Deliberate Practice: For Teachers, Every Day is Game Day

Learning a New Skill: From Basketball to Teaching
Whether it’s basketball players learning a lay-up or teachers learning an instructional strategy, we all go through similar phases when we acquire new skills. 

1. First, we learn the specific methods to perform the skill. If we’re lucky, we get to watch someone do it. 
2. Next, we try it ourselves. 
3. After that, we put the skill in context. We learn when it’s appropriate to use the skill, and we start to look outside ourselves and notice people around us as we perform.

Game Day
Coaches know that letting an athlete practice a lay-up for the first time during a game is not likely to be a successful way to win.  That’s why basketball players learn lay-ups at practice.  If you’ve ever watched youth basketball, you know that, quite often, kids try lay-ups before they’ve developed the ability to look outside themselves to notice the people around them – which can result in some dramatic crashes on the basketball court! 

Unfortunately, teachers don’t always have the luxury of practice!  As you try new skills, you’re in the game, because every day is game day for a teacher.  As a teacher, you have to quickly progress to the point where you’re monitoring your students for engagement and understanding as you implement new instructional strategies.

Adjusting In Mid-Air
If an athlete goes for a lay-up and realizes she’s off course, or if someone prevents her from scoring, nobody’s likely to say, “Since she meant to put the ball in the basket, we’ll give her a point.” 

Athletes have to notice the people around them and make adjustments in mid-air to make sure the ball goes into the basket. In basketball, it’s the basket that counts.

In this way, teaching is just like basketball. It’s not just doing the instructional strategy that makes the strategy successful.  It’s about noticing the people around you, checking to see if your students are learning as a result of the strategy, and if necessary, adapting the strategy so that all students learn.

That’s what masterful teachers do. If necessary, they adjust the strategy in mid-air so that all students learn.  In the classroom, it’s student learning that counts.

How have you adjusted your classroom strategy in mid-air? Share your story with your colleagues in our comments section. Or ask us a question and we’ll help you work through it.

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