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Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

Slate featured this excerpt from Learn Better about how, in order to get better at something, you need to know what you’re doing wrong.

Smart, focused criticism helps us figure out how to improve. Feedback makes us realize what we’re doing wrong and how we can do it right. As researcher John Hattie writes in his book Visible Learning, “the most powerful single influence enhancing achievement is feedback.

”I’ll admit that I had long ignored this fact in my basketball life. Before pick-up games, I’d often go to the local gym to try and improve but I wouldn’t really monitor my outcomes. I didn’t get any feedback on my footwork or track the number of shots that fell in. Practice expert Anders Ericsson sees this all the time, and he told me that when most people practice, “they don’t have a clear idea of what they should improve, and so they’re just wasting their time.

When it came to hoops, better forms of practice¾and targeted feedback¾eventually came in the form of Dwane Samuels. During his 20s, Samuels had played basketball at some big-name colleges, notching up minutes in summer leagues against NBA All-Stars like Ben Wallace. Later, Samuels found a spot playing for the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ perennial opponents.

 

Education debates don’t focus enough on teaching and learning

I wrote this piece for ThinkProgress about the need to focus education debates around improving everyday classroom practice. Here’s the gist of the piece:

 

Most school reform headlines focus on a pretty narrow area of policy. The latest voucher study will spark fierce debates, while pundits write heated op-eds on the benefits of non-elected school boards. In Denver, discussions of charter schools funding dominate the education debate. In Los Angeles, the conversation is all about school choice.

These issues are important. Private school vouchers could decimate the nation’s public school system. But just about all of these policy debates revolve around a limited set of governance issues and don’t touch on ways to improve everyday classroom practice.

This administration-heavy approach to reform stands in contrast to the research, and a growing body of evidence — and, really, common sense — suggests that instructional reform can dramatically improve learning. A forthcoming study by researcher Chris Schunn shows that curriculum changes, such as spacing out content, can provide a large boost to student outcomes. Inexpensive online professional development could improve test-scores as much as lowering class size, according to a paper released last year by Kirabo Jackson and Alexey Makarin.

 

But take a look at the full article–and tell me what you think.

 

Why I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus

Vox recently featured an excerpt from my new book Learn Better. I pasted the nut of the story below:

 

As a technology, the abacus predates the making of glass and the invention of the alphabet. The Romans had some sort of counting device with beads. So did the early Greeks. The word “calculate” comes from the expression “drawing pebbles,” basically using some sort of abacus-like device to do math.

Researchers from Harvard to China have studied the device, showing that abacus students often learn more than students who use more modern approaches. UC San Diego psychologist David Barner led one of the studies, and he argues that abacus training can significantly boost math skills with effects potentially lasting for decades. “Based on everything we know about early math education and its long-term effects, I’ll make the prediction that children who thrive with abacus will have higher math scores later in life, perhaps even on the SAT,” Barner told me.

 

 

 

 

Errors in Learn Better

Despite my best efforts, I made some errors while writing my book “Learn Better.”  In the space below, I’m going to keep a running list of any gaffes or mistakes or needed clarifications. I’ll also send this list to my publisher to make sure that these errors are corrected in future editions.

If you find any additional errors, please email me and I’ll list them here, and again my regrets and apologizes for the mistakes.

On page 107, I incorrectly identified where Joshua Aronson did his graduate school work. He got his PhD from Princeton, not Stanford.

On page 296, I misspelled Giada Di Stefano. It is Giada, not Giadia.