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The role of professional reading in deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is practice that has specific goals for improvement, repetition, and feedback to ensure that the goal is met and that there is a measured improvement in performance. When applied to teaching this process naturally leads to a focus on classroom practice. But an often overlooked aspect of this process is the need for teachers to engage in professional readings that relate to these goals and help provide the “new” to what is practiced and sought to be improved upon.

Engaging in professional readings is something that teachers often do not have time for. We are all pressed for time and find it difficult to complete all our administrative tasks let alone find time to read books that require us to focus and learn. The process of reading quality articles, books or journals is draining on our already weary brains and too often we prefer Netflix and “down time” to learning. BUT professional readings are a must if you or I are going to improve as teachers.

The role of professional reading

Professional readings include any reading that relates to education and has a quality in its foundation that usually derives from research or extended experience and reflections. This can include blog posts (provided the author is reputable), journals, academic books, books focusing on practical applications, fact sheets, presentation notes, and much more. Personally, I love reading books or listening to Audiobooks, I find that this provides greater depth to enough breadth for the learning to be readily useful.

Engaging in professional readings is useful in many ways. Firstly, it allows us to stay relatively up-to-date with our knowledge of pedagogy. Often I chat with teachers who haven’t read anything since they studied at University or think that the books have nothing to say about actual practice and therefore avoid them. But these are both mistakes. Today there are numerous quality books that are based on solid research and have a lot of practical applications that could possibly revolutionise your classroom. Quality books such as Hattie and Yates Visible Learning and the Science of How People Learn and William Embedded Formative Assessment are just two such examples. These kinds of books show us what works, what research and science is currently telling us about the way students learn, and how we can help them learn in our classrooms. 

Professional reading also provides us with great ideas for us to try out in our classrooms or in our general practices that could improve what we do in our lessons. These books are often easier to read, requiring less in-depth focus and deciphering, but at the same time provide great actionable steps to improve our lessons. These books are not necessarily void of evidence or research, they just have a different focus and are written for the perspective of classroom practice. A few examples include Clark and Avrith's The Google Infused Classroom, MacKenzie Dive Into Inquiry, or Bell Dynamic Learning. Each of these books provides great ideas for how you can make learning come more alive in your lessons.

Application in deliberate practice

Overall engaging in professional reading provides you with what you need for deliberate practice. If you read about new approaches or new ideas that could help you improve your pedagogy and they interest you, this then becomes the focus for your deliberate practice. The aspect of your teaching that you repeat over and over and get feedback on in order to improve student learning. 

For example, if I set the goal of improving my unit creation to be more inquiry-based and connected to the real world, I might read McTighe and Wiggins's Understanding by Design and apply it and its scaffolds to my planning and programming to ensure that not only am I achieving these goals but I am also ensuring I meet syllabus requirements. I would then complete a unit plan and get feedback on it and then do it again and get feedback on it. In fact, I would use the scaffold to complete all my units for the year constantly getting feedback on the planning and draft versions of the units to ensure that I had lots of practice and received direct feedback on this to help me improve what I am doing.

Where to start

You should always begin by reflecting on your practice and identifying areas where you would like to improve. once you have selected your area, ask a few teachers that you know and respect if they can recommend some quality reading on this subject. Then have a look at the general reviews of these books and select one to read. A great way to do this reading is in a small group. This way you can read the book, take notes, highlight sections and then come together and discuss the chapter or the article.  This can even be done remotely, maybe on Twitter or in a Facebook group. You just need somewhere to share and discuss what you are learning and how you might implement it. I often use a few teachers at my school and post quotes etc on Twitter.

The key to the reading is to make sure you take notes and engage with it. Don’t just read it and put it down with nothing to take away. Write down the ideas you have while reading, summarise sections and identify the key aspects that you like and might try out in your lessons. and then make sure you have people who will provide you with feedback when you try and implement what you learnt. And not just once, over and over again until you are happy with your progress, and then repeat with a new focus.

If you have done some recent professional reading and found it helpful for your teaching, please let us know in the comments below. I would love to get some more books on my shelves or articles on my device to help me continue to grow and develop what I am doing.


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