Aug
05

The Role of Practice in Learning: Group Practice

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This is a series of 4 blogs that focuses on the role of practice in learning:

  1. The Role of Practice in Learning: Directed Practice
  2. The Role of Practice in Learning: When is “Good Enough” Good Enough?
  3. The Role of Practice in Learning: Independent Practice
  4. The Role of Practice in Learning: Group Practice

This is an extra blog for the practice series triggered by a Linked-In discussion.

Practicing in Groups

For classrooms and for homeschoolers with larger families, it is sometimes more time efficient if two children can practice with one another while you, as teacher, can continue instruction with another student. Such practice sessions have to be carefully structured in order to generate the expected result of better performance.

There is always the danger that one of the students is not really capable of monitoring the performance of his or her partner. In that case, the remaining partner may wind up practicing errors which go unnoticed and uncorrected.

The simplest solution and one that I have helped to set up in classrooms is to create triads. Each triad is comprised of a strong student, a middle student and a weak student. The strong student can monitor both other students. The middle student can monitor the strong student. The weak student can observe and practice with both students.

Collecting Learning Samples

Almost all of my practice regimens involve collecting some learning data each day on each student. Whether it is reading stories or word lists, learning math facts, applying a spelling rule or underlining the subjects of sentences, the student does a timed practice for either 30 seconds or a minute. Each task has a standard of fluency that the student must reach before moving on to the next task. The weaker student is designated as the timer for most tasks.

Once the timing has been completed, the strong student records the correct and error scores for each member of the triad. If a score has shown no change in three days, the student brings that information to the teacher. Using the students as data recorders and analyzers means that you only have to deal with those results that need your attention.

I have also found that after a period of time, the students start implementing their own interventions when a score does not improve. This gets them even more involved with the learning. Now they are becoming data-based decision makers. If something works, the score improves and may reach the standard. If not, they try something else and keep the data on this attempt to see the effects of their decision.

The system makes doing practice a lot less drudgery. It sets a target to be attained. It depicts the progress or lack of it and results in additional attempts based on their next best guess about what it is going to take to get the score to increase. It adds purpose to practice.

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