Developing a culture of practise

When I first adopted the idea of SLOP (shed loads of practise) in my class, I could instantly see the resistance to it. Students were expecting to be bored by going through the same process repeatedly and they were also expecting to have mastery over an area after getting a question right once or twice. After having a look around online I stumbled across a quote which quickly became a mantra within my classroom:

“Amateurs practise until they get it right, professionals’ practise until they do not get it wrong”

When I go about implementing the practise process, from the start I make things very clear; the aim of SLOP is to normalise error. When I provided students at the end of Year 11 with 600 questions that could use any of 25 different equations, they didn’t know what I was trying to achieve through the task. By explaining that what I was trying to do was find the errors student were making within equation work now, so they didn’t make them in the mock examinations, things became clearer. I explained that I wanted everyone to answer every question by the time we completed the sheet, no blanks allowed. Soon enough students bought in to the process and began to identify their own errors.

Breaking down the barriers of resistance was harder with some pupils though, 600 questions appeared daunting! when I broke it down to the 30 we would do each lesson it became more manageable.

Student: “Question 15 is pretty much the same as question 2 sir, do I have to do it?”

Me: “True, they are really similar, and I could of not included it, BUT, if you can do it once, I am sure you can do it twice, and prove it a third, fourth and fifth time. I need to know you can do this flawlessly to make sure you don’t miss any predictable calculation marks on the exam.”

To aid with breaking down any resistance, I would explain that when it comes to practise, everyone does it, even me! The only reason I am so fluent at answering these calculations is due to fact I have had years of practise! I would model how to go through the first few questions each lesson, to remind students of the method I am after, but I would also leave in some common errors (skipping steps in the method and getting the wrong answer) or combining steps in a method to make a process quicker demonstrating the calculated risks I was willing to take (moving a symbol from the top of one side of an question to the bottom of the other, rather than explicitly showing I would need to divide on both sides). I would ask for feedback very clearly on the models I showed; rather than “what could I have done better?” I’d ask “what three things could be improved about these model answers?” By demonstrating the risk I was willing to take through showing a model I’d convey the culture I wanted regarding practise in my class; we all try, we all make mistakes, we all improve, but we all do it through practise.

The language we use here is crucial too:

 “Okay everyone, in this model answer, I have gone through how to go from millimetres cubed to metres cubed. This is a common error for most students, not only in this class, but on a national level. This is a real chance to improve and increase your knowledge. Who wants to practise this?”

The positive framing of an opportunity to improve, coupled with tapping into the “against all odds” mentality builds an attitude towards practise as crucial for improvement.

Sometimes, I would make it fun by adding a competitive element to it, or an element of students being able to share their work. “If you get the first 10 right, with the correct method, I’ll check and then let you go through them with the class, or with student x y and z over there”. I would also keep the parameters of this type of activity very tight; the focus is not on the competitive element; I would only want the student to feel in competition with themselves. The focus would be on the element being practised, and therefore the element being shared with others if the student is successful.

This is also part of the process of using peer-to-peer accountability as a key lever in the classroom. Once I had checked pupils work, I would often ask: “Who got 5/5 on all of the electrical power calculations? Okay, who got 5/5 on all the forces calculations? Who got everyone one of the calculations right?” I would then encourage students to commit to supporting each other in area they can help others with, ensuring each commitment is mutually beneficial. This begins the process of peer practise. Where students are getting all the calculations right, I would continue to foster the mentality of normalising error by asking them to create a series of practise questions that “trip each other up”, after which point I could support them and fix any errors.

Throughout the entire process I ensure that I praise the work that students produce, especially when they go above and beyond.

“Thank you Marlena, you’ve answered all the questions as part of the practise exercise, from number 1 to 30 using the method I’ve asked for. I can also see that you have identified which questions you have struggled with and noted when you feel you need to go back and practise then again! Fantastic work, well done!”

 I acknowledge the fact they are completing the practise in the way I have asked, but when they build in review, automatically start looking for how to improve I pile on the praise, as this is the self-improving culture of practise I am trying to develop.

Adapted from Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, Katie Yezzi

Culture of practiseThe processFocus on …Be wary of …
Normalise ErrorEncourage calculated risk taking and challenge in practise

Help students identify errors

Practise responding to errors
Encourage risk taking, asking students to try activities that they may find difficult

Explaining that if we are allowed to make mistakes and then fix them, we improve
Minimising or ignoring errors; they will become misconceptions and engrained in memory
Break Down the BarriersOvercome the barriers to practise by naming them, removing them, and diving into practiseStating why practise may be difficult, and including a “but” followed by why the practise is important

Identifying and naming each of the barriers to practise
Students that may be resistant and daunted by the idea of practise, especially if there is a significant amount

Students not understanding the need for practise
Make it FunCreate opportunities for friendly competition

Incorporate elements of surprise to keep students on their toes
Ensure student support and praise each other as part of practise

Ensuring all students get a chance to practise
Losing focus on the objective of the practise

Focussing on the fun elements and not the practise elements
Everybody Does ItModel the process of practise to the class

Ask for feedback on your demonstration of practise

Use language that highlights that everyone will practise
Making intentional mistakes in models and asks for feedback

Demonstrate the level of risk you are willing to take during practise to improve

Ask students what three things I could have done better to improve my own practise
Putting myself across as producing perfect answers without practise

Asking “are there any volunteers to practise this” rather than “who wants to practise first?” or “here is a great chance to get better – who wants to practise?”
Leverage Peer-to-Peer AccountabilityAllow students in groups to self-identify areas of knowledge they want to grow (based on feedback)

Encourage students to make mutual commitments to each other to support improvement through further practise
Using consistent feedback as a tool for pupils to identify their knowledge needs

Ensuring both parties benefit from the commitments

Making the students accountable to each other
RAG grading spec points to identify gaps

Students undervaluing (or overestimating) their own ability or knowledge

Students not using feedback to make judgements on their knowledge
Praise the WorkPraise actions and not traits

Separate acknowledgement from praise

Create processes for recognitions
Praising the process pupils are working through, and the repeated use of this process

Delivering precise genuine praise
Praising a one-off perfect result, which makes it seems like praise is only given for success

Praising people doing only the minimum, acknowledge this, praise people going beyond
Download the summary PDF here

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