Learning through deliberate practice

Nothing strikes fear in a golfer like a three-foot putt.

You'd think sinking a short putt like that wouldn't be too much trouble for most players. But that's just the problem! Three-footers are short enough that you're expected to make them, but long enough that there's a possibility you won't. And if you don't, well, it's pretty embarrassing.

I played on my college's golf team, and my coach used to make me sink 100 (!!) three-footers in a row on the practice putting green every day. If I got 93 in a row, then missed one, I'd have to start over at zero. It took a lot of concentration, repeating the same consistent stroke over and over again.

Yes, it was excruciating. But making those pesky little putts got to be second nature. They became automatic for me. Eventually I started doing 100 four-foot-putts in a row. Then five-footers.

To become an "expert" in anything, we need to practice. And we need feedback to know how we're doing so we can adjust and continue to improve. (If I couldn't see if my three-foot putts were going into the hole, what good would that be??)

This kind of learning is called "deliberate practice." And it's just as important for math and reading and music and history as it is for golf.

Turns out technology can help make deliberate practice even more effective for students working on building fluency in math and reading. Games and programs can quickly detect a student's strengths and weaknesses and deliver the right amount of practice -- just enough until a student has mastered a concept, then move on.

Annie Murphy Paul has an excellent column here on effective practice, in case you want to find out more. And Larry Ferlazzo has a great package of resources on deliberate practice on his blog too.

If you have any you'd like to share in the comments, please do!