Home > Educational Neuroscience > Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

Practice refers to learners repeating a skill over time. It begins with the rehearsal of the new skill in working memory, the motor cortex, and the cerebellum. Later, the skill memory is recalled and additional practice follows. The quality of the practice and the learner’s knowledge base will largely determine the outcome of each practice session.

Over the long term, repeated practice causes the brain to assign extra neurons to the task, much as a computer assigns more memory for a complex program. The assignment of these additional neurons is more or less on a permanent basis. Professional keyboard and string musicians, for example, have larger portions of the motor cortex devoted to controlling finger and hand movements. Furthermore, the earlier their training started, the bigger the motor cortex (Schlaug, Jancke, Huang, & Steinmetz, 1995). If practice is stopped altogether, the neurons that are no longer being used are eventually assigned to other tasks, and skill mastery will decline (Amunts et al., 1997). In other words, use it or lose it!

The old adage that “practice makes perfect” is rarely true. It is very possible to practice the same skill repeatedly with no increase in achievement or accuracy of application. Think of the people you know who have been driving, cooking, or even teaching for many years with no improvement in their skills. I am a self-taught bowler, and although I have been bowling for 25 years, I do not improve. My bowling scores are embarrassingly low and remain there despite years of repeated bowling. Why is this?

How is it possible for one to continuously practice a skill with no resulting improvement in performance?

Conditions for Successful Practice

For practice to improve performance, four conditions must be met (Hunter, 2004):

1. The learner must be sufficiently motivated to want to improve performance.

2. The learner must have all the knowledge necessary to understand the different ways that the new knowledge or skill can be applied.

3. The learner must understand how to apply the knowledge to deal with a particular situation.

4. The learner must be able to analyze the results of that application and know what needs to be changed to improve performance in the future.

Teachers help learners meet these conditions when they do the following:

•Start by selecting the smallest amount of material that will have maximum meaning for the learner.

•Model the application process step-by-step. Studies show that the brain also uses observation as a means for determining the spatial learning needed to master a motor skill (Petrosini et al., 2003).

•Insist that the practice occur in the learner’s presence over a short period of time while the student is focused on the learning.

•Watch the practice and provide the students with prompt and specific feedback on what variable needs to be altered to correct and enhance the performance. Feedback seems to be particularly important during the learning of complex motor skills (Wulf, Shea, & Matschiner, 1998).

Guided Practice, Independent Practice, and Feedback

Practice does make permanent, thereby aiding in the retention of learning. Consequently, we want to ensure that students practice the new learning correctly from the beginning. This early practice (referred to as guided practice), then, is done in the presence of the teacher, who can now offer corrective feedback to help students analyze and improve their practice. When the practice is correct, the teacher can then assign independent practice, in which the students can rehearse the skill on their own to enhance retention.

This strategy leads to perfect practice, and, as Vince Lombardi said, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” In my case, I go bowling every few months to be with the same close friends, who are very busy professionals. Our bowling is noncompetitive and is simply the means that allows us to catch up on our lives, so our scores are of little importance. Thus, I have no motivation to improve—and, believe me, I don’t.

Teachers should avoid giving students independent practice before guided practice. Because practice makes permanent, allowing students to rehearse something for the first time while away from the teacher is very risky. If they unknowingly practice the skill incorrectly, then they will learn the incorrect method well! This will present serious problems for both the teacher and the learner later on because it is very difficult to change a skill that has been practiced and remembered, even if it is not correct.

Unlearning and Relearning a Skill. If a learner practices a skill incorrectly but well, unlearning and relearning that skill correctly is very difficult. The degree to which the unlearning and relearning processes are successful will depend on the following:

•Age of the learner (i.e., the younger the learner, the easier to relearn)

•Length of time the skill has been practiced incorrectly (i.e., the longer the practice period, the more difficult to change)

•Degree of motivation to relearn (i.e., the greater the desire for change, the more effort used to bring about change)

Sometimes, students who are young, and who have practiced the skill wrong for only a brief time, are so annoyed at having wasted their time with the incorrect practice that they lose motivation to learn the skill correctly.

Practice and Rehearsal Over Time Increases Retention

Hunter (2004) suggested that teachers use two different types of practice over time, massed and distributed. (Here, Hunter uses practice to include rehearsal.) Practicing new learning during time periods that are very close together is called massed practice. This produces fast learning, as when you may mentally rehearse a new telephone number if you are unable to write it down. Immediate memory is involved here, and the information can fade in seconds if it is not rehearsed quickly.

Teachers provide massed practice when they allow students to try different examples of applying new learning in a short period of time. Cramming for an exam is an example of massed practice. Material can be quickly chunked into working memory but can also be quickly dropped or forgotten if more sustained practice does not follow soon. This happens because the material has no further meaning, and thus the need for long-term retention disappears. Sustained practice over time, called distributed practice or the spacing effect, is the key to retention. If you want to remember that new telephone number later on, you will need to use it repeatedly over time. Thus, practice that is distributed over longer periods of time sustains meaning and consolidates the learnings into long-term storage in a form that will ensure accurate recall and applications in the future. It is important to note that the distributed practice is effective only if the learner is directly processing and focused on the learning, rather than just casually repeating it (Greene, 2008).

