Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Practise DOES NOT Make Perfect

I don't know about you but if I hear practise makes perfect one more time I may just scream.  Let's be clear about this: practice makes PERMANENT, not perfect.  Perfection - whatever that is - is harder to achieve.  There are so many reasons for this.

The one that I'm focussing on with my class at the moment is that doing something the wrong (or unhelpful) way  REPEATEDLY will embed that practice in the brain and make it habit. Everyone can think of examples of this: whether spelling a word incorrectly or leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor.  The more we do it, the more it becomes a habit.   Practise in this case does NOT make perfect but permanent.

So what are we learning does 'make perfect'? Practise WITH feedback and coaching.

If we think about the example of spelling a word incorrectly: in our room I don't correct spelling in student work but I do highlight incorrect spelling; so the student will notice the highlighted word and  add it to their spelling error analysis bank (SEAB) along with the correct spelling. Students independently and collaboratively look for patterns in their SEAB and choose their focus rules/patterns/words for their spelling capacity matrix. They work through this capacity matrix with constant feedback from each other, me and in many cases their parents. And the result? An individualised spelling program that has high engagement, regular feedback and improved spelling across all writing.

It works. Sure, there's practise in there, but each time we identify something we need to improve there's feedback and coaching. So why does society persist with the notion that practise makes perfect?  Is it common sense - it just makes sense that the more we do something the better we'll get? I'd counter that in most cases where this does work we are receiving subconscious or indirect feedback.

When I reflect on how this applies in my own life, I don't have to look very far.  This month I've been participating in #28daysofwriting which has seen me writing (nearly) every day.  Has practising (blogging) more  made me better at it? No.  You know what I have improved though? Coming up with blog ideas BECAUSE of my stats.  I've been tracking my stats and can see which topics attract more readers. (Not that I write solely to attract readers.) I'm also better at labelling my posts, following direct feedback about how I was doing it.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain safe and supportive learning environments
Standard 5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community


  1. This resonates in a very simple way! Master J again for years 2 and 5 have been backwards. He's working on his 5 times tables solidly for the last week and we are making him correct his 5s every single time (he's getting very frustrated) but at last it's sunk in!

    The last two days every 5 and 2 has been perfect!!!

    (Now that I've said this they will be all wrong tonight)

    1. Perfect example! The reason it's been so hard for him to change is because he's practised it so often that it's hardwired in his brain. Your feedback is helping him to rewire his brain. Go you! Well done. That's brilliant. Tell Master J that I'm also very impressed with his efforts.
      Thanks for reading.