The biggest problem in choosing a practice strategy is not that there are too few options, but that there are too many. How do you identify the best methods? A teacher/coach/mentor for 35+ years, I still struggle at times to find the right mix. This tip provided me a way to measure practice effectiveness. So I thought I would share…It’s called the R.E.P.S. gauge. Each letter stands for a key element of deep practice.
R: Reaching and Repeating
S: Strong, Speedy Feedback
ELEMENT 1: REACHING AND REPEATING.
Does the practice have you operating on the edge of your ability, reaching and repeating?
Scenario: two math teachers I knew, while teaching the multiplication tables to thirty students.
· Teacher A selects a single student to write the tables on the board.
· Teacher B creates a “game show” format in which a multiplication problem is posed verbally to the entire class, then a single student is called on to answer.
Result: Teacher B chose the better option because it creates thirty reaches per question. In Classroom A, only one student has to reach—everybody else can lean back and observe. In Classroom B, however, every single member of the class has to reach in case their name is called.
ELEMENT 2: ENGAGEMENT.
Is the practice riveting? Does it command your attention? Does it use emotion to propel you toward a goal?
Scenario: Two trumpet students trying to learn a short tough passage in a song.
· Trumpeter A plays the passage 20 times.
· Trumpeter B tries to play the passage perfectly---with zero mistakes---five times in a row. If she makes any mistake, the count goes back to zero and she starts over.
Result: Student B made the better choice, because the method is more engaging. Playing a passage 20 times in a row is boring, a chore where you’re simply counting the reps until you’re done. But playing five times perfectly, when any mistake sends you back to zero, is intensively engaging.
ELEMENT 3: PURPOSEFULNESS.
Does the task directly connect to the skill you want to build?
Scenario: Two basketball teams keep losing games because of missed free-throws.
· Team A practices free throws at the end of a practice, with each player shooting fifty free throws alone.
· Team B practices free throws intermittently during a full-court scrimmage, with the fouled player shooting while tired and under pressure, as in a game.
Result: Team B made the better choice, because their practice connects to the skill they want to build, the ability to make free throws under pressure, while exhausted. (No player ever gets to shoot fifty straight in a game.)
[Think about this when you play at the end of your session with Penalty kicks being whistled every time there was a foul on the field, or a free kick was given to any team at any time! ]
The purpose to prepare at any given moment trains the impulse!
ELEMENT 4: STRONG, SPEEDY FEEDBACK.
Does the player(learner) receive a stream of accurate information about his performance---where he succeeded and where he made mistakes?
Scenario: two high school students trying to improve their SAT scores.
· Student A spends a Saturday taking a mock version of the SAT test, then receives the test results one week later.
· Student B spends a Saturday taking a mini version of each section, grading herself and reviewing each test detail as soon as it’s completed.
Result: Student B made the better choice, because the feedback is direct and immediate. Learning swiftly where she went wrong (and where she went right) will tend to stick, while finding out a week later will have little effect.
The idea of this gauge is simple: When given a choice between two practice methods, or when you’re inventing a new test or game, pick the one that maximizes these four qualities, the one with the most R.E.P.S. The larger lesson here is to pay attention to the design of your training session or practice. Small changes in method can create large increases in learning velocity.