Practice makes perfect, right? Kind of--but it takes the right kind of practice, something known as interleaving. Most of us are familiar with the usual "other" type: if we want to "master" the free throw, for example, we might take 300 shots in a row, until it gets dark, or our arms feel about to fall off.
Yet an 1978 experiment from the University of Ottawa involving 8-year-olds and bean bags demonstrated, practicing one thing successfully does not necessarily lead to transfer in a real situation. One group practiced throwing bean bags into a target from two and four feet. The other group practiced only at 3 feet. When the final test was conducted at three feet, the group that practiced only at two and four feet actually did much better.
Another study in 1986 from Louisiana State University studied how women players practiced three types of badminton serves. Group A performed blocked practice, rehearsing only one type of serve each session. Group B performed serial practice of the three serves. Group C did random practice of the three serves. After three weeks, group C (random) performed best, followed by the group B (serial), while group A (blocked) was the worst.
In 2007, at the University of South Florida, 24 grade 4 students had to calculate the number of faces, edges, corners and angles in a prism. Half the students learned in a blocked format, while the other half did the exact same problems but randomly. Results: the mixed-study group outperformed 77 to 38 percent.
Particularly in math word problems, the greatest challenge for students is in selecting the right strategy or algorithm needed. Therefore, mixed or random studying will give students the greatest amount of real practice necessary when they encounter a variety of questions and problems.
Repetition appears to show rapid improvement but then it plateaus. Varied practice, on the other hand, seems to show slower improvement but the results are a greater accumulation of skill and learning.
Here is where interleaving is so important to practice. It is the mixing related but distinct material during study. It works for pretty much all areas of learning: skateboarding, playing an instrument, cooking, algebra, art. Shorter breaks of different but related activities will achieve the most success, about 10-15 minutes each.
Real life is not so cut and dried, and you need to be able to recall a variety of facts, information and skills in order to solve real-life problems. Having experience in doing many different types of tasks will lead to the greatest amount of transfer of learning.
Source: How We Learn, Carey
If you follow any kind of sport--be it football, basketball, hockey or tennis--analytics or data analysis or data mining has become an integral part, especially in how to make better players, make the sport more exciting, or how to attract more customers to watch the games. If you can believe that today's smartphones have more computing power than Apollo 11, the rocket that went to the moon, then you can see how today's computers can crunch and analyze mountains of data, and synthesize and spit out much smaller piles of useful information. Of course, large corporations, such as Google and IBM, have probably been using analytics for quite some time now.
I was wondering if the same can be applied in the educational/teaching field. I think if we equate analytics with testing or evaluation, then I think there's a lot going on, but in a variety of methods. As a teacher, I do accumulate quite a bit of data on each of my students, including their behaviors, attitudes, and, of course, marks and grades on a variety of assignments and projects. What I don't see is having huge databases that can take all that data, compile it, and then use it to analyze trends and, more importantly, have predictive ability--to know where they might struggle or have success. On a smaller scale, yes; but, on a larger scale, not so much. I think some programs or apps, such as FreshGrade and others, do try to capture data, and do so with different measures of success and for different purposes, such as communicating ongoing learning with parents and students. Others might give more statistical analysis on specific skill breakdowns.
I think analytics is growing approach in many fields, and it's one that may carry more weight in the educational field in the future. The only concern is we need to be careful not to turn our unique individuals into simply 0s and 1s in a computer.
I was watching the Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll speak at a recent press conference, and it made me wonder what the similarities between a football team and a classroom might be. Here's what I found out:
Carroll spoke about Marshawn Lynch, and how his unique flair and style fit into the team mentality and program. In the classroom, there are so many unique individuals with interesting personalities and character traits, and it's about creating an environment where all of them can fit in, find a role, and be able to connect, learn and grow together. Will it be the perfect, happy community? Of course not. Even in a loving family with parents and siblings, you still have arguments, disagreements and even fights. The important matter is how you deal with this conflict, and bond even closer as a result.
He talked about the health of Jimmy Graham and others. Players missing a few days or even months. In the classroom, it's difficult to actually "field" a full squad of students. Some are sick, away for personal reasons, on vacation, or actually injured. The important part is trying to stay healthy on a consistent basis, which is probably why safety and health issues are so important. Catching up on missed time and lost work is a challenging process.
Carroll talked about how in-depth the evaluation of a player is before they are drafted. They have a long checklist of criteria. He said that Russell Wilson fit all of the check boxes, except probably the height issue. Of course, as they develop, the evaluation continues. Much in the same way, students are evaluated on a regular if not daily basis (formative, summative, metacognitive). Do they seem happy? Are they asking questions in class? What type of questions do they ask? Are they on task? Who are they playing with during DPAs? What activity are they doing? In small groups, how much are they contributing? In writing, do they express their ideas well? How creative are they during Wonder + IDEAS? How well do they do on their spelling and math quizzes? During formative assessment, do they have their thumbs up, sideways or down?
Every year the Seahawks believes they will win the Super Bowl. Of course, it helps when you've actually won it already. I believe it's the notion of having the end in mind from the start. Where do we see our students by the end of year? Do we have a curricular program in play that will guide them to achieve the learning goals they need to meet this year? Also, we need to remember that learning is a process: nothing happens overnight or in a vacuum. However, as teachers we need to have that hope that tomorrow will be a better day for both us and our students--especially on those really tough days!
Carroll talked about how he loved his group of receivers--Baldwin, Lockett, and Kearse--and how well they worked together, but still mentioned that there might be some competition from other players coming into the team. In the classroom, we generally try to make work cooperative and collaborative; nevertheless, at times, healthy, fun competition does bring out a certain fiery spirit in most of our students. In our class, we have Spelling, Math and Brain Question Battles whenever we have a few minutes to spare. It's never about points or winning, but there's still enough head-to-head battling that makes "winning" a certain accomplishment.
Carroll said that the team wants a balance offense, with both a running and passing game, and probably special teams and kicking, as well. He said that Wilson can throw 40 passes in a game when needed, but only if that's the best way to win that particular game. In the classroom, it's much the same: we want a balanced day that includes literacy and numeracy, DPA for physical activity, as well as content subjects like science, socials or art. Also, teacher talk vs. student talk balance is important, although the ratio should be much more for students. Speaking, listening, reading and writing should also be balanced.
Coaching in football requires a head coach, but there are many assistant coaches and other staff members. Just like in school, the teacher is the head coach, but there are other staff involved in the entire learning community (parents, LST, music, library, French, band, administration, custodial). Without them, it would be impossible to succeed in the classroom. Also, as much as the coach can teach, train and demonstrate, ultimately the players need to play the game and perform at their highest level in order to win the game. As the teacher, I try to prepare my students to achieve success, whether it's on a paragraph, reading, test, project, or presentation, it's still up to the students to prepare, study, learn, focus, work hard and then demonstrate their learning. When everyone is doing their part, everyone eventually wins.
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.