Recent studies have demonstrated the power of distributed practice. One study found that 5-year-old children benefited from distributed practice in their phonics lessons (Seabrook, Brown, & Solity, 2005). Another study using distributed practice over a six-week period found a significant improvement in the performance of middle school students compared to those in the control group (Metcalfe, Kornell, & Son, 2007). Researchers also found that spacing out practice boosted eighth-grade students’ recall of the material in their U.S. history course when tested nine months after the final exposure (Carpenter, Pashler, & Cepeda, 2009).

Effective practice, then, starts with massed practice for fast learning and proceeds to distributed practice later for retention. As a result, the student is continually practicing previously learned skills throughout the year(s). Each test should not only test new material but also allow students to practice important older learnings. This method not only helps in retention but also reminds students that the learnings will be useful for the future, not just for the time when they were first learned and tested.

Resources

Amunts, K., Schlaug, G., Jancke, L., Steinmetz, H., Schleicher, A., Dabringhaus, A., & Zilles, K. (1997). Motor cortex and hand motor skills: Structural compliance in the human brain. Human Brain Mapping, 5, 206–215.

Carpenter, S. K., Pashler, H., & Cepeda, N. J. (2009). Using tests to enhance 8th grade students’ retention of U.S. history facts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 760–771.

Greene, R. L. (2008). Repetition and spacing effects. In J. Byrne (Ed.), Learning and memory: A comprehensive reference, 2008 (pp. 65–78). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

Hunter, M. (2004). Mastery teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Metcalfe, J., Kornell, N., & Son, L. K. (2007). A cognitive-science based programme to enhance study efficacy in a high and low-risk setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19, 743–768.

Petrosini, L., Graziano, A., Mandolesi, L., Neri, P., Molinari, M., & Leggio, M. G. (2003). Watch how to do it! New advances in learning by observation. Brain Research Reviews, 42, 252–264.

Schlaug, G., Jancke, L., Huang, Y. X., & Steinmetz, H. (1995). In-vivo evidence of structural brain asymmetry in musicians. Science, 267, 699–701.

Seabrook, R., Brown, G. D. A., & Solity, J. E. (2005). Distributed and massed practice: From laboratory to classroom. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 107–122.

Wulf, G., Shea, C. H., & Matschiner, S. (1998). Frequent feedback enhances complex motor skill learning. Journal of Motor Behavior, 30, 180–192.

About these ads
  1. April 23, 2013 at 4:01 am

    Hi, its good paragraph on the topic of media print, we all be familiar
    with media is a impressive source of facts.

  2. April 30, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Hello! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with
    Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good gains.
    If you know of any please share. Cheers!

  3. May 1, 2013 at 4:48 am

    You’re so interesting! I don’t think I have read something
    like this before. So great to find somebody with some unique thoughts
    on this subject. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this
    up. This web site is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with some originality!

  4. May 1, 2013 at 8:56 am

    What’s up, yup this piece of writing is genuinely nice and I have learned lot of things from it concerning blogging. thanks.

  5. May 2, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this blog. I really hope to see the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own website now ;)

  6. May 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    I’m not sure why but this website is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a problem on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the
    problem still exists.

  7. May 8, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Greate post. Keep posting such kind of info on your blog.
    Im really impressed by it.
    Hi there, You have performed a great job. I will certainly digg it and for my part suggest to
    my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this web site.

  8. May 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I all the time used to read article in news papers but now as I am a user of net so from now I am using net for articles or reviews,
    thanks to web.

  9. May 18, 2013 at 2:25 am

    I read this post fully concerning the resemblance of
    newest and preceding technologies, it’s amazing article.

  10. May 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was curious what all is required to get set up? I’m assuming having a
    blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very web savvy so I’m not
    100% positive. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks

  11. May 23, 2013 at 2:19 am

    Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful article.

    Thank you for providing this info.

  12. May 23, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I have
    read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have
    the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this page.

  13. Ina
    May 25, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here.

    The sketch is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish.
    nonetheless, you command get bought an nervousness over that you wish be delivering the following.
    unwell unquestionably come more formerly again since exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this increase.

  14. May 28, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Hi there! This post could not be written any better!

    Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  15. June 19, 2013 at 3:28 am

    Attractive component to content. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and in
    accession capital to say that I get actually loved account
    your weblog posts. Anyway I will be subscribing in your augment and even
    I fulfillment you access constantly rapidly.

  16. June 29, 2013 at 6:06 am

    They are competent in posing, lighting and all
    the basic skills necessary to successfully photograph a
    wedding day. re going to want to examine your wedding photographer’s portfolio to see what type of form they use. Stone work on old churches or arched doorways make fantastic backdrops for these shots. We need to have some expert professional photographer for this. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
    and we are practically a guest at your wedding, make sure you like your photographer.

  17. July 4, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    It’s very simple to find out any matter on net as compared to textbooks, as I found this post at this web site.

  18. July 9, 2013 at 3:46 am

    Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles
    as long as I provide credit and sources back to your site?
    My blog is in the very same niche as yours and my users would genuinely
    benefit from some of the information you provide here.
    Please let me know if this alright with you. Regards!

