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.)
I am not sure how deliberate practice would fit into teacher education as you describe it here unless I am missing something. Do you want teachers to incorporate it into their activities or to use it as a way to build their practice?
What I get from your description of deliberate practice is that the learner must be highly motivated, analytic, and able to engage the practice metacognitively, which probably is the same as being analytic. How do you apply this to a larger learning task such as teaching a lesson where the novice teacher's attention is likely to focused narrowly?
I hope that all makes some sense.
It would be something that takes place in the certificate course and beyond, but exactly how it would be implemented, I'm still not quite sure.
As you say, it would be hard to do in a full lesson.
A simple example could be practicing noticing when somebody's not understanding in a 5-minute explanation. It could be done with video, other TESL students, or real ESL learners with varying degrees of realism and success. But I admit, this sounds like a bit of a lame example.
I've downloaded Bartels' dissertation, which is also quite interesting, and am hoping it will provide more ideas.
Good post! IMO, Ericsson's insights into the value of deliberate practice are beginning to change every aspect of language teaching and learning, including the connection between native English-speaking students learning English grammar and improving their writing as a result.
No space here to elaborate, but "deliberate practice" is the key! Email me [email@example.com] and we can discuss this in more depth.
I think noticing would be a good skill to work on. I think it is a skill that comes with experience, so if you found a way to speed up some of that experience with deliberate practice, the new teachers should benefit.
Do you have a strategy for teachers for noticing when someone is not understanding? Are there cues to look for? How do this person differ from the student who already knows the point your teaching and is not paying attention?
You definitely raised an interesting point for me.
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