Fires in the Mind

Why all the fuss about practice?

Every day as I walk past the George Washington Bridge bus station in my New York City neighborhood, I stop to watch the skateboarders for a while. They hang out under the bridge ramparts on a little-used strip of asphalt, mostly kids from about 11 to 15, and they work on their moves in a way that seems at once fluid, social, and intensely focused. At times, they slouch into a break, but they’re actually watching each other closely. Then they go back and try something new, again and again.

Like Dan Coyle in The Talent Code and many others, for the last couple of years we at What Kids Can Do have been digging into the cognitive research on what it takes to get really good at something.

The kind of practice that really moves us ahead – “deliberate practice” – involves some key elements, we learned — and they look a lot like what those young skateboarders are doing under the bridge:

They see something excellent that they want to know and be able to do.
They go after something at a challenge level that’s just right for them.
They repeat the task in a focused, attentive way, at intervals that help them recall its key elements.
All along, they receive and adjust to feedback, correcting their mistakes.
They really savor the small successes that come along — and then they look for the next challenge.

It’s what every good teacher wishes were happening in the classroom. But it fascinates us, as we document the lives and learning of adolescents, how much of their learning takes place “outside the lines.”

We’re going to use this space to explore with all of you who care about kids — teachers, parents, coaches, caregivers — what can bring that kind of practice into all the places where we interact with youth.

The kids under that bridge are showing us that it’s a way of being, not a curriculum. It’s at once playful and purposeful, and its result is high performance.

In this space, we’ll focus our discussions by watching and listening to kids themselves. We hope you’ll tell us what you’re seeing and hearing, and tell us what you’re wondering and trying.

Welcome to practice!

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Images of practice, from you and your students

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