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.

Summer Learning: Taking a Brain Break with Meditation

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If you’ve been following our Shurley English Blog posts, you know we’ve been flooding you with creative ideas on how to continue supporting your students’ academic progress throughout the summer.  We are aware that with the high demands placed upon our children in today’s U.S. classrooms, it’s evident that children (and adults) have fewer opportunities to truly unwind and relax. 

Today, my suggestion is to remember to INCLUDE some “DOWNTIME” into your child’s daily summer schedule, and here’s why:

  • Research shows that time off-task is important for proper brain function and health.

  • The brain uses 20% of the body’s energy while on-task.

  • Napping 10-30 minutes can increase alertness and improve performance.

  • Meditation is a way to give the brain a break from work and refresh the ability to concentrate.

  • Resting mental states help us process our experiences, consolidate memories, reinforce learning, regulate our attention and emotions, and keep us productive!

Downtime will give the brain an opportunity to make sense of what has just been learned, and shifting off-task can actually help learners refresh their minds, gain insight, and return to the task with more focus.

Brain Break Exercise: Meditation with Mindful Breathing

I mentioned meditation as a way to give the brain a break, so show your students how to tap into their own superhero relaxation powers with this simple breathing exercise.  Teach your students that their breath is an amazing tool that can help them relax or calm down at any given moment.  It can help them manage the ups and downs of school and life—all they have to do is breathe.

The purpose of a breathing meditation is to calm the mind and develop inner peace.  We can use breathing meditations to reduce our distractions and feel a deep sense of relaxation.  Allow this breathing exercise to bring more calmness into your classroom while your students learn a valuable tool that helps them relax.

  • Mindful Breathing Exercise (2-5 minutes)

  • Students can stand or sit for this activity.

  • Ask students to put both hands on their belly.

  • Students should close their eyes, or look down to their hands.

  • Guide students in taking three slow deep breaths in and out to see if they can feel their hands being moved.

  • You may like to count “1, 2, 3” for each breath in and “1, 2, 3” for each breath out, pausing slightly at the end of each exhale.

  • Encourage students to think about how the breath feels, answering the following questions silently, in their mind.

    What is moving your hands? Is it the air filling your lungs?
    Can you feel the air moving in through your nose?
    Can you feel it moving out through your nose?
    Does the air feel a little colder on the way in and warmer on the way out?
    Can you hear your breath?
    What does it sound like?

Remember, time off-task isn’t always wasted time or a sign of laziness. I encourage you to create the balance between being a “human-being” and a “human-doing” this summer!

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.