Monday, July 27, 2009

Practice, practice, practice

Did you think that all the practicing in the world is mainly done by athletes and musicians? Have you ever wondered why they do this ... the good ones, that is?

In 1994, Daniel Goleman published an excellent article called "Peak Performance: Why Records Fall," and it's amazing. I discovered the article when I was teaching freshman comp classes at a community college in California; the article was included in the text I used, The Riverside Reader. Over the eight years I taught that course, I learned that this one article was remembered by my students better than almost any other in that text. I don't think it's difficult to figure out why! The article not only makes sense, but the concepts are easily applied to many other areas of anybody's life.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the article:
"Perhaps the most surprising data show that extensive practice can break through barriers in mental capacities, particularly short-term memory. In short-term memory, information is stored for the few seconds that it is used and then fades, as in hearing a phone number which one forgets as soon as it is dialed.

"The standard view, repeated in almost every psychology textbook, is that the ordinary limit on short-term memory is for seven or so bits of information -- the length of a phone number. More than that typically cannot be retained in short-term memory with reliability unless the separate units are "chunked," as when the numbers in a telephone prefix are remembered as a single unit."
If you think in terms of reading and writing (in addition to music, sports, chess, etc.), it's quite understandable why people rarely misspell their own names once they're past first or second grade, why the students who actually memorize the multiplication tables (rather than depending on tricks, tables, or fingers!) usually are the better math students, why students who read and read and read are usually better writers than their peers since they have been "soaking up" all those words and sentence patterns for a long time.
If you have a child who is out for a sport or marching band, the practice will be enforced! It's that kind of constant practice that is needed for students not only to learn their academic and other subject areas, but also to excel in an area of study.
I hope you'll read the article and think about how Goleman's ideas can help your own children or students. If the child is old enough, have him or her read the article, too, and then help with setting up areas in the house for reading, study, music practice, artistic pursuits, or other areas of concentration.
Pink Monkey has a marvelous collection of study skill ideas - called Study Smart. If you look into this, be sure to read the introductory articles first and then follow the lessons in order. You and your student will build better habits if you do this! There are lots of other study guide and test-taking guide websites online. If you want to know more of them, just let me know in comments.

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