The Practice Paradox
Anyone looking to develop and perfect a skill knows the purpose and value of practice. After all, PRACTICE makes PERFECT! Or so we are lead to believe . . .
Yet not all practice is effective practice. And there lies something quite paradoxical – practice itself is something to learn how to do: how to practice properly and effectively.
The phrase ‘deliberate practice’ has come to be used to describe practice that is designed with purpose and with an eye to the developmental milestones of improvement from ‘beginner’ onwards and towards being proven to be highly ‘skilled’.
The principles of practice and deliberate practice apply to any skill: to skills at school, at work, in the arts (e.g., music, painting), in sports (e.g., football, rugby, golf). Any skill that is targeted for improvement needs to be practiced . . . but practiced well. A lot of us know what it is like to practice and to see little or no improvement in our skill or with its ‘performance’!
Practicing ‘deliberately’ involves planning and execution and is very often a process that needs support – assistance from someone who knows the skill and the developmental process underlying the transition from beginner to expert. Feedback and its use in refining a skill is critical and again is something that is not only poorly understood but often difficult to gather and use without assistance.
Looking at professional golfers on a practice range, the use and value of technology is clear to see. The golfer, the caddy, and one or more coaches are studying the data from the tracking devices and trying to interpret the information and bring about improvement in the golfer’s skillset and performance.
Students taking exams can learn a lot from areas like golf where the refinement of feedback loops is being taken seriously and to high levels of purpose, relevance, and effect.
Experience suggests that exam takers struggle to get enough feedback on their development, on their studying and learning on the way to an exam. Experience also suggests that those taking ownership of looking for and using feedback – from teachers, from tests, from exams, from their own study practices – actually do better in exams. Practice – properly performed – can make towards ‘perfect’!
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