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Deliberate Practice
Posted 08/18/2016 03:23PM

Practice Makes Perfect. It’s an axiom well-suited for education. It’s a form of what I often hear described as grandma knowledge, something we just know to be true. But now valid scientific research supports such wisdom. Some call this emerging research the science of expertise. And it takes the practice makes perfect approach a step further: that is, it dispels the notion of expertise by virtue of innate talent and promotes the notion that without hard work, no one is going to be great at anything. That hard work, however, must meet certain criteria that function as the deliberate in what is being referred to as deliberate practice.

Many of us at York encountered this idea in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, which promoted the research of Anders Ericsson and the 10,000 hours approach -- the idea that expertise arises from a minimum of 10,000 hours of experience. Next, we engaged with The Talent Code, which urged us to consider the myelination process in the brain that occurs when we engage in deep practice. The talent code  = ignition (inspiration) + expert coaching (teaching) + perspiration (hard work).

And yet even in the face of these callings for practice, practice, practice, many remain convinced that genius is born not built. Take for example the notion most people have that scientists are geniuses. Ask someone to name a scientist; they respond, Einstein, and then say he was brilliant, not that he struggled as a student (and once famously asked Max Planck for help with the mathematics for one of his theories).  But a study was done with students before taking a test (this applies in mathematics and science).  The students were given one of two stories to read about a mathematician or scientist.  One story was about how brilliant the person was; the other was how that person struggled to achieve success.  Students in the second group did consistently better on the test and were more likely to indicate an interest in math or science.  Most students, however, gave the old "I'm not a math person" response, and the thinking is that it's because they don't see themselves as being a genius, brilliant, etc. and therefore don't think it's possible to be a scientist.  And that stands as a very compelling argument for the growth mindset we believe is good for students.

Anders Ericsson's research has taken new shape in his recently published text Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which speaks to deliberate practice. I highly recommend the following Freakonomics podcast “How to Become Great at Just About Anything,” where deliberate practice as the key to expert performance -- even more so than natural talent -- is discussed.
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