49. Active Practice

49. Active Practice

Active practice sees students attending actively to what they are doing. Their focus and attention are concentrated on the task in hand. As they practice, they observe that in which they are engaged, making changes and alterations in response to what they see.

For example, a Physical Education student may be practising short passing in football. Active practice would see them attending to what they are doing, focussing their working memory on the task in hand. Through this, they are likely to learn more and secure better memory of what they are doing over the longer term.

This contrasts to passive practice, in which the student is not fully attending to what they are doing. In passive practice, the student may make their short passes without really thinking about what they are doing. This lack of thought includes a lack of concentration on the consequences of their actions.

For example, a student engaged in active practice would notice if they hit a short pass too hard, making it difficult for their partner to control. They would then try to readjust on the next attempt, engaging in a process of trial and error predicated on the information elicited from their first effort.

A student engaged in passive practice may become aware that their pass was hit too hard. Or they may not. And, even if they did become aware, it is unlikely that this knowledge would lead them to recalibrate the next time round.

In essence, the difference between active and passive practice is one of attention. In the former, attention is controlled and directed, in the latter it is not.

Active practice is preferable when it comes to learning. Practice in which the student is fully engaged – in which they are aware of what they are doing, the consequences and the link between their actions and outcomes – will nearly always lead to better learning that practice in which the student is only partially engaged.

In terms of growth mindsets, active practice reflects the tenets of growth mindset thinking. Namely, that skill, talent and ability ae open to change, that (targeted) effort is a path to mastery, and that trial and error provide information about how to improve. For this reason, you should both talk to students about active practice and seek to encourage it in your lessons.


Practical Takeaway

Plan activities in which students practice a skill or technique, during which their full attention is focussed on the task in hand. At the end of the activity, lead a reflection analysing the impact of this, with particular focus on the consequences of using targeted effort and trial and error.


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49. Active Practice
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