Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

Educrats have long warned of the perils of rote and repetition, lamenting that students can’t learn “how to think” if they’re forced to memorize facts or repeat skills to automaticity. This pedagogical method hamstrings great teachers, too, they argue. But they’re wrong. In his seminal first book, Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov explained (based on thousands of hours spent observing outstanding teachers in action) that great teaching requires the mastery of seemingly mundane but crucially important knowledge and skills. His newest book (coauthored with Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi) builds upon these insights. Drawing on their own experience working to ingrain practice into both school culture and teacher professional development, Practice Perfect offers forty-two rules designed to help people “get better at getting better.” Like the techniques described in Teach Like a Champion, these rules are simple, practical, and grounded in common sense, as well as respect for the practice and repetition that we need to help teachers (and students) achieve mastery. They also present a damning critique of the multi-billion dollar teacher professional-development industry. By shying away from skill repetition, most PD programs offer the equivalent of art-appreciation courses and then ask teachers to paint masterpieces. They simply do not give teachers—eager to learn new skills—the tools to become better educators. Properly conceived, rather than merely giving teachers time to “listen, reflect, discuss, and debate,” professional development would have teachers practice (and hone) newly learned skills with one another—with coaching and feedback—before debuting them in the classroom. This insight may mark the biggest impact of Practice Perfect. Let’s hope that more use this as an opportunity to rethink the role of practice in teacher development and the importance of repetition to the artistry of teaching.

A version of this review was published on the Common Core Watch blog.

SOURCE: Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi, Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, a Jossey-Bass imprint, September 2012).

Kathleen Porter-Magee
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute