Learning how to learn is certainly one of the most important areas of knowledge and skills for our students to develop. Much future success requires new learning. Maximizing the return on time spent practicing and studying is both rewarding in current success and confident building for the future. It motivates future effort in studying and practicing. You might listen to this podcast with your learner, stopping and reflecting on current approaches.
Practice for Better Learning: https://thelearnerlab.com/improving-the-quality-practice-for-better-learning/
How Practice Changes the Brain: https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/how-practice-changes-brain
Key Elements of Practice and How to Use Them: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/key-elements-of-practice-and-how-to-use-them-9cfaa2f39f8
Study Smarter not Harder: https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/studying-101-study-smarter-not-harder/
Steve: 00:38 I frequently identify learning how to learn as one of the most important knowledge pieces for students to develop. It’s empowering. Knowing how to learn is a key to gaining future success throughout a person’s life. In this podcast, I’ll look at role of practice and study and consider how you can support your youngsters in developing an understanding and a use of these critical elements. Practice is a key component of building skills.
Steve: 01:19 That’s true and easiest to recognize in athletic skills and in the performing arts. But it’s also true in reading mathematics and writing skills. I’ve pulled information for this podcast from several articles and I’ve included links to all of them in the lead-in to the podcast. Engaging in practice actually changes our brain. It’s fairly easy to see the changes that occur in an athlete’s body or an artist approach as they practice. But it’s much more difficult to understand the changes that occur in the brain. Depending on our experiences, including the memories we revisit and the skills we practice, some synaptic connections, that’s the connections between neurons in our brain, some synaptic connections become stronger while others wither away. This ability of our brains to change is called plasticity. Learning a new skill can be hard at first, but the more we do something, the stronger those neural pathways associated with that skill become and thus, the task becomes easier.
Steve: 02:40 If we practice enough, we may even begin to run on autopilot where our actions are becoming automatic and frequently unconscious. You’ll recognize the change that occurs if you’ve ever overthought a tricky dance step or a change in a sports move. That overthinking tends to interfere with the unconscious process and actually our performance gets worse. In the work that I’ve done across the years with teachers, I call that a learning dip. When the teacher learns a new technique or strategy, and they go back to their classroom to implement it with students, those initial experiences, the teacher actually feels a drop in their instructional effectiveness and they need to stay with that practice long enough to come up out of the dip and be at a higher more effective functioning level. When a difficult skill is new for us, we need to think carefully about every small part of the movement that’s involved.
Steve: 03:59 And that takes up a large part of our attention. And it’s very demanding on the frontal lobes of our brain. With extensive practice, as is the case for elite athletes, many parts of those actions become more precise and automated. That then frees up attention that we can focus on making decisions or fine tuning adjustments, all of which tend to optimize our performance. Putting in hours of deliberate practice, focus practice, is vital for skill development, both in elite athletes and in novices. Consider how our performances change with practice. And if you can get your children to identify where they’ve had those experiences in learning a musical instrument or an athletic skill, maybe looking at the skateboarding, they can begin to recognize that there’s a similar carryover into learning new skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. As learners, your students can become very frustrated in those early stages because initially learning a new skill, it’s stiff looking, it’s inaccurate, inconsistent. As a performer, we’re slow and halting, and timid. Our movements are indecisive and rather rigid, and there’s many errors and it seems like our practice is inefficient.
Steve: 05:51 It’s only with continued practice that we begin to see changes in each of those areas and the performance becomes more automatic, more accurate, more consistent. We begin to feel more confident and efficient. And the ultimate spot is when we make an error, we, as the performer can actually recognize our error and often self-correct. So what are some keys to remember when looking at practicing a skill? The first is that practice should occur in smaller chunks of time and be more regular. It’s best to practice every day, if at all possible, even when you don’t feel like practicing. And maybe it’s especially important to practice on on those times that you don’t feel like it. You wanna be sure to spend some of the practice time on your weak areas.
Steve: 07:03 So only by understanding the role of practice is a learner encouraged to do that. Practice should often not be observed by others and certainly not to be evaluated. So practice is a good time to experiment and discover new styles or new opportunities. Now let’s look at the similarities between practicing and studying. The following are some tips that I pulled from an article titled, “Study Smarter, Not Harder.” Again, you’ll find it in the lead-in to the podcast. The first tip that they identified was this statement, “reading is not studying. Reading about something should actually be considered a pre-studying activity.” In other words, it’s setting you up and getting you ready to read. That reading should help you identify questions that you want to address either with stops while you’re reading or at the end of the reading. Questions such as, what question the author or my instructor posed for me? What evidence have I found in what I’ve read? And what conclusions might I be drawing from what I’ve read?
Steve: 08:32 I recall years ago, working with a group of high school students, and I asked them if they were planning to study for a upcoming exam. And students told me that they were going to study. And then after the exam, I met with them and asked them about how they studied. And a student said to me, “I looked over my notes.” That’s probably a very good thing to do, but rereading leads to quickly forgetting. So what are some things that we should be looking at when studying? One of the first items similar to practicing is that we need to space out our study time. Long study sessions tend to lead to a lack of concentration and therefore a lack of learning and a lack of retention. Just like practice, study shorter and often is best. Most of us as adults, remember those days of studying for an exam, doing well on the exam, and then being in trouble when the final exam for the course came up because we didn’t retain the information from those earlier study sessions along the way. Consider that intense studying, focused studying is valuable.
Steve: 10:06 That’s why it’s best to be done in short periods. Testing one’s self while studying, preparing questions to go back and check on how I’m doing is a helpful way to focus study. Then moving more of your study time to the information that you were missing, rather than continually studying all of the available material. Finding the environment that works for you is another important thing to explore with your youngsters. For some, studying in a very quiet space is helpful. For others, it’s not helpful. I happen to be one of those people. I can’t study in the library. It’s too quiet. I’m hearing any little noise that that’s occurring. I do much better in an area where there’s some background noise and I can label it as background and therefore it doesn’t interfere with my studying.
Steve: 11:10 Often for folks, studying out loud is helpful. So reading important pieces, rereading, answering questions out loud. So I need to be in a space where I can experiment with that and see if that works. Also what’s the environment? Who studies best the sitting at the desk versus sitting outside versus lying down on the floor? Experiment and find the environment where you are best able to focus your studying attention. Solving problems is often a good study strategy in technical areas, in mathematics and sciences. Working through and solving problems creates that that repetition that’s necessary for the brain to implement those changes. Important to know – when studying, multitasking doesn’t work. I’ve met some students who have to hand their phone over to their parents as they head off to study, because they can’t stop themselves from checking in on the social media. Encourage your youngster to see social media time as a way of taking a break.
Steve: 12:41 So implement that intensive study for a shorter amount of time, and then take the break. And teaching is a great way to to study and rehearse learned material especially for your younger learners, setting up an opportunity for them to teach you what they’re learning is a great rehearsal and having to explain it out loud to you, they build their own confidence that they truly do understand.
Steve: 13:22 I hope the podcast has given you a couple of areas to consider as you observe and coach your learners at home. For some of your upper elementary, middle-grade, high-school students, you might consider listening to this podcast with them, stopping frequently to check in on the element that I raised and how it fits into your child’s study and practicing procedures.
Steve: 13:53 If your youngster has an understand of the important role that practice plays in the development of their athletic, performing arts skills, engage them in the conversation of how they carry that same understanding over into studying for school-related content topics. Good luck as you work as a coach for practice and study. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 14:25 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.