Practice does not make perfect

We have all heard this before: “Practice makes perfect.” Although there is no such thing as perfect, this is sound enough advice for achieving technical excellence. Some parents may say it to encourage their child to practice scales on the piano before going full-on Chopin. Some kids may murmur it to themselves as they warm up for soccer practice while dreaming of the World Cup. Inspirational speakers may say it to get their listeners up and chasing success. But teachers might want to take a break from saying it to their students.

“Practice makes perfect” is much less practical when it comes to educational learning. Children are given drills, such as solving for x in math, to complete over and over, yet they may not know why they are doing this and how the solution actually works. This is because the public school system still heavily adheres to a result-oriented system focused on grades. This suggests that as long as students get the right answers, it does not matter so much how they got there. This is not an accurate reading on how much students have learned or their intelligence in any way. Any student can be given a scientific formula, but if they do not understand the science behind it, what is the point?

There are disadvantages to repeatedly drilling facts, formulas, and methods into students. Children do not get to completely master one concept before moving onto the next concept or level, and so they struggle to grasp new concepts and consequently fall behind. Teachers have realized this as a problem. Educator Emily Nuttall wrote on a blog:

A student’s ability to memorize an algorithm and answer a question correctly does not indicate conceptual understanding. In fact, I contend that students who can only solve mathematical problems by using algorithms have not achieved a fundamental understanding of the mathematical concept . . . During my first year of teaching 3rd graders, I saw students presenting misconceptions and misunderstandings about regrouping, I was completely taken aback. [sic]

Educator and mathematician, Sal Khan, said in his “Let’s teach for mastery–not test scores” Ted Talk:

A lot of [children] were having trouble with math at first, because they had all of these gaps accumulated in their learning. And because of that, at some point, they got to an algebra class and they might have been a little bit shaky on some of the pre-algebra, and because of that, they thought they didn’t have the math gene. Or they’d get to a calculus class, and they’d be a little bit shaky on the algebra.

It is hard for students to move on and grasp a more advanced concept if they never completely mastered the basic one before that in the first place. However, mastery does not come from practice. It comes from understanding. Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics states that conceptual understanding establishes the necessary basis for procedural fluency, which leads to mathematical proficiency.  

This is a difficult problem for the public school system to address. It is understandable that teachers cannot pay personal attention to each student in a class of twenty or more. They cannot make sure each student mastered the concept before moving on because they have a curriculum to get through within a time constraint. That is where further education comes into play.

Parents can enroll their child in our back-to-school season. The JEI Self-Learning MethodⓇ provides agency for the children, and agency is what Sal Khan believes will help them with mastery. After all, children should have control over what and how they learn, rather than be inundated with problems to solve mechanically.  

JEI Learning Centers provide workbooks that promote meaningful practice more than mindless practice. It is about understanding and mastering a concept more than getting the answers. Our students are able to move at a comfortable pace and advance at the right time, all based on our Diagnostic and Achievement Tests. This ensures a more solid, dependable education.

There are other things parents can do. As mentioned in our article about back-to-school readiness, parents should go over concepts their children learned in the past year to make sure they fully understand before they return to school for the advanced levels. They can also talk to teachers to get a firmer grasp of how the child’s understanding is developing in the class setting.  

Go over homework and lessons with them whenever possible. Foster their creativity through games, puzzles, and brain teasers (JEI posts one every Thursday!) to test that they can solve problems innovatively and think creatively. The ability to do this will help them in school, career, and even personal matters. Employers want to know that their employee is good at thinking of solutions that will permanently tackle the fundamental issues, rather than thinking of temporary, ineffective ones.

It is important to promote good understanding more than good grades. Yes, practice helps, but not beyond technical aspects and skills. When it comes to functions in math, government systems, molecular reactions, character motives, and much more in school, understanding is foremost. Rather than blindly accepting what is or following along with what the teachers say, children should always ask questions, challenge what they are told to raise healthy curiosity, and finally reach an understanding.  

JEI Learning Center promotes a thorough education for all children. Join our programs today so your child can master the Self-Learning MethodⓇ.