Does practice make perfect? Probably not. But how much can it help you get better? Does the domain that you are practicing in make a difference? For example, how much difference does it make in sport? Or music? Or crucially, in education?
What is Deliberate Practice?
Deliberate Practice involves students taking part in structured and purposeful behaviours under the guidance of a teacher (or coach) to improve their ability.
This means regularly communicating with your students to evaluate their progress and discussing the specific activities they can do to advance their learning. It is also important that students know what progress looks like, so they know exactly what they’re working towards. Another key aspect of successful Deliberate Practice is receiving feedback so students can assess whether they have achieved their goals.
This makes Deliberate Practice distinct from other approaches such as Independent Practice (studying without seeking external feedback or guidance) or Naïve Practice (studying without the main goal to improve).
What does the research say about Deliberate Practice?
A meta-analysis that looked at Deliberate Practice in a variety of contexts, including education, found a positive correlation between it and performance. Specifically, Deliberate Practice was found to be more effective than Naïve Practice, showing that practising with the goal to improve matters for achievement.
It is worth noting that other research has found the impact of Deliberate Practice on education being far lower (4%) than that of other areas, such as sport (18%), music (21%) and games (26%). For example, research looking at chess players found that those who spent more time with a coach achieved higher chess ratings (i.e., a number representing how good they are at chess) than those who spent less time. It is notable that players who engaged with a coach also spent a lot of time practising on their own, most likely to carry out the tasks that their coach assigned to them.
How Deliberate Practice can help your students improve
So, we can see from the research that learning with a purpose under the guidance of a teacher can lead to successful outcomes, but how does it directly benefit your students? Here are a few ways…
Deliberate Practice motivates students
When you regularly advise your students on what they can do to improve, they can better aim toward achieving their short-term goals which can make their long-term goals feel more realistic and achievable. As an interesting aside, it is worth wondering how this finding apparently conflicts with the ‘goal free effect’ from Cognitive Load Theory (but that debate is probably for another blog on another day)
Also, with your support, your students are more likely to be successful in their studies. In turn, this success will motivate them to keep on applying effective study techniques – then the cycle continues!
Deliberate Practice promotes a Growth Mindset
The process of giving your students feedback is an essential part of Deliberate Practice. When they are willing to receive it and act upon it, this helps them develop a Growth Mindset, meaning that they are aware that their intelligence is malleable and not fixed.
Deliberate Practice boosts memory
Deliberate Practice involves students repeating a task until they master the content. For students, this is likely to involve a form of Retrieval Practice, which requires them to generate an answer to a question to aid their memory of it. When students can combine Retrieval Practice with Spacing, by recalling content at regular intervals, this knowledge will stick with them for the long term.
Deliberate Practice inspires independent learning
One of the ultimate desires of educators is to develop independent learners, which is easier said than done. Thankfully, Deliberate Practice makes this easier to achieve, because your students can engage in effective revision techniques in their own time and receive immediate feedback.
For example, if your students study with flashcards, they get immediate feedback by seeing if their response aligns with what’s written down. As a result, they can self-reflect on what went well and what they could do to improve their understanding.
Deliberate Practice is a beneficial tool for helping your students to transform their attitudes toward learning as well as help them to achieve their academic goals. Its impact in education may be a bit more limited compared to other areas, but with the potential gains available it is certainly something worth considering.
Ensuring it is focused, effortful and with corrective feedback provided helps give students the best chance of utilising the power of Deliberate Practice.