacher will have a go with a small group of children, with me coaching and offering live advice which can be acted upon immediately. Finally, having experienced the process, I intend to use that teacher in a larger group with other colleagues who teach the same year group, getting then to deliberately practise the same explanation frequently over a period of time then applying to their own classes.

So, my advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to start working with one person, in order to manage distractions. Keep the content simple and plan for the most common responses that would need feedback.

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