Deliberate Practice

‘Bounce’ is the title of a book I read a few years ago. And if you’re guessing, yes, it’s written by a sportsman – in fact, an international table-tennis champion, Matthew Syed, who is also a very sensible Times columnist. The subtitle of the book is ‘The myth of talent and the power of practice’.

Syed was brought up in Reading, and from his street came five national table-tennis champions, and around the corner, another five. He writes: “For a period in the 1980s, this one street and the surrounding vicinity produced more outstanding table-tennis players than the rest of the nation combined: a Ping-Pong mecca that seemed to defy explanation or belief.” Unsurprisingly, Syed and others’ theory that, given the right conditions, you can achieve whatever you want, has proved controversial.

Mr Anderson spoke in Monday’s assembly about Professor Anders Ericsson and his development of the 10,000 hours theory of deliberate practice needed to develop a world-class performer in sport or music. According to Ericsson, experts are not born but made, as a result of hours spent undertaking guided activity to develop their skills.

The analogy with success in academia is obvious. Pupils who want to do their best need to log enough hours of deliberate practice (purposeful activity undertaken with the aim of improving their skills) if they are to succeed. For our pupils, most of these hours are spent at school, but it is also possible for pupils to undertake deliberate practice at home. We call this ‘homework’!

Our pupils recognise the importance of homework and the vast majority do a great job on the tasks set. Our concern, of course, is to balance the academic gains achieved through homework with the time needed to benefit from other important activities, including sport, music, drama and family life.

That is why our Teaching and Learning theme for this year is Homework. As staff, we will be reflecting on the homework that we set, to ensure that it is as purposeful and effective as possible. But we also need to hear from parents, to understand their view of the homework that their children do. If you are willing to share your thoughts, please do so via this survey.

I can thoroughly recommend Matthew Syed’s ‘Bounce’. I have also read his ‘Black Box Thinking’ and listened to ‘Rebel Ideas’ in the car. The former stresses the importance of admitting openly to mistakes and learning from them – making marginal gains; it takes its title from the ‘black box’ recovered from crashed aeroplanes, because learning from mistakes or errors in the airline industry is a matter of life or death. ‘Rebel Ideas’ highlights the danger of surrounding yourself with people who think in the same way as you do and who never challenge your ideas or experience – as new solutions to problems are otherwise very rarely found.

Best wishes,

John Watson