The Role of Practice in Learning

We often hear that practice makes perfect. It might not necessarily make perfect, but it does make things very rote for us. Students practice reciting facts and figures in their mind so that they’ll write them down automatically on tests. Athletes practice basic drills so that during the big game they’ll know what move to make at what time to help out their teammates. Performing artists practice first to commit their craft to memory and then to bring their own interpretation to the material.

Those in teacher prep programs are taught that a student learns something by doing it ten times. If it is learned incorrectly, then the correct material takes 100 times to learn. Hence, the evil flash cards we all hated as children. Hence, the practices into the twilight of throwing a ball back and forth. Hence, the practices that take up an entire weekend so that a corps de balletmoves in perfect synchronization because everyone can do the dance in their sleep at that point.

It’s something we endure as children. It’s something we avoid as adults. But as adults, even if we’re the quickest study, without practice it means nothing.

As an example, I submit a recent experience of my own. I have been trying to teach myself HTML and CSS. I can do quite a bit of HTML off the top of my head because I use it daily. I still feel lost working with CSS because, to date, I have only completed one CSS project, and “complete” is a pretty strong word. I’m still working out all of the kinks in that design a couple of months later because I’m not committing the time to practice. I’m also not growing in my knowledge of CSS because I’m not working on other CSS projects. I’m not practicing those skills.

Practice is rarely fun. The acquisition of knowledge to the point of rote memorization is tedious and cheerless at best. However, it is part of how we grow and flourish as human beings. The next time you’re faced with a series of rote practice sessions, remember to take care. Ten times will allow you to become more fluent in the skill. Otherwise, you’re doomed to ten times those ten practice sessions trying to unlearn and re-learn

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