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Innovative 21st Century Teaching and Learning

Deliberate Practice and Skill Development

One of the clear facets of the Australian Curriculum is the requirement for teachers to explicitly develop skills in the students. These skills include both the subject specific skills as well as what are now termed the general capabilities (another name for interdisciplinary skills).

The challenge for teachers is figuring out HOW they are going to be more explicit about developing the required skills. Part of the challenge is that, for the most part, teachers have operated with the HOPE that students will develop the required skills by practicing or participating in activities. Well … to a certain extent this does develop the skills but in a world of performance this is insufficient.

K. Anders Ericsson has pioneered the research into deliberate practice. One of Ericsson's core findings is that skill expertise has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice or day-to-day activities, often paired with immediate coaching feedback. Another important feature of deliberate practice lies in continually practicing a skill at more challenging levels with the intention of mastering it.

One of the structures that we use as we facilitate teacher’s Australian Curriculum planning is the formative rubric. We use the structure of a formative rubric (see the Rubric Student Version and the Rubric Teacher Version) to support the teachers to unpack not only what the skill chunks are at different stages of skill development, but to provide a structure for teachers to articulate the explicit approaches they will use to develop and challenge the students. Our experience is that teachers have a ‘light bulb’ moment and suddenly it all becomes clear.

The thinking behind the formative rubric is this. Expert teachers generally know what level of skill a student is displaying in the way they are demonstrating in their work. However, this is an instinctual thing with teachers which they address when they see it. If we are going to actually support the students in developing a mastery approach we have to move this from an anecdotal 'on-sight' approach to explicitly articulating what it is we are looking for, the evidence that we require them to produce to demonstrate that they are at a level, and the strategies we will be using to develop their skill. Once we have captured this information suddenly the process of developing visible feedback mechanisms that the students drive becomes much easier. The result is that performance increases, the more competent students have a structure that can extend them, teacher's have more time to support the struggling students, and the students begin to have tools that allow them to become independent learners.

It does take time to articulate it well as it challenges the teachers to get really clear about WHAT demonstrable behaviour it is they are looking for. I have attached a sample rubric for research so you can get an idea of how we unpacked one skill at a year 8 level.

Another benefit of going through the process is that the teachers suddenly realise their mastery of a particular area and can coach and give away their understandings and mastery to others. Win-Win really!

Any thoughts or comments?
May 8th, 2012 @ 10:24PM


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