Practice makes perfect

by Peter Meyer | Program Manager, CIEP

In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, bestselling author Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College) offers a simple reason why we practice:  “Practice lets us execute a task while using less and less active brain processing. It makes things automatic.”

It is good that Lemov, who is a managing director at Uncommon Schools and something of an education celebrity (a cover story, “Building a Better Teacher, in the Sunday New York Times magazine didn’t hurt) is taking on the subject of practice (his new book, for which he is a co-author, is called Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better) because it might finally give “rote memorization” back its good name.

In fact, Lemov writes, “Rote learning and conceptual thinking often feed synergistically on each other, freeing our brain capacity for those tasks that require the maximum amount of attention and creativity.”

I know that Lemov has been on to this idea for a long time.  At a presentation in New York City a couple of years ago, he put a picture of a soccer player on a screen and asked his audience who the man was. No one knew. “He’s the best soccer player in the world,” said Lemov.  “And you know what he’s doing in this picture?” which showed the man leaping to bang a ball with his head.  “He’s practicing,” said Lemov.  “Yes, even the best have to practice.”

Look out, critical thinking proponents, your kids just might have to memorize things to think critically about.  But read Lemov. He is an accomplished educator and a gifted writer.

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