Making Practice Count

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I have never taken a class in martial arts, but I have certainly enjoyed watching Bruce Lee’s moves in his action-packed films!  Let’s face it!  The guy was physically amazing, but more than that, he had a way with words!   

Lee was more than just a famous martial artist!  He was also an actor and a philosopher with a long list of inspirational quotes tagged to his name.  Many of his famous quotes are still being used today to trigger personal growth, and one of my favorites says: 

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

This particular Bruce Lee quote reminds me of the importance of practice.  Practice, of course, is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement.  When we practice something over and over again, we naturally perform that particular skill with more ease, speed, and confidence.  

According to educators, Annie Bosler and Don Greene, practice affects the inner workings of our brains.  In a popular TED-Ed video entitled:  How to practice effectively…for just about anything, these two teachers put together a lesson that includes four simple steps to follow.  The steps include:

  1. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize potential distractions by turning off the computer or TV and putting your cell phone on airplane mode.

  2. Start out slowly or in slow-motion. Coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If you gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.

  3. Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. Studies have shown that many top athletes, musicians, and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft. Many divide their time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.

  4. Practice in your brain in vivid detail. It’s a bit surprising, but a number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it.

Bruce Lee became well-known as a professional martial artist, actor, and philosopher because of hard work and lots of focused practice.  As human beings, we can all benefit from applying these 4-steps to practice just about anything effectively.

Increasing Retention with Purposeful Movement

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Is purposeful movement an integral part of your instructional toolbox? I was reminded lately of the power of using motion to assist the brain in the retention of information.  I recently set a goal for myself to memorize a favorite portion of scripture, I Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter, which is commonly quoted at weddings.  As I pondered how to best attack this lofty goal, I was reminded of the units that my former coworker and I designed for our third grade students, years ago.  

You see, we took the vocabulary words in the lessons and brainstormed rhyming definitions that incorporated movement. We found these to be quite successful with the classes in assisting them not only to retain the information, but also to have fun while learning it! So, personally, I used this same method to learn the verbs and phrases associated with knowing how to love unselfishly, and it worked!

Now, I am not a brain expert by any means, but there is certainly something that takes place in the mind when you add purposeful movement to words or phrases. It adds that extra bit of distinctiveness which sticks in the memory bank and causes retention levels to soar!

Why not try adding some motions with muscle to your classroom lessons? It does take some preplanning, but it adds fun and a reason for movement to the learning process.  The Shurley English Jingles are a perfect learning tool to help you add movement into your language arts lessons (…and you can find them for FREE on our YouTube Channel).

As you listen to and learn the jingles, think about each line of text. Pay careful attention to the most important words, especially the verbs. Think of purposeful movements you can associate with the texts of each jingle. You will improve the community feel of your classroom by involving kids in the choreography planning, so don’t be afraid to give them the reins. Of course, you will need to be the final judge about whether the motions they want to use make a good association to the jingle text, but their engagement in this process will be invaluable to them in the long run.

How to Increase Emotional Intelligence with Controversy and Introspection

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If you have been following my posts about guiding kids to connect emotionally with their learning…thanks! I hope it has been interesting and helpful. I am wrapping up my series with another combo from Jensen’s work: controversy and introspection.

The mere mention of the word controversy is controversial. But what I mean is not going to usher in a strike of some kind and make you want to walk in a picket line. Controversy and introspection in the classroom are a dynamic duo because of the kind of thinking they inspire in your students.

Ages ago, when I was in high school (The exact number of years ago shall remain undisclosed!), I had a history teacher who, quite frankly, was able to teach history from experience…he was THAT old. But, with age comes wisdom—and he had a lot of it. I remember one lesson in particular that affected my learning and thinking in quite an unexpected way. He simply introduced a scenario filled to the brim with controversy. Granted, we were high school students and able to manage some heftier topics. Consequently, if you decide to introduce controversy, you must consider your audience.

Anyway, the scenario my teacher presented was much like a reality show on television where several characters with various talents and skills are introduced. They are placed on a deserted island and have to fend for themselves. Then, a situation is presented that forces you to analyze which characters have what it takes to survive and which characters are expendable because they don’t. You are also given a finite list of goods that have been provided to aid in the participants’ survival, and you also have a list other supplies that can be used creatively to further enable future survival for the fittest, smartest individuals. Next, my cohorts and I were teamed up. We had to discuss each character in depth. We had to weigh out which ones to help and which ones to ignore. Those decisions were based on our own life experiences—the real ones—that helped form our general world views. Wow! You would never have guessed the level of sophistication our conversations reached when we began to make decisions that would positively or negatively affect the outcome of the situation for each character.

I can’t remember a time when I enjoyed my history class more, and it came about because my teacher gave us permission to think through potential real-life situations in a safe zone…and the conversations, the thinking, the arguing were lustrous and titillating! So much so that I still remember the lesson even today!

Well, that’s what controversy, when it is handled carefully and considerately, can offer a learner. Now enters introspection. I grouped controversy and introspection together because one begets the other. When kids authentically analyze a problem and work together to solve it, they demonstrate introspection. If you are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, you know that the kind of thinking I am talking about is all too rare in many of our classrooms. Students who are encouraged to express their ideas, thoughts, opinions, biases, and misunderstandings glean so much from every learning opportunity. They learn how to evaluate their own thoughts, behaviors, and actions in light of their environments and cultural groups. Another reason I saved this dynamic duo of social-emotional learning until this post is because it isn’t for the squeamish. It gets gritty, and it is probably best suited for older kids. However, don’t shy away from these powerhouse emotional intelligence boosters, especially if you work with students from junior high level to college. It is the deep and wide thinking you elicit in your students that makes the risk worth taking.

(This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)