Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi
Foreward by Dan Heath
- “The mere fact of doing something repeatedly does not help us improve.” (xii)
- “The enemies of practice are pride and fear and self-satisfaction. To practice requires humility. It forces us to admit that we don’t know everything. It forces us to submit to feedback from people who can teach us. But surely practice isn’t a sign of weakness—after all, some of the people most famously disciplined about practice are Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, Roger Federer, Mia Hamm, and Tiger Woods. To practice isn’t to declare, I’m bad. To practice is to declare, I can be better. “(xiii)
Action does not mean getting better. I know this from observing ugly, ugly soccer practices during which all the wrong things were brought out in scrimmages.
So often practice is applied to sports, or music, or dance, or some performance skill. But as an English teacher, I think of practice for me and for my students.
For me, I want to practice connecting our learning activity to the objective. I knew going in to the year that I wanted to do this better. I guess I should have known that the only way I would do this better would be to practice, but I never thought of practicing it. I guess I’ll have to start doing this when I write my lesson plans.
For my students, my mind immediately turns to the emphasis on reading and writing. I know I’m not a wonderful reading teacher; I emphasize volume of reading, consistency of reading, but also diversifying the types of books read and identifying preferences. I know it’s my own theory, but if I believe part of my goal as a reading teacher is to develop “life-long readers,” then some of the things I want to help my students do is to identify and understand what they like reading and why they like reading it, and to easily identify those types of books based on genre, author, and reading level. I believe that helping my students understand why they like reading a book will lead to deep and rich conversations about narrative style, character development, plot analysis, themes, role of setting, etc.—all the stuff a “good” reading teacher would teach. Further, if I can help my students understand the genre, author, and reading level of a book they like, I believe I have given them the ability to self-select other books that they will similarly enjoy reading. Maybe I’m wrong; I don’t know.
So where does practice enter in my reading instruction? Well, that’s a little less specific. Discussions on Tuesdays and Thursdays about our reading books, including addressing specific questions, could be viewed as practice in identifying “why I like/don’t like this book.” I do think keeping the reading record, and the reflection at the end of each quarter on that reading record, as practice for identifying “what types of books I enjoy/don’t enjoy.” Hopefully those actions—discussion, record keeping, and reflection—lead to better readers. I don’t know if I’ve answered the initial question.
As for writing, I think I’m a decent writing teacher. My goal is to first help the students write a lot—10,000 words this year, at least. If the students have a decent volume of writing, then we can work on fine-tuning the skills the students use as writers. Some of those skills are what might be considered basic: capitalization, end punctuation, pronoun-antecedent agreement/cohesion, verb tense, comma usage. But some of those skills are more complex: introductory adverbial clauses, appositive phrases, parallel structure, combining sentences through diverse ways. Freewriting is our method of practicing these skills. First, we explicitly study these skills in isolation. I want the students to develop a shared, academic vocabulary so that when we practice each skill in context, the question is not, “what is a pronoun and its antecedent?” I want the question to be, “where are my pronouns and their antecedents?” If the student is answering the second question, rather than the first, then during freewriting, we can, in the context of a larger passage of writing, practice ensuring that all of our pronouns have clear and direct antecedents. That will immediately improve student writing. And that’s really, really important.
I think I have a pretty clear idea of how practice is used in freewriting, and then extended to every other writing situation. I think maybe I need to verbalize that to my students, to be more transparent with them. I think doing this will also help me as a teacher to reference the objective more, because if the objective is clear and specific, and the students know that our practice is directly going to lead us to that, then they are more likely to know exactly when they have met the objective and how they were able to meet the objective.
I haven’t done any process writing like this in a long time, and it’s been really fun. I’m really enjoying this book. I’m on page 55, so some of the things I wrote about occur in later pages/chapters, but I only got through quoting my favorite parts of the Foreward. Later, as I read more, I’ll include more favorite quotes and hopefully get to process more as well.