Teaching Python

We're two middle school teachers learning and teaching Python

Drill to Skill

"Practice makes perfect."

"10,000 hours to be an expert!"

"Repetition, repetition, repetition!"

I heard all these quotes growing up, and it continues to persist in my adulthood for a reason. To be good at anything, you need to do it over and over again. Full stop.

Different pedagogies, educational philosophies, various school cultures, and teaching styles become jumbled together over time. Educational reform movements emerge, and often, old teaching methodologies get overlooked on the sideline. For example, the concept of drilling knowledge became a faux pas or an often overlooked classroom necessity when the methodologies of PBL, AGILE, MYP Approaches to Learning, standards-based education, and "playful learning" were introduced. These methodologies are easy to replicate and help students learn more effectively. Upon further investigation, they all have one thing in common; the simple fact that each follows a basic recipe that allows students to drill their learning and practice repetitively. Project-based learning, AGILE practice, and student-led discovery activities allow learners to investigate, stumble, and correct misconceptions and errors during each project iteration.

The act of 'doing,' making mistakes, and profoundly considering the outcomes are definitive ways to learn. Students must write a lot, fix writing errors, and manipulate their words to become better writers. Readers must read as much as possible, slow down their thoughts, and struggle over new words and concepts regularly to become expert readers. Athletes must practice daily, train their muscles, fall, and sometimes lose to develop their skills. Furthermore, developers must write many lines code, fix thousands of errors, iterate continuously, and rack their brains to solve problems to become expert coders. Regardless of what hobby pursued, skill to develop, or paradigm used, practice does make perfect!

An alert learner must practice time after time, day after day, to commit a skill to the long-term memory. However, it is not just any type of practice that is beneficial. Deep practice, with attentive learning, is the key. With deep practice comes neural development. Alternatively, as Daniel Coyle says, in his book Talent Code, "Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect." (The Talent Code 2009.)


"Systematically firing" your neurons during active learning exercises helps to build the coating that solidifies your neural pathways. Again, this does not mean just doing more of the same thing. You must always be in the "sweet spot" of learning to build neural connections. The sweet spot is activated during activities defined by Bjork as "desirable difficulties," opportunities that require neurons to fire and struggle. Yes, the struggle is real!

I love this example that Coyle provides about deep practice. Imagine walking into an unfamiliar, dark room. You begin to explore, feel around, bump into things and possibly fall. You get up and explore more, circling the room multiple times. Eventually, bruised and full of adrenaline, you begin to build a mental image of the room, and eventually, you can walk it "quickly and intuitively." You practiced this learning little by little, over and over. And more importantly, you could feel and visualize the process as you learned. It was often painful, but this feeling helped you to learn more. This is deep "myelin" learning and an effective method of drill and practice!

'Drill and practice' is one of the most critical learning methods you can apply when learning how to code. It is not rote memorization of syntax or concepts or repetitively practicing the same things over and over. Instead, 'drill and practice' is an awareness that the learning is happening as you practice. It is this "feeling" of connection, repetition, struggle, and alertness that keeps your learning productive. So next time, you start practicing a new concept, relish the learning moment, repeat what you studied and practice what you learned.

> Happy 'Myelin' Learning!

Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code. New York, Bantam, 2009.

By definition:
The term' drill and practice' is defined as a method of instruction characterized by systematic repetition of concepts, examples, and practice problems. Drill and practice is a disciplined and repetitious exercise used to teach and perfect a skill or procedure. As an instructional strategy, it promotes knowledge or skill acquisition through systematic training by multiple repetitions, rehearse, practice, and engages in a rehearsal to learn or become proficient. Similar to memorization, drill and practice involve the repetition of specific skills, such as spelling or multiplication. Developing or maintaining one's particular skills, the subskills built through drill and practice should become the building blocks for more meaningful learning. https://www.brainscape.com/academy/drill-and-practice-in-education/