Practice Makes Perfect

As I have got older, I have begun to appreciate how true the old adage, ‘Mother knows best’ really is. Whilst my own children may have failed to grasp the wisdom of this saying, over the years I have learnt to swallow my pride and listen to (if not always follow) my mother’s advice.

Growing up, one of my mother’s favourite phrases was ‘practice makes perfect’. It would appear that on this one, mother really did know best. As she often used to tell me, ‘there is no shortcut to success’ and, as recent research has shown, it would appear that practice is an essential part of this.

Over the holidays, I have been reading the excellent book ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed. In this, he claims that ten thousand hours of practice is the difference between average and expert performance. He argues against the idea of people having an innate talent and instead insists ‘it is practice, not talent, that holds the key to success.’ Before we all start making our children practise for 10,000 hours, it is important to think carefully about what we mean by this. Having passed my driving test at the age of 17, there is no doubt that I have clocked up over 10,000 hours or more of driving practice so far. However, as my husband and children will testify, this has certainly not made me an expert driver. The reason for this is that it has not been ‘purposeful’. Purposeful practice involves practising at the right level so that we are sufficiently challenged (outside of our comfort zone) but not so difficult that we just give up. I like to call it the Goldilocks’ principle – not too much, or too little, just right!

Another key feature of purposeful practice is feedback. Effective feedback enables you to identify what you are doing well, as well as highlighting how you could improve further. Think of the analogy of going to a driving range and hitting 100 balls. Whilst this may help to improve your technique slightly, it will never be as productive as having a more experienced coach next to you giving you detailed and targeted feedback after each stroke.

This year, at Castle Court, we have implemented a new feedback policy. At the heart of this policy is the principle that in order for marking to be effective, pupils need time to act on the feedback given and practise the skills they need to improve further. We have therefore introduced ‘purple pens of progress’ which pupils use to make corrections and improvements to their work based on the feedback provided. In this way, we hope to model that mistakes are an essential part of the learning process and by listening to the feedback of others you can develop further and achieve success. As the saying goes ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’. Yes, you’ve guessed it, another one of my Mother’s sayings – she really does know best!