Why is practice important?
As Rosenshine (2012) highlights, research into information processing shows that merely showing pupils new information or processes is not enough. Pupils need to be given the opportunity to practise new material in order to store it in their long-term memory. Rehearsal helps pupils to retrieve information easily. If pupils have had insufficient rehearsal opportunities, they are more likely to find it difficult to retrieve and use this information. This means their working memory will be consumed with recalling information, limiting the pupil’s ability to learn new information or problem solve. This can have a negative impact on both learning and motivation as it reduces pupils’ chances of achieving meaningful success.
Therefore, it is important you provide multiple opportunities for pupils to practise throughout a lesson.
Listen to Claire Stoneman talk about the important of practise and answer the following questions in your notebook:
- why is practice important?
- why is guided practice important?
- what can you provide to fuel motivation when pupils practise?
- why is it important to begin to remove scaffolds?
Importance of Practice - Claire Stoneman
This is the element of the lesson or sequence of lessons where the pupils are applying their knowledge and practising. Practising is a crucial part of learning and at any phase of schooling we need to build in opportunities for practice. Mark Enser invites us to consider the difference between practice and performance and says that in the classroom we need to consider what our pupils’ final performance will involve and then add in small steps of practice that will build towards the successful outcome.
The successful outcome might be: a piece of music performed on a recorder; a pupil using mathematical language to describe the characteristics of everyday objects; an essay about the Norman Conquest. But it’s important that practice is built-in to ensure the outcome is successful.
When you build in opportunities for practice think about chunking the practice in small steps so as not to overload the working memory. Sherrington reminds us that while the children are practising you will want to ensure that practice must be guided so that the chance of forming misconceptions is minimized. Sherrington also explains the importance of obtaining a high success rate while practising. He says ‘guidance is key to generating the high success rates that in turn fuels motivation and engagement during more independent work’. So while the pupils are practising, scaffolds and models and worked examples are all really useful in fuelling motivation as well, contributing to high success rate. There will be a point we will begin to withdraw the scaffolds to ensure that pupils begin to use the knowledge and skills stored and built up in their long-term memory over time.
So they’ll be moving from clunky and manual to smooth and automatic. But all this is also dependent on the subject, the topic you’re teaching, and the elements of the topic you’re teaching. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this. You will have to think carefully through the best way for the children to practice within the subject or topic in order for them to become fluent.
As Claire highlights, practice is integral to effective teaching. Through practice, pupils consolidate their understanding of knowledge or their ability to complete a process by rephrasing, elaborating upon or summarising information (Rosenshine, 2012). Practice also gives pupils a chance to demonstrate their level of understanding, which can highlight misunderstandings. Therefore, practice has two main purposes:
- It provides pupils with opportunity to consolidate their understanding before moving on to the next step in their learning
- It provides a chance for you to pick up on misconceptions that begin to arise
Consequently, pupils should have repeated opportunities to practise with appropriate guidance and support. Like the other features of effective teaching, such as explanations, modelling, and questioning, practice should be intertwined throughout the lesson and sequence of lessons. Practise should follow a teacher input where the new material has been sufficiently explained and modelled. Initial practice should be guided, and, as pupils become more proficient, pupils should transition to independent practice. Throughout any practice, it is important that pupils obtain a high success rate.
Obtain a high success rate
Before you delve into the details of guided and independent practice, it is important to consider why you should ensure pupils are successful during practice.
As Claire Stoneman mentions, one of Rosenshine’s (2012) principles is to ensure pupils obtain a high success rate during practice. This means that, during practice, it is important that pupils are getting most of their answers correct. This is pertinent in both guided and independent work for two reasons:
- Motivation - the experience of being successful at something can boost motivation
- Learning errors – if pupils make too many mistakes, they are practising making those errors and are more likely to embed misconceptions
The research that Rosenshine refers to found the optimal success rate during the early stages of practice was around 80%. This ensures pupils are getting many answers right whilst still being challenged, demonstrating they have learning goals ahead of their current ability. Achieving 80% success rate for every pupil in every lesson would be challenging so this can be used as a rough guide.
When pupils are completing independent practice, success rates need to be as high as possible to avoid pupils learning errors. This is especially important if you are using homework as a form of independent practice as pupils are not likely to receive feedback whilst completing their work, making it more likely they will incorrectly learn material if they have misconceptions.
Continually evaluating pupil success
You must continually evaluate the success of your pupils so you can adapt your teaching and the level of challenge accordingly. This can be done in many ways, for example, through questioning or through circulating the classroom whilst pupils are working.
If pupil success is much lower than 80%…
Then you may need to go back and re-teach or re-explain the concept, followed by more guided practice before moving pupils onto independent practice.
If pupil success is much higher than 80%…
Then you may need to give them more of a challenge by deepening their knowledge further. You may begin by gradually reducing the level of scaffold by increasing the levels of depth of knowledge required for the task. One way to do this is through the questioning, which will be explored in the final session of this module.
Think about a time you had a low success rate from one or many pupils either during guided or independent practice and answer the following questions in your notepad:
- what do you think caused the low success rate?
- when you noticed many pupils were making mistakes, what did you do?
When teaching new material to pupils, their initial practice should be guided to ensure pupils obtain a high success rate.
Rosenshine (2012) found that more successful teachers spent longer guiding pupils’ practice through explanations and modelling than less effective teachers. In this time, they asked many questions to allow pupils to retrieve and rehearse material and check pupils’ understanding before moving onto subsequent steps. Less effective teachers spent less time on guided practice and asked pupils to move onto independent work sooner. During the independent work, the pupils who received more guided practice before completing the independent tasks were better prepared and achieved higher success in their work than those who received less guided practice. Insufficient early practice or guidance often leads to more problems arising during independent work and can have a negative impact on pupil motivation.
