Supporting Practice

Practice is an essential element in the acquisition of learning something new. Practice is utilising, applying, enacting, thinking about, writing about or speaking about new knowledge and skills so that can be consolidated or enhanced. To learn how to do something students must have the opportunity to practice. In The Hidden Lives of Learners, Graham Nuthall suggests students need to encounter something a minimum of three times if they are going to remember it. Therefore, it is our job as teachers to give students opportunities to practise what is required of them in order to succeed in our subject areas.

In ‘Practice with Purpose’ Shaun Allison offers a useful insight into the research underpinning purposeful practice. The ways Shaun suggests teachers can mobilise the research evidence are:

  1. Plan opportunities to revisit previously studied topics in lessons. You can read about how one maths teacher has done this here.
  2.  Set homeworks that ask students questions about what they have been doing recently, but also have sections on topics that have been studied previously.
  3. Use low stake quizzes at the start of the lesson that require students to retrieve information from last lesson, last month and last term.
  4. When encourage students to devise their own revision plan for your subject, make sure they space out the topics, leading up to the exam. A blank revision calendar will help with this.
  5. Plan the curriculum so that you return to topics over time

This blogs aims to offer three strategies than can be used to support students with ‘purposeful practice’ across all five of the ideas listed above.

  • Knowledge Organisers –  Fran Haynes has written a blog on how to maximise the efficiency of knowledge organisers . They can be useful for ensuring all of the elements needed for practice are in one place, so as a result, they make the student feel more confident about practising the particular task, because they have access to the correct vocabulary.  They can be used to assist students with tasks or questions both in lessons and at home, they can also be used for low stakes quizzes or to fill in blank sections. An example from Computer Science is below:

  • Checklists – Checklists are simple yet highly effective.  They can be used to ‘chunk’ the specification into manageable and digestible sections. If practice is going to be purposeful, it needs to be focused and targeted on a specific area that requires improvement.  Checklists allow students to identify the areas they are weak in and practise that particular topic, rather than just adopting a blanket approach which will be overwhelming. Below is a simple checklist for AQA GCSE PE.

  •  Retrieval Practice – Retrieval practice is essential in terms of supporting long term memory.  It is the act of having to retrieve something from memory, often with the help of a cue. It can be used in many different ways ranging from low stakes quizzing (including questions that go back beyond what they learnt last lesson), verbal questioning during lessons, using  flashcards and Cornell note taking (more on this here).  Planning regular opportunities in lessons for students to retrieve information from memory, as well as supporting them to use this as a revision strategy through flashcards for example, will support their learning.

It is crucial that students are given opportunities to practice, whether it is to retain difficult content or to break down the thought processes to answer exam questions. It is our responsibility as teachers to ensure we maximise the quality of the practice opportunities in our lessons, by providing them resources such as the ones mentioned here, to ensure it is in turn, ‘purposeful practice’.

Posted by James Crane

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