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Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi

Practice Perfect sets out to prove that we can achieve excellence through effective practice. Here are some takeaways:

Practice isolates learning

In the match there is no way to ensure that when opportunities to apply the skill come, you will have enough brainpower available to think about it.

One source of value in practicing is isolating a specific area of improvement and making a calculated effort to change it.

Struggle is over-romanticized

Failure can also be costly. It may cause participants to give up. Only by immense forces of will do they keep going when they get it wrong again and again. The fact that Uncle Loue remembers his desperate, knocked-down-99-times struggle to learn so vividly only suggests that it was perhaps the only time in his life when he endured a struggle.

We often fall into the trap of assuming that struggle is a sign that we are practicing correctly and that there is no improvement without pain.

Best intentions, worst of days

We asked teachers to assume that the student they were correcting was their most motivated and positive student, on a difficult day. “I felt like I was teaching from light,” she said. “I was correcting, but it was positive- because I cared about her.”

What would the world be like if we treated others in this way, assuming the best intentions, on the worst of days?

Purpose vs. activity

Many practices begin with the thought, “What am I going to do tomorrow?” When you ask this question, you are starting with an activity, not an objective- with the action, not the reason for it.

I’m incredibly guilty of this one, falling into habits that give me false comfort in regular activity, often in the absence of purpose.

Model and describe

When teaching a new skill, leaders need to balance modeling and describing.

It is not enough to either be a role model or to give clear explanations. Modeling is behaving how you want others to do so. Only modeling leaves your actions up for (often mis-)interpretation (“the problem is that they don’t know what to look for”). Describing is explaining a behavior. Only describing leaves room for ambiguity on the application of the advice.

Proof over hypothesis

When people see a technique or skill works, it can take away the excuses they might make for not trying.

We waste much time discussing, planning, and otherwise not putting ideas into action. We should bias towards taking action in a way that we can learn from reality.

For the hold-outs and doubters, the ideal is to model exactly in their context- their classroom with their students.

The best way to alleviate doubt is to prove your hypothesis in the environment of the doubter.

Apply, then reflect

He used feedback from Laura before he reflected on or discussed it.

Reflection and discussion can be a distraction from simply putting feedback into action.

Limit yourself

Knowing what to do is a long way from doing it; in fact, knowledge can get in the way of learning when it isn’t doled out in manageable pieces.

It’s possible to overwhelm oneself with information to the point where it is detrimental to improvement.

Describe the solution, not the problem

Consider how much more effective it would be to replace a statement that describes the problem, such as “Stop fooling around!” with a statement that tells a student what to do: “Sit down at the table and start your homework.”

Advice about what not to do leaves the receiver guessing about what to do instead. Describe the desired solution, not just the problem at hand. Enable others to take action from your feedback!

Normalize error

When you do too much tap-dancing around something that needs to be improved, people will think that it is a bigger deal than it is. Be warm, be direct, get past nice, and make errors a regular part of the practice.

We don’t do enough to reduce the stigma around making mistakes, especially outside of work. Errors are a fact of life, yet we leave little room for them.

Praise habits, publicly

Use genuine praise in practice and performance, and use it publicly. Praise is often most powerful when it is made publicly because it gives the recipient the attention she deserves. Further, it informs others of the actions that your team or organization values.

It also ensures that you won’t just praise success (“Sheila was promoted!”) but that you will praise the habits that lead to success.

Praising success makes it difficult for others to learn from the praise, as it doesn’t provide the information necessary to become excellent. By praising habits that lead to excellence, we teach others how to be excellent themselves.

Look for the right things, consistently

After isolating skills during practice, observe people during the actual performance to provide feedback on the discrete skills that were practiced. Create an observation tool to use during the performance that is aligned to the skills you have practiced.

Use the same rubric for practice, performance, and assessment. By doing so, you provide clear guidelines for success and hold practitioners accountable for delivering results.