From the Gym to the Classroom - Maximizing “Reps” - Steve Barkley

From the Gym to the Classroom – Maximizing “Reps”

In an earlier blog on motor learning, I shared some insights I gained from the work of Trevor Ragan at Trainugly  .  He described how sports practice needs to be random (skills mixed rather than isolated) and as much game-like as possible in order to get the transfer of skills into game performance. As I reflected on the information of getting skills to transfer from practice to the game, I considered the problem teachers face getting skills to transfer across content areas, from grade to grade, and most importantly, to life.

Isolated skills learned and assessed one year with mastery recorded, frequently need to be retaught the next year. Writing skills shown on an English assessment are missing in a science report. Often students do not see a connection between the critical thinking and problem-solving they do in school assignments with current or future life tasks.

Project Based Learning research tends to align with this thought of increased learning coming from classrooms being more “game like” or authentic.

*Students learning through PBL retain content longer and have a deeper understanding of what they are learning.

*On high-stakes tests, PBL students perform as well or better than traditionally taught students.

* Students demonstrate better problem-solving skills in PBL than in more traditional classes and are able to apply what they learn to real-life situations.

* PBL students also show improved critical thinking.

*Through PBL experiences, students improve their ability to work collaboratively and resolve conflicts.

*Opportunities for collaborative learning provide benefits to students across grade levels, academic subjects, and achievement levels.


The need for learning settings to be game-like also carries into teacher learning settings. Much has been written about the ineffectiveness of isolated workshop settings to impact teacher practice.

 Research says that professional development has to be directly connected to daily work with students, related to content areas, organized around real problems of practice instead of abstractions, continuous and ongoing, and able to provide teachers with access to outside resources and expertise.

 Professional development should take place within a professional community, a team or network, or both. Changing practice is a difficult and long-term proposition that can’t be handled by going off to a workshop.

                                   Professional Development to Support Student Achievement 

A recent Trainugly post on motor learning development involves a conversation with two ice hockey coaches, exploring how to maximize learning from available instruction and practice time. (Watching the video from 13 minutes in to 19 will give you the gest.)

Maximizing “reps” (repetitions) of the critical behavior that leads to skill development is a continuous element in their discussion.

“People get better by doing, not sitting on the bench, sitting and listening, or standing in line.”

  Changing basketball practice activity from a five on five game to more three on three games can dramatically increase “doing.” In an hour of 5 on 5 a player touches the ball about 90 times and takes 15-20 shots. In 3 on 3 touches goes to 300 and shots to 100. Every time a player touches the ball is a chance to practice the thinking of the game as well as the skills.

In the video the hockey coaches share that they were able to change their coaching practices so that in an hour of ice time they moved players from skating 9 minutes to 45 minutes, from touching the puck for about a minute to ten minutes and from taking 5 or 6 shots at goal to 20 to 30 shots. Coaches’ talking went from 20 minutes to less than 5.

Schoolgirl rising her hand at geography lesson

What changes might teachers make in the classroom that would increase “reps”? I recently watched this video clip with instructional coaches and then did observations in 36 classrooms over the next three days. Opportunities to increase “reps” leaped out at us as observes. How often were students waiting? As a teacher instructed a perplexed student at the board, 22 students waited.  Students who finished tasks early waited for the teacher or classmates and students stuck waited with hand raised. One scary observation: in higher level groups there tended to be less whole group instruction and students did more “reps.” Students who were behind often received more teacher talk and fewer “reps”.  Shocking to see struggling students “touch the work” two or three times while more advanced students in another setting handle the thinking and working 20 times.

Consider viewing this clip with a leadership group and then doing some ten minute observations in several classrooms. Then discuss what you noticed about the amount of “reps” or time students were handling the tasks. Are we making the most of the time our students are with us?

It might be good to do a similar observation during the next PD activity. Ice time in hockey is precious and coaches need to make the most of the time they have. School leaders face the same challenge with time for teacher learning.

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