Deliberate Practice: What it is and what it isn’t

3-Star learning experiences

Mirjam Neelen & P.A. Kirschner

What does it take to become an expert? According to the influential deliberate practice theory, achieving expert performance requires a vast amount of deliberate practice. The term “deliberate practice” is used abundantly in the world of learning and education. However, as with many ‘magic words’ (Learning analytics! Grit! Mindset!), they are often incorrectly understood, explained, and/or applied (and sometimes they’re just plain nonsense).

Deliberate practice versus ‘just practice’

Patti Shank, well-known learning expert, researcher, and writer wrote a blog on deliberate practice back in May 2016 where she points out that people who are trying to improve their level of expertise set specific goals to improve their skills. However, in order for this practice to be ‘deliberate’ it actually needs to be taken a number of steps further.

According to Anders Ericsson (1993), who coined the term and has researched it for over 30 years

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KS3 Assessment: Performance, Practice and Pole Vaulting

Reflections on schools, teaching and education.

Two years ago as an Assistant Principal in a London school I was asked by the head to provide a solution to ‘life after levels’.  I’m not very proud of what I came up with.  I suggested that we could pull down the new 1-9 GCSE grades into Key Stage 3, so that students are judged on the same criteria from the moment they walk through the school gates in Year 7 until the day they collect their final grades in Year 11.

I now see that my ‘solution’ contained all the flaws of levels with none of the benefits – at least levels were broadly understood as a vague proxy for students’ progress through each subject.  A tweet from one headteacher last week captures one of the issues with my proposal:


Two years on I’m still grappling with school leaders to provide an assessment system that focuses on the…

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