Thursday, November 1, 2012

WARNING: The Brain Like to Practice!

Once in a while lots of information on the same subject comes together at the same time. Those of you familiar with my writing at notesintoimages.com know that I have approached the importance of “practice” from different perspectives in several blogs.
Now Doug Lemov (Wall Street Journal Saturday/Sunday, Oct. 27-28, 2012) has co-authored the book Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, which advances the theory that “rehearsing tasks, from teaching, to medicine, to consumer service, frees the brain for complex work.”
While no one disputes the importance of practice for winning at tennis or playing a piano concerto in front of a live audience, Lemov goes on to say that practice is just as important in mastering tasks that take place in the workplace, such as developing customer service skills, training doctors in more effective patient communication, or helping teachers by having them practice, rehearse and get feedback on their skills.
I immediately thought back to my days in the first semester of my senior year in college. I, as a student teacher, was faced with the daunting task of becoming a competent classroom teacher. With most of my course work almost completed, it was time to put educational theory into action.
My semester living off campus in Cincinnati, Ohio, was spent partying, writing lesson plans, and classroom observing while waiting for my time to try out my lesson plans in front of a classroom of high-energy, mischievous junior high students.
The master teacher more often then not used my teaching time to escape to the teacher’s lounge to grade papers, smoke or catch a quick nap. How helpful it would have been to have her in the room on a regular basis observing and then to have follow-up discussion with her so she could counsel or offer suggestions on how to improve explaining a concept, praising a student’s response to a question, or role-playing handling the antics of a disruptive seventh grader.
It is practice in real time that Lemov postulates allows us to “execute a task while using less and less active brain processing. It makes things automatic. When performers master one aspect of their work, they free their minds to think about another aspect. This may be why many of us have our most creative thoughts while driving.”
That comment by Lemov was a “Eureka moment” for me. Ideas for notesintoimages.com often appear, the concept gels and starts developing, and the initial text takes form while I’m driving to or from meetings in San Francisco—a 140-mile roundtrip. My conscious brain is always vigilant, for I am traveling at high speeds and surrounded by multiple lanes of cars.
Yet at the same time a creative area of my brain – perhaps stimulated by an article I’ve read or training I’m developing for a client – is wandering, and to my constant surprise it usually alights on a compelling idea to develop in a future blog.
I use videotape to show my clients what they’re doing right, could use improvement on, or what’s just plain wrong.  Replaying small bites of a presentation or a question-and-answer session is far more beneficial than taping a final performance. The instant feedback helps me direct my clients to make both significant and subtle corrections in how they tell their company story or answer an investor’s question about their company’s technology. Video tape allows us to see how we look and hear what we’re saying, and then with corrections in mind we do it all over again.
Practice is one of the first things a child learns with his toys. An old and popular wood toy is the shape sorting cube. To watch a child work with the pieces (cubes, triangles, circles) is an amazing lesson in practice as he tries to get a circle to go into a square opening and a square into a circular opening. It usually takes a bit of practice; but once the child gets it, he moves on to the next learning experience – and if we agree with Doug Lemov – probably more complex work.