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Friday, September 12, 2014

Books Worth Your Time V

My next recommendation is a book by Doug Lemov, who you may know from the book Teach Like a Champion or it's follow-up, Teach Like a Champion Field Guide. Both are terrific, all about better ways to teach. I recommend them, too!
But today I'll look at Doug's most recent book (along with co-authors Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi), Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.
This is all about the art (and science, in some cases) of practice. Using examples from top-level athletes and established teachers, as well as those in business or even long-time surgeons, the authors show how deliberately engineered and designed practice can make us better at almost anything we do (this quoted from the inside dust jacket, but very accurate. The fact that they don't use musicians in their examples won't get in the way of figuring out how better to teach your students, or rehearsing/practicing with your choir to make them better.
Since much of what they did in looking at champion teachers was to try to find ways to get other, less experienced or less skilled teachers to learn how to follow those models, they discovered that it was important for them to find better ways for the teachers to practice their new skills. Otherwise they weren't successful. So now they had to discover the rules of successful practice, or their teaching technique wouldn't improve.
I'll give a random set of examples of chapter titles ("Rules") to give you an idea:
Encode Success
Let the Mind Follow the Body
Unlock Creativity . . . with Repetition
Practice "Bright Spots"
Correct Instead of Critique
Isolate the Skill
Integrate the Skills
Make Each Minute Matter
Shorten the Feedback Loop
Describe the Solution (Not the Problem)
Break Down the Barriers to Practice
Make it Fun to Practice
Leverage Peer-to-Peer Accountability
Walk the Line (Between Support and Demand)
Some of these won't be clear until you read the chapters (and remember, there are 42 "rules"). But it should give you an inkling of what's going on here.
Just as an example, "Shorten the Feedback Loop." This built on John Wooden's teaching (you can find a series I wrote about him here, fourteen posts about Coach Wooden's technique and approach): as a former player noted, "he believed correction was wasted unless done immediately" -- in other words, without quick correction, the player was building in the wrong thing--practicing the incorrect thing.
I wrote about this in terms of work with my choirs telling them the difference between scrimmage and drill. In a scrimmage, we're looking at a game (for us, concert) situation in practice--running through a section or complete piece. Whereas in drill, we focus on fewer things, much repetition, and constant corrections. While we need both (and the percentage spent in each will change as we get closer to the concert), without lots of drill, certain things simply won't get better. It's focused drill, with constant feedback, that will make the choir better in the shortest time. We still have to mix in scrimmage, otherwise they don't know how to get through a section or piece, but that's a matter of balance. I also discovered that my students quickly got the idea of the importance of drill and this made them much more patient with the quick start/stop/correction/sing it again of drill. As I put it in an earlier post, it greatly increased the density of accomplishment in my rehearsals.
I'm still reading and re-reading this book in little chunks, then thinking about how a particular technique or way of thinking might apply to me in my work with choirs. I suspect I will for a long time. And I hope you'll find it valuable, too!

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