“[E]xperience is not the same thing as practice. Experience means only that you use a skill; practice means that you try to improve by noticing what you are doing wrong and formulating strategies to do better. Practice also requires feedback, usually from someone more skilled than you are.” – Andrew J. Rotherham & Daniel T. Willingham, 2009
If we want our students to improve at reading, writing, speaking, listening, arguing, or knowing things, then it's true we need to create the conditions in which a large deal of this kind of work can take place. Quantity comes first. We need to lean up our instructional practices, improve the efficiency of our routines, and get rid of fluff so that there's as much time in our lessons as possible for knowledge-building, debating, or literacy-based activities.
But as we do this, our minds ought to turn to practice. How am I, even as I teach my students the geographic knowledge pertinent to world historical critical thinking, also giving my students practice at knowledge-building itself? How am I, in introducing today's article of the week using a few simple moves, giving students not just another text, but also practice at taking on the disposition of a purposeful reader?
It's important to note here, too, that Rotherham and Willingham's remarks above on practice vs. experience apply to us teachers, too. This school year, will we simply use our teaching skills, or will we practice them? Will our attention be on counting down the days to the next break, or on trying to find what we're doing wrong and strategizing about how we might do better?
When the work we ask students to do becomes not just about doing a large volume of work, but about doing it as practice, things start changing. When we approach this next school year not just as a year to endure, but as a year to practice, systematically and effortfully, the arcs of our careers begin looking more promising, regardless of the setting in which we teach.
Here's to providing a world-class quantity of the right kinds of experiences, practicing all along the way.
Want to do more practicing this year as a teacher and less enduring? Consider reading Never Finished: Continually Becoming the Teachers We Want to Be (and Staying Sane in the Process). Here's what Patrycja had to say about it a few days ago:
Dave, I just finished your book, Never Finished, and I want to reach out and thank you for it. Not only did it offer a lot of philosophy and mindsets to apply to my teaching practice, but it also gave me a lot of actionable tips I will implement from grading, to calling parents, to working with fellow teachers. I especially liked your metaphor or teachers as lighthouses– simply beautiful. I’ll be reading your book again in August before the school year, bookmarking it, highlighting it to remind me of the ideas I want to implement.
Grab your copy here.