Tag Archives: homework

Deep Practice, Leveling, and Communication (TBT Remix)

Does a student know that they are confused and can they express that to their teacher? We need formative assessment and self-assessment to go hand-in-hand.

I agree that formative self-assessment is the key. Often, I think students don’t take the time to assess if they understand or are confused. I think that it is routine and “easy” in class. The student is practicing just like they’ve been coached in real time. When they get home, do they “practice like they play” or do they just get through the assignment? I think that is where deep practice comes into play. If they practice without assessing (checking for success) will they promote their confusion?  I tell my students that it is like practicing shooting free throws with your feet perpendicular to each other. Terrible form does not promote success. Zero practice is better than incorrect practice.

With that being said, I think that teachers must have realistic expectations about time and quality of assignments. If we expect students to engage in deep practice (to embrace the struggle) then we have to shorten our assignments to accommodate the additional time it will take to engage in the struggle.  We now ask students to complete anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 as many problems as in the past with the understanding that these problems will be attempted using the method of deep practice.

Our version of deep practice homework:
“We have significantly shortened this assignment from years past in order to allow you time to work these questions correctly. We want you do work with deep practice.

  • Please work each problem slowly and accurately.
  • Check the answer to the question immediately.
  • If correct, go to the next problem.
  • If not correct, mark through your work – don’t eraseleave evidence of your effort and thinking.
    • Try again.
    • If you make three attempts and can not get the correct answer, go on to the next problem. “

I also think that the formative assessments with “leveling” encourage the willingness to struggle. How many times has a student responded to you “I don’t get it”? Perhaps it is not a lack of effort. Perhaps it is a lack of connected vocabulary. It is not only that they don’t know how, is it that they don’t know what it is called either. It is hard to struggle through when you lack vocabulary, skill, and efficacy all at the same time. How might we help our learners attend to precision, to communicate in the language of our disciplines?

Now is the time to guide our young learners to develop voice, confidence (and trust), and a safe place to struggle.


Deep Practice, Leveling, and Communication was originally published on November 20, 2010

 

Deep Practice in practice

Let’s think more about the idea of deep practice for homework and what it might look like.  The children that I am coaching to learn Algebra I are encouraged to complete the homework the idea of deep practice. 

We are trying to move learners from “If at first you don’t succeed, hide all evidence that you tried!” an attitude of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

When homework is assigned, part of the homework is to complete the assignment in deep practice.  All complete solutions are posted my webpage and the answers only are posted on the Algebra I team’s MOODLE course (password protected). 

Students are to work a problem, check the answer, and try again if necessary.  To keep them from getting stuck, if they are not successful after three attempts they should move on to another problem, question, or task.  So that we can diagnose their error in class, the student should simply x out incorrect work and try again. 

When students come to class, they should know that their answers are correct or know where they have questions.  As our class is getting settled, students should be asking and answer each other’s questions.  I wander around and document how many answers are correct and how many they had to do in deep practice.  Here’s an example of a student’s work on a traditional Algebra I homework assignment.  (I just asked for a random homework page that showed deep practice from the students my last class on Friday.)

Student example of deep practice.

The diagnosis for the student above is really simple since there is evidence of her work and thinking. In problem number 4, there was a simple division error; she reduced 12/15 incorrectly the first time.  In questions 5 and 16 (and other problems on the page) we can identify a pattern in her work.  Her fundamental misunderstanding is about Integers.  Subtracting is the same as adding a negative.  The negative is missing in step two for this child every time the variable term is subtracted from a constant.  A simple-to-fix error IF it can be diagnosed.  (The correction for number 5 is also not correct…sigh…there is still so much work to do.)  We should make the time to coach our students to value proof-reading their work and analyzing their mistakes for learning.    

As fate would have it, I ran into the mother of the child whose work is displayed above the same day that I collected this example.  Mom stopped me to tell me a story about her child, M.  According to M and her mother, M has not felt successful in previous math classes.  M’s mom says math is now M’s “favorite class”.  Her confidence has increased significantly and is still increasing. M also feels comfortable asking you questions and knowing you will willingly answer them.  Mom also says the biggest change in M is her willingness to make a mistake.   She quoted her child “Mom, Ms. Gough has taught me that it is okay to make a mistake.  We learn from them.  It’s how we learn.” 

Worth repeating   

“…it is okay to make a mistake.  We learn from them.  It’s how we learn.” 

Let me pause here and say that I do not grade homework; I do not give credit for homework; I do not count homework in any way.  We do, however, document homework; we also document attendance in Office Hours.  My students help me with this documentation.  If and when a student is disappointed or frustrated with their progress, we can look at their rate of homework completion and how much deep practice is attempted compared to the number of times they come for addition coaching during Office Hours.  Often the data is very revealing to a student.  I struggle with my homework, and I have questions, but I never come to work on these questions.  Hmm… what steps could be taken to begin to improve?

One more thing about the above work…We have had to work really hard to correct a misunderstanding with kids that you can see in the above work.  She has documented that she had 6 correct answers and 6 deep practice. From my point of view, she has 11 correct, and 1 that still needs work.  It has taken about 3 months to get kids to the understanding that their homework is “correct” if they arrived at answer with good work no matter how many times they had to try. 

We are trying to move learners from “If at first you don’t succeed, hide all evidence that you tried!” to M’s attitude of “…it is okay to make a mistake.  We learn from them.  It’s how we learn.” 

Deep Practice, Leveling, and Communication

Does a student know that they are confused and can they express that to their teacher? We need formative assessment and self-assessment to go hand-in-hand.

I agree that formative self-assessment is the key. Often, I think students don’t take the time to assess if they understand or are confused. I think that it is routine and “easy” in class. The student is practicing just like they’ve been coached in real time. When they get home, do they “practice like they play” or do they just get through the assignment? I think that is where deep practice comes into play. If they practice without assessing (checking for success) will they promote their confusion?  I tell my students that it is like practicing shooting free throws with your feet perpendicular to each other. Terrible form does not promote success. Zero practice is better than incorrect practice.

With that being said, I think that teachers must have realistic expectations about time and quality of assignments. If we expect students to engage in deep practice (to embrace the struggle) then we have to shorten our assignments to accommodate the additional time it will take to engage in the struggle.  We now ask students to complete anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 as many problems as in the past with the understanding that these problems will be attempted using the method of deep practice. 

Our version of deep practice homework:
“We have significantly shortened this assignment from years past in order to allow you time to work these questions correctly. We want you do work with deep practice.

  • Please work each problem slowly and accurately.
  • Check the answer to the question immediately.
  • If correct, go to the next problem.
  • If not correct, mark through your work – don’t eraseleave evidence of your effort and thinking.
    • Try again.
    • If you make three attempts and can not get the correct answer, go on to the next problem. “

I am intrigued by what deep practice might look like in other classrooms and/or disciplines.  In ¡Inglés fatal!, TSadtler is starting to write about deep practice and what it might look like with his students.  (The 13-year prologue post that includes his first mention of deep practice including the powerful questions “Can I do this and will it result in meaningful, ‘well-myelinated’ learning for my kids?”)

I also think that the formative assessments with “leveling” encourage the willingness to struggle. How many times has a student responded to you “I don’t get it”? Perhaps it is not a lack of effort. Perhaps it is a lack of connected vocabulary. It is not only that they don’t know how, is it that they don’t know what it is called either. It is hard to struggle through when you lack vocabulary, skill, and efficacy all at the same time.

Now is the time to give them voice, confidence (and trust), and a safe place to struggle.

Assessment does not always have to carry a grade. Learning should not be punitive. If the struggle causes a student to learn, that struggle should be rewarded.