That's why I was so excited when I came upon the concept of deliberate practice where I wasn't expecting it at all: in The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Having just completed my first year teaching in our TESL program, I was looking for some ideas to help me understand and rethink how my experience there had been different from experiences teaching English.
The guide started out rather tediously with a lot of talk of politics, colonialism, and professionalism. "Our increased attention to the complexities of teacher learning," concludes the introduction, "is grounded in an epistemology of practice." For some reason, I have a personal aversion to the word epistemology, and find it difficult to take seriously texts that use it.
Anyhow, I had almost given up on it when I came across Nat Bartels's chapter, "Knowledge about language", which isn't really about knowledge about language at all, but rather about deliberate practice. (To be fair, Practice in a Second Language also starts out talking about deliberate practice, but then quickly backs away from it.)
So what is deliberate practice? It is repeated attempts at the same or similar tasks under the following conditions:
- high motivation to attend to the task and exert effort
- clear goals and purposes
- challenging but not overly difficult tasks
- authentic but controlled tasks
- immediate feedback
For teacher learners, Bartels says, practicum is not a good place to engage in deliberate practice for a number of reasons:
- it's too complex, not allowing them to attend sufficiently to the target aspect
- it's too difuse, not allowing numerous repetitions of the target task
- feedback is often be delayed
The TESL course that I taught was designed to move from talking about grammar to teaching grammar in peer teaching activities, and then to the practicum. Nowhere was there any opportunity for deliberate practice, but at least now I'm thinking about it.
(By the way, The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education actually ended up being much more enlightening on the whole than I had expected. Along with the Bartels chapter, Chapter 18: The Novice Teacher Experience and Chapter 19: Teaching Expertise: Approaches, Perspectives, and Characterizations in particular were also very interesting, both for a novice teacher educator like me, and, I would expect, even to novice ESL teachers.)