By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries with keyword: deliberate practice
Posts 1 - 2 of 2

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Facts are friendly

Several years ago I had a friend who would often say that facts are friendly. What she meant was that it's better to know the objective facts of a situation rather than speculate on scenarios, what-ifs and feelings about possibilities.

An example of the friendliness of facts is when trying to change habits. Let's face it, very few of us are good at keeping New Year resolutions. Whether we've resolved to lose weight, exercise regularly or learn a new language, the implementation of the resolution rarely survives a few weeks of effort.

One of the most successful ways to stick with a behavior change long enough to become a habit is to simply keep track. It isn't a guarantee of success, but it is one of the best ways to increase your likelihood of success. Keep a food log for losing weight or an exercise log for fitness or a simple tally of the days you studied your language lessons. For resolutions where you want to do more of something, such as a student's resolution to study more, keep track of hours studied each day.

Logging activity and especially logging hours used to be a burden. If one were highly motivated she might record events or hours on index cards and later tally them up. But that's a lot of work in itself and could be one of the resolutions that doesn't last.

Keeping track is easier with smartphones. First, it's convenient: the phone is always with you. Second, events can easily be recorded in a simple text file. Third, time recording apps are available to record start times and end times on a variety of tasks with a simple click. The app takes care of adding up the time spent on each task (e.g., studying vs. chatting with friends.) Fourth, timer apps are available that beep to remind you that it's 7 PM and you should be studying or that it's the top of the hour so if you're goofing off, get back to work.

Facts are friendly. Having the facts from logs and tallies about efforts to change habits does two things: it repeatedly keeps you aware of your intention and it confronts you with facts about how well you're sticking to your goals. It's similar to deliberate practice: being mindful about what you're trying to change rather than simply going through the motions. It's the same technique recommended by Ben Franklin and others for centuries before him, but is made just a bit easier with our smartphones. 

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Keywords: habits, deliberate practice


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reflection and continuous improvement

As the business proceeds, there will be mistakes. Some things will go badly. Some novel situations will arise. But the careful entrepreneur can continue to update and refine the processes. Over time, the business gets better and better at doing what it does.

As a teacher, as in every other vocation, you too will make mistakes. Some classes will go well, some will go less well. Sometimes you will end a class period on a positive and enthusiastic note and sometimes you will just run out of steam. But the key to continuous improvement in teaching is to maintain a habit of reflection (a reflection process, actually) about your teaching.

We learn from practice, but not all practice is the same. Deliberate practice, where we think about what a perfect performance is, try to achieve it, and then reflect on how to do better, is the most effective way to practice. Simply repeating the same performance without a conscious effort to improve is unlikely to result in much improvement.

The simplest way to reflect on your daily teaching experience is simply to keep a notebook of your thoughts each day, looking back over what worked, what didn’t and how you might improve next time. This habit of reflection and the continuous striving for improvement can be the basis for becoming a better teacher.

Another simple and revealing technique is to make an occasional video recording of yourself teaching.  Just  as athletes see things they didn’t know they were doing, you may find some surprises also.

As with any learning, learning through reflection is likely to be enhanced by discussing issues with mentors, other teachers and your students. Ask for help or for ideas on how to better address the issues. Ask students to rate the difficulty of a recent topic or the most interesting or most important part of the week’s lesson.

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Keywords: reflection, deliberate practice

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