  19. July 17, 2013 at 12:39 am

    This is not to say to go all out like some celebrities do,
    but choose a natural-looking length and thickness.
    adsense_ad_unit += ” +. Clinical studies show that you will begin seeing results around 4 weeks with full
    results after 16 weeks.

  20. July 20, 2013 at 12:10 am

    Hello there, I believe your blog may be having browser compatibility
    problems. Whenever I take a look at your web site
    in Safari, it looks fine however, when opening in IE,
    it’s got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted to give you a quick heads up! Aside from that, excellent site!

  21. July 25, 2013 at 12:37 am

    CCTV testers provide a quick and convenient way to test,
    calibrate, and troubleshoot CCTV installations.
    You can add separate alarm for the doors and windows of your
    home, deciding which doors or windows to have alarm
    enabled. They will put themselves in the burglar’s position and see where home CCTV would prove to be most efficient.

  22. July 29, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    The solar power inverter connection will be at the fuse box, so
    that appliances and lights will work in the same manner when the switch is turned on.

    Contact your local power companies for more details. It is here that the versatility of solar landscape lights truly shines.

  23. July 30, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Will they provide you. The answer, of course, but you need to leave the premises a disaster.
    When prices take off in earnest the bottom will come
    up quickly, and we promise to not only rent a house from us, YOU get $50!
    Property Management Tampa Boot Camp can also provide you with
    a complimentary consultation in 2011 with rental Property Management
    Tampa. I have owned long term and vacation rental property for you is that you can access
    anytime in 2011 with a property management tampa company.
    As your property management tampa company possess a real estate investment.

  24. July 30, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Fastidious answers in return of this query with solid arguments and describing everything regarding that.

  25. July 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Some property management 62208 companies are
    divided in two – selling real estate. It can also generate the cost to the company for the work being
    done, which can track property income and
    expense and calculate tax for up to $5, 000.
    His managing agent was a firm called Solitaire property management 62208, which in 2008 became part of the maintenance, preservation and renovation of all types of facilities and benefits.

  26. August 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Tip; If you talk with a DELL business salesman over the telephone,
    you may save some additional cash through the already
    great deals occasionally found on DELL’s website. An established name, a good reputation for quality, and reliable technical support are important considerations when picking a laptop, nevertheless the prices available from many different companies should always be investigated. Click Start, Control Panel, User account, select Melisa and then you can change the password to that which you want.

  27. August 1, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    Great blog right here! Also your website so much up fast!
    What web host are you using? Can I am getting your associate
    link in your host? I want my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  28. August 3, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Taking a few
    minutes and actual effort to produce a great article… but what can I say… I hesitate a
    lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

  29. August 6, 2013 at 9:01 am

    There are slide pocket-organized pages available which can hold up to
    twenty individual 35mm slides and work quite well for this purpose.
    Lapel years have served many functions, being useful for varied reasons.
    If you can, make sure to look up the corresponding Pantone colors so that you can provide these to the design company.

  30. August 7, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Effective traffic recon techniques require a primary keyword and several secondary keywords or keyword phases be chosen, included and repeated in the
    text ofyour descriptions. In this way, you ensure that the agency – whose traffic recon services you are considering writing about get paid to blog it is necessary to create a website in ranking higher than
    its competitors.

  31. August 8, 2013 at 12:24 am

    Growth is a vital part of any religious organization.
    Contact Lapel Pins R Us with your request for custom lapel pins right away.
    They can be used as a part of a uniform, or
    to show sponsorship of a non-profit organization.

  32. August 8, 2013 at 10:17 am

    As a sister or best friend, she will be a confidante, encourager, and general support.

    Offset digital printed custom trading pins are the way to go if you need to reproduce a painting, photo or organizational logo precisely.
    Some businesses show their appreciation for employee efforts by recognizing employees.

  33. August 9, 2013 at 5:51 am

    I’ve been exploring for a bit for any high quality articles or blog posts on this sort of space . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this site. Reading this info So i’m happy
    to exhibit that I’ve an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed. I most for sure will make sure to don?t forget this web site and provides it a glance on a constant basis.

  34. August 30, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Having read this I believed it was extremely informative.
    I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this article together.
    I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments.
    But so what, it was still worthwhile!

  35. September 16, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Great beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your site, how can i subscribe for a weblog
    web site? The account helped me a appropriate deal. I were a little bit
    acquainted of this your broadcast provided bright transparent concept

  36. Common cosmetic Dental
    October 3, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering problems with your website.
    It appears like some of the text in your content are running off
    the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let me know if
    this is happening to them too? This could be a problem with my internet
    browser because I’ve had this happen previously.

    Kudos

  37. October 8, 2013 at 5:52 am

    I was suggested this web site by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my problem.
    You are wonderful! Thanks!

  38. October 17, 2013 at 10:30 am

    I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post in the future I was very happy to have found this site. I wanted to thank you for this excellent post.

    lapel pins

  1. May 21, 2013 at 6:00 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,123 other followers

%d bloggers like this: