It Takes Practice to Become an Expert

"Whether professionals have a chance to develop intuitive expertise depends essentially on the quality and speed of feedback, as well as on sufficient opportunity to practice." (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow)
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

To become an expert at something, you have to practice that something.

Doctors and lawyers often use the term “practice” to describe their daily work.

Educators are the same. We practice every day. And we get a little better every day.

So do our students. Provided we allow them to practice.

This idea is at the heart of student-centered instruction. We serve to guide them along their path; they choose the path.

And they choose how long they stay on that path. The more passion they have, the longer and harder they will work.

The more we walk all over their practice time with test prep and meaningless teacher talk designed to keep us in control, the less engaged our students will be.

Less engagement means they practice other things. And so begins the cycle.

Let them practice; let them learn.

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Respecting Solitude and How Students Work

I finished Susan Cain’s Quiet this week and came away with several notes. Of course, my interest in this book on all things introverts was personal. I’m the introvert’s introvert. Yes, I stand in front of students and teachers every day. And I have given more in-person talks than I can remember, but I pay a price for that work.

I’m more comfortable at home. I curl up with a good book or build something in Minecraft. Both are more comfortable for me than being in front of people. I’m more expressive in my writing than I am while talking. I have time to collect my thoughts, and even now, I still worry about sounding like an idiot when I’m in front of people.

I’m much better in public now than when I was a kid, but I still have to put on my super-suit to make it through the day. And I often come home and collapse from the weight of being around people.

Reacting to the World

Turns out, there’s a reason why introverts like me respond to the world in the way we do. Cain presents research on people who have low- and high-reactive nervous systems. At first glance, you’d think that introverts are low-reactive and extroverts are high-reactive.

My friend, it’s the opposite. Introverts have high-reactive nervous systems. We have visceral reactions to the smallest events. Extroverts are extroverts because they’re looking for external stimulation. They need the excitement.

Introverts? We have plenty of excitement walking out the door in the morning, thank you very much. We don’t need anything else.

Now, put yourself in the place of one of your introverted students. How often do we do things in our schools that will throw this student’s nervous system into chaos?

I often think about why we do so many things in education the same way for every student. Yes, we provide interventions when students aren’t meeting achievement standards. But why do we make them sit in overfilled classrooms when we know some of them would rather be alone or in a small group?

We’re stifling great students by putting them in situations that wreck their world. And sometimes, we keep them from learning all they can.

Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

Group Work isn’t Always the Right Choice

Teachers ask students to collaborate all the time. We’re trained that collaboration makes for great student experiences. And that “we’re better together than we are apart.” I’m the first to admit that I follow that motto when working with students and teachers. Many times we’re right to put folks in groups.

But sometimes we’re not.

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Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, Inc., created the first Apple computer alone. He worked early mornings and late evenings around his job at HP. No workgroup, team, or other souls to talk with about his ideas. But he created the computer that began a revolution.

Musicians, especially professional musicians, know what makes or breaks their careers. It’s not the time they spend practicing with their ensemble. It’s how much time they spend in solitary practice. Great musicians practice around 4 hours a day alone, then practice more with their group.

Students sometimes don’t want to work in groups because they don’t want to do the work. Sometimes, it’s because they know they work well alone.

Flexible Collaboration

What if we allowed students to collaborate as they see the need? How could we design our classrooms and schools to facilitate this option?

We can use tools like instant messaging or chat tools. These tools create spaces where students can share ideas as needed. Jason Fried from 37Signals tells his employees to practice “passive collaboration.” Don’t meet unless you have to do so.

As a matter of fact, Jason tells people to cancel meetings. If you attend the same meetings I do as an educator; you know this is a good idea.

Microsoft has offices that offer sliding doors and removable walls. When appropriate, people can chat with their peers on a project. But then, they have the control to retreat into solitude and work.

closeup photo of body of water in timelapse photo
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Getting Into a Flow

Cain speaks about the “flow state” that people enter when they can concentrate and work. I experience this myself often when I’m working. It isn’t easy to get there without planning to do so, but when I can, oh my.

For me, I put on my headphones and crank up a playlist of techno, lo-fi, or some other repetitive music. It’s always in the background but never in the front of my mind. Sometimes I’m like Tim Ferris, and I’ll repeat a movie or TV episode repeatedly.

When do we allow students to get into a flow state? Do we ever? Introverts love to get into this flow state of uninterrupted work. They hate distractions.

Yet, we break it up every 50-60 minutes of every school day. Imagine how frustrating this is for some of your students.

Finding Your Restorative Niche

Your restorative niche is the place you go to rebuild your strength. This holds true for introverts and extroverts alike; their restorative niches look different. It doesn’t have to be a physical place; it can be a mental state of being.

Regardless of what it looks like, our students have restorative niches they need to visit. Many times per day. Likely, you have a restorative niche yourself that you need to visit.

What Now?

I don’t have answers for what I’ve talked about, but I know that we need to be more aware of how we take care of our introverts. Because I’m one of them, I know how terrible my school experience was all those years ago.

Is there a place for collaboration and group work among students and teachers? Yes. Is there also a place for solitude and quiet focus? Yes, and yes.

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Reversing Learning Loss, Rethinking Exit Tickets, and Respecting Introverts

Happy Monday to you all. I’m back after a nice break and ready to get things going this week. I’ve got some cool things to share with you today.

What I’m Reading:

Reversing Learning Loss

There’s a new working paper out of India that discusses the “learning loss” experienced by 19,000 students in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. I’m not the biggest fan of the term “learning loss” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not a battle I can fight. I’m just diving into this report, but the results from the interventions provided by a government-run program show a significant reduction in the deficits.

Rethinking Exit Tickets

I’m more invested in student-centered, personalized learning and taking the focus of our classrooms from the teacher being the “ultimate source of knowledge,” so when I saw an article from Eric Sheninger on rethinking exit tickets, I jumped right in. Eric presents an example of an exit ticket that isn’t just a “did you learn” activity. It’s a short exercise, to be sure, but it provides a student a chance to reflect on their learning and think about their level of understanding of the topic.

I haven’t read Eric’s most recent book yet, but I’ve enjoyed his Learning Transformed and Digital Leadership immensely.

Respecting Introverts

I am, without a doubt, the introvert’s introvert. I thrive in my alone time. Susan Cain’s “Quiet” has been on my TBR list for some time, and I finally started reading it during my break. It’s brilliant.

I’m about a third of the way through it. My first big takeaway is society’s focus on being an extrovert. Extroverted behavior is encouraged in our schools, companies, and governments. Nobody wants to be an introvert. Until you dig a little deeper…

For instance, Cain points out that the ranks of CEOs are filled with introverts. She quotes the imminent business expert Peter Drucker who said when speaking of companies he consulted with, “the most effective leaders had little or no charisma and little use for the term or what it signifies.”

Another interesting point from the book: 128 companies studied showed that CEOs considered extroverts had bigger salaries than their introverted counterparts but not better corporate performance.

I wonder what damage we do to introverts in our schools by not letting them be who they are and working in ways best for them.

Quote of the Day:

The one who has no wounds has never fought a battle.

– Erwin MacManus, The Way of The Warrior

naked man statue
Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash

What I’m Watching:

As a reward for completing some of my coursework, I binged three episodes of Andor on Disney+. Oh my goodness, it’s so good. I highly recommend it to anyone but especially to my fellow Star Wars fans.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is a reader-supported publication. The best way to support it is to shop for some of my favorite gear (I get a cut) or hire me to speak or consult with your organization.

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