We have all heard that in order to become an expert at a skill you need to have amassed 10, 000 hours of practice. But is this really all there is to becoming an expert? In his books So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work Professor Cal Newport says “no!”. Instead referring to a bounty of research that says deliberate practice is key.
Deliberate practice is used to refer to the type of practice that is goal oriented, feedback driven and has a focus on improving a specific aspect of your skill that you or another have identified as an area for improvement.
Deliberate practice is about doing the hard work to improve your craft or skill. It requires that you work just beyond what you are already capable of with the goal of improving your skill that little bit further. It requires that we focus on our small errors and seek to eliminate them. It is not simply practice.
As teachers most of us will be familiar with Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development”. This is the area just beyond what the person can already do, but that is not so hard that they cannot do it, they simply need guidance and feedback. Deliberate practice is very similar to this theory, but would allow a person to provide their own feedback by comparing what they are doing or how they are progressing with the end goal, however, normally with deliberate practice external feedback is sort.
For me this makes a lot of sense. I have loved playing football (soccer) most of my life and have been a PDHPE teacher for most of my career having studies Exercise and Sport Science and university. Within the field of sport the idea of deliberate practice has been used and applied as a standard model of coaching. Athletes perform skills, coaches evaluate them, goals are set, training then revolves around developing aspects of skills or tactics that then meet these goals and improve the athletes overall performance.
This is not just going through the motions, playing games with friends or even rehearsing movements, all of these can have you further strengthening bad habits and can lead to injury and poor performance. This is deliberate practice! This is training!
5 Steps to deliberate practice
What has deliberate practice got to do with teaching?
When it comes to teaching it is very rare to find someone who has applied deliberate practice to what they do, and yet teaching is widely held to be a skill or a craft that one can continuously develop with room to always get better, even if you are the best teacher in the world. Just like the best athletes in the world continue to get better and break world records, so we as teachers can continue to improve what we do if we have a “craftsman mindset”.
I want to improve practice continually and become better than I ever thought I could be. I want to read, focus on developing my teaching and learning practices. I am passionate about the students under me and how I can best help them and I believe that deliberate practice is a key process to improving what we do.
I find that deliberate practice overlaps with many aspects of quality teacher development, especially, reflecting on practice, reflecting on units, programs and lessons, classroom observations, engaging with professional reading, tracking impact, and ensuring that we are frequently in our own zones of proximal development to enhance this craft of pedagogy.
Over the next few weeks I am going to provide a series of articles on deliberate practice applying it directly to us as teachers. I am going to explore why we should be deliberate in our practice as teachers as well as various ways that we can do this to ensure that we are continuously getting better at our craft.
As I go I would love to know what you think and any thoughts you have about how else we can apply this approach to ourselves. I feel like so often we apply this approach to our students to help them learn and develop the skills required for their learning, but we rarely do it ourselves. When was the last time you applied this type of approach to your teaching? Let me know in the comments.