Therefore, it is vital that you plan to include enough guided practice before moving onto independent work. A common mistake is to provide a short episode of guided practice and assume pupils are ready to begin independent practice when they aren’t. To help prevent this, you should constantly check for understanding so you can provide corrective or affirmative feedback or re-teach material where gaps remain to ensure pupils are fully prepared for independent practice. Checking for understanding will be explored in the last session of this module.
Forms of guided practice
After pupils have been exposed to high-quality explanations and models, they can begin to be involved in the knowledge recall or procedural process. This is where pupils begin to take ownership over parts of the task with the support of the teacher as a scaffold or guide.
In Maths, this might be a teacher working out an equation and asking for pupils to suggest the next step or possible answers. In Science, this might be a teacher composing a conclusion and asking pupils to share the correct terminology or next idea of what to write. In Art, it might be a teacher painting a picture and asking pupils which colours to use and why. In Early Years, it might be a teacher modelling the formation of a letter and asking the pupils to join in by drawing it in the air. In P.E. this might be a teacher modelling, with narration, how to attack in a three vs two and asking for pupil suggestions of what to do next and why.
During this time, it is important that you give feedback on pupils’ answers or ideas and address any misconceptions that arise.
What does guided practice look like?
Watch one of the videos below to see how a teacher uses guided practice to build pupils’ independence and answer the following questions:
- how do they scaffold pupils’ responses?
- how do they ensure all pupils are thinking, even if only to share their ideas with the class?
Forms of guided practice – Early Years at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Forms of guided practice – Early Years at Reach Academy [AD]
Forms of guided practice – Primary at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Forms of guided practice – Primary at Reach Academy [AD]
Forms of guided practice – Secondary at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Forms of guided practice – Secondary at Reach Academy [AD]
Forms of guided practice – Specialist setting - John Reed at Ellen Tinkham School
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Forms of guided practice – Specialist setting - John Reed at Ellen Tinkham School [AD]
Supporting writing through guided practice
In their guidance report, the EEF (2019) emphasise the importance for literacy skills to be taught in all subjects and disciplines where possible as research has found that there are links between pupils’ literacy skills and their performance in GCSEs across many subjects, not just English.
Reading, writing, and comprehension feature in all subjects in some way. Therefore, it is essential that all teachers strive to support and develop pupils’ literacy skills where possible and one way to do this is through guiding pupils during the writing, also known as Shared Writing.
This can be used on any occasion where pupils are being asked to compose a written response, which will occur in almost every subject. Supporting pupils with their writing across the curriculum provides them with more opportunities to practice and receive feedback which will support writing development.
Shared writing is a form of guided practice where a teacher writes with and in front of pupils to develop their ability to write independently (Corbett, 2015). When doing this, teachers can use a variety of modelling strategies, including ‘Think Aloud’, to make the implicit thought process of an expert writer explicit to novice learners.
Some general principles of shared writing are:
- generate writing based on pupils’ ideas they share
- remind, prompt and challenge pupils so the writing remains focused on the skills and vocabulary being developed
- model good writing skills such as rereading the text and listening to the flow of composition so the next sentence can be composed
- keep the pace brisk to ensure pupils don’t lose focus but include pauses for ‘thinking time’
Shared writing is the guided phase used to develop pupil independence in writing. It engages the whole class during teaching instruction but can also be used as a support to groups of pupils during writing tasks.
In a sequence, it would come after teacher input, where a teacher models writing without pupil input using ‘Think Aloud’, but before independent practice, where pupils are asked to work without adult support.
Shared writing in the classroom
Watch one of the videoa below to see a teacher using shared writing and answer the following questions in your notepad:
- what prior knowledge would pupils need in order to contribute during shared writing?
- what was the impact of shared writing on pupils’ engagement and learning?
- how did the teacher maintain high expectations or address misconceptions?
Shared writing – Early Years - Bella Sidenius at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Shared writing – Early Years - Bella Sidenius at Reach Academy [AD]
Shared writing – Primary at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Shared writing – Primary at Reach Academy [AD]
Shared writing – Secondary - Phil Fowkes at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Shared writing – Secondary - Phil Fowkes at Reach Academy[AD]
Guided practice is essential as it provides opportunities for pupils to consolidate their learning, helping them to retrieve material from their long-term memory, whilst simultaneously providing an insight into their level of understanding and highlighting any misconceptions they may have.
Before pupils move onto guided practice, they need an appropriate level of knowledge which should be developed during explanations and modelling, prior to guided practice.
During guided practice, it is likely you will still include elements of modelling and explanation to clarify understanding and build upon pupils’ learning. Therefore, explanations and modelling cannot be separated from guided practice as they are heavily intertwined.
pupils’ level of understanding during guided practice should be continually reviewed through questioning (explored in the last session of this module). This will inform you of how to progress the lesson. If pupils demonstrate a low success rate during guided practice, then you may need to return to the explanations and models you exposed them to when first introducing the material and provide more examples to build up their understanding and address gaps in learning.
Equally, if pupils are very confident during guided practice, you may need to reduce the level of support or guidance you are providing.
Application to practice
Identify a lesson you will teach in the next week and plan to include guided practice. When doing so, consider the following points:
- what will pupils need to know prior to guided practice? This will inform what to include in your explanations and modelling
- what key teaching points will the guided practice focus on? These will be the parts they are asked to contribute to
- what methods or strategies will you utilise? E.g. thinking aloud, partially completed examples
- how does guided practice build on from your explanation and modelling?
This plan will be a focus of your next mentor interaction where you will share and discuss what you have planned so far.