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How to make your students beg for more practice!

In a prior post we looked at repetitions as practice and the importance of practice in achieving mastery.  See the May 17th post Tell Me What You Did Wrong (http://jponline.com/jp-blog ). In this post we are going to revisit the idea of 10,000 hours of practice and learn how practice can be both effective and fun by making practice a game. 

Good, Better, Best:

After students read a list of words correctly teacher can introduce this game.  Remember it is important to make sure students have the reading of the words correct before practicing-we don’t want them practicing incorrect decoding because then we would need to re-teach.  In addition to losing instructional time for the re-teaching, it will take three times as many repetitions for the student to internalize the correct answer.

  • After the first reading of the list, say, “That was good, but I bet you can read them even better” Have students repeat the list.
  • Then say, “That was better. Let’s do it again. This time give me your best”. The added practice will help to develop the automaticity necessary for fluent reading.

Top Down, Bottom Up:

Another way to add repetitions to word calling is to have students read every list from top to bottom and then from the bottom to the top. The teacher can make this fun by calling it “Top down, bottom up” and presenting it enthusiastically.

Beat the Computer:

PowerPoint can also be effective ways to give added practice. The teacher challenges students to “Beat the Computer”- a game they love. The PowerPoint displays a word; the children say the word before a picture appears. The PowerPoint then moves to the next word. This type of practice can be used for Math Facts, names of letters, sight words, and vocabulary. Actually, it is only limited by the teacher’s creativity.

Here are examples for practice of basic math facts and for decoding.


With the math facts, the problem appears, students say the answer and then, the correct answer flies in. For example:

  • Students see the problem 3+4; they say the answer, and then, the number seven flies in.
  • The next problem appears, 3+5; students say the answer, and then, the numeral 8 flies in.
  • Continuing, the problem 3+6 appears, students say the answer, and then, the 9 flies in.


With the reading example, the word appears, students decode it and then the picture flies in. For example:

  • The letters d-o-g appear, the students decode and say “dog” and then the picture of the dog appears.
  • Next, the letters d-u-c-k appear, the students decode and say “duck” and then the picture of the duck appears.
  • Finally the letters m-a-n appear, the students decode and say “man” and then the picture of the man appears.

10,000 Hours

We have all heard the adage, “Practice makes perfect.” This is inaccurate. It is more accurate to say that Practice Makes Permanent. If we practice something the wrong way, we learn it and remember it the wrong way. That is why we, as teachers, should not assign items for homework that are either new or have been confusing for certain students to internalize. We have no idea how our students are practicing those items. ONLY perfect practice makes perfect permanence and leads to mastery.

Another way to think of MEANINGFUL repetitions is Practice. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. How does Gladwell arrive at this conclusion? And, if the conclusion is true, how can we leverage this idea to achieve greatness in our students?

Gladwell studied the lives of extremely successful people to find out how they achieved success. Please listen to the results of this study: (Fly in picture of violinist)

In the early 1990s, a team of psychologists in Berlin, Germany studied violin students. Specifically, they studied their practice habits in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. All of the subjects were asked this question: “Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?”

All of the violinists had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age twenty, the elite performers averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only 4,000 hours of practice. The elite had more than double the practice hours of the less capable performers.

Natural Talent was Not Important

One fascinating point of the study: No “naturally gifted” performers emerged. If natural talent had played a role, we would expect some of the “naturals” to float to the top of the elite level with fewer practice hours than everyone else. But the data showed otherwise. The psychologists found a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No naturals.

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