Sports metaphors

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

In sports, they like to say, “How you practice is how you play.” If you practice sloppily, you’ll play sloppily. If you practice hard, you’ll play hard.

And it makes sense. Practice forms the habits and muscle memory you rely on in the game.

How about in the classroom? Consider these two routines common during whole-group practice: hand raising and dealing with incorrect answers.

When you ask a question, and then call on a student with their hand raised, what does this reinforce? Speed. The kids that get to share are the ones that got the answer quickly.

The message you send is that when you get a question, have an answer as fast as possible. That’s what we practice. That’s how you know who’s smart.

And then, ten minutes into the work period, we’re complaining about students rushing through their work and not taking time to think about the questions, or not attempting the question if they don’t know it immediately.

Because that’s how you practiced doing every example question. Those are the behaviours you taught them! Get the answer fast, and if you don’t know it, someone else will say it. Even if you verbally told them not to rush, you practiced the opposite. In fact, they’ve probably been trained to go as fast as they can since first grade.

What do we say next to the kids who finish too fast? “Did you check over your work? Did you double check that all your answers make sense? Did you reread the question to make sure you answered what it was asking?”

But wait a minute… when that student gave a wrong answer during group practice, all you said was, “Not quite. Anyone else?” He doesn’t need to check over his work, because you will just correct it for him. Again, he doesn’t really need to think beyond coming up with an answer quickly.

How we practice matters. As they also say in sports, “Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves.” If the big things aren’t working out how you want them to, take a step back to see what little things you could teach differently.