Building expertise through deliberate practice
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Building expertise through deliberate practice

Building expertise through deliberate practice

High-quality instruction is the most important means teachers have at their disposal to positively impact student learning, but the development of instructional expertise requires focused and deliberate practice, says Dr Janelle Wills.

Effective teaching is a complex but critical endeavour. Two of the world’s leading researchers on human performance and expertise, Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, highlight 3 types of practice that people engage in across all fields that lead to varying levels of improvement in performance: naïve practice, purposeful practice, and deliberate practice.

Naïve practice, according to Ericsson and Pool (2017), involves simply practising or doing repeatedly and expecting to get better at it. This works when you have never engaged in or are relatively new to the skill you are practising. But, for something as complex as teaching, practice of this nature will only take us so far before our skill level plateaus.

Purposeful practice, according to Ericsson and Pool (2017), consists of practice that meets four criteria:

  1. Defining clear, specific goals.
  2. Staying focused.
  3. Receiving feedback.
  4. Getting out of one’s comfort zone.Purposeful practice allows people to continue to improve beyond what is possible with naïve practice, but it still has limits. The best approach for the development of expertise is deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice involves two kinds of learning: improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and range of your skills (Ericsson, Prietula, and Cokely, 2007). It includes the criteria for purposeful practice, but it also includes additional characteristics. What are these additional characteristics and most importantly, how are they operationalised in terms of building expertise in education?


The New Art and Science of Teaching by Dr Robert J.Marzano is available from Hawker Brownlow Education.

Esteemed researcher and author, Dr Robert J. Marzano, and his colleagues (Marzano, Rains and Warrick, 2021, p. 12) propose 6 overt steps that can be taken to build teacher expertise.

1. Develop or utilise an instructional framework that is based on a research- validated approach to teaching, such as The New Art and Science of Teaching (Marzano, 2017). In The New Art and Science of Teaching, Marzano identifies ten design areas within three categories of teaching – (1) feedback, (2) content, and (3) context – that form a road map for F–12 teachers’ lesson and unit planning. Within these ten design areas, Marzano explores 43 elements (categories of instructional strategies that contain more than 330 specific classroom strategies) educators can implement for optimal student learning.

2. Have teachers’ self-rate on the framework and set growth goals for 2 or 3 elements that are opportunities for improvement. Ensure these elements and their associated strategies represent a stretch for the teacher or are slightly outside their comfort zone.

3. Have teachers focus intensely on the growth goal areas. Intense focus includes recording progress, noting the strategies attempted and the results, keeping anecdotal evidence of improvement over time (such as artifacts of practice), and reflecting on continual growth and development.

4. Provide teachers with continual feedback on the growth goal areas from a coach who has a better understanding of and performance in the element on which they are working. Over time, help teachers adjust their practice to ensure they continuously improve on the selected element.

5. Ensure teachers internalise the instructional framework. It should become their mental representation of expert teaching.

6. Over time, have teachers change and adjust their goals such that they work on the entirety of the instructional framework.

These action steps are effective at the systems level for the staff of an entire school, as well as at the individual level with one teacher to build instructional expertise to ultimately impact on student learning.

With over 30 years of teaching and leadership experience, Dr Janelle Wills maintains a strong commitment to continued learning that enables her to remain both informed and innovative in her approach. Throughout her career, she has been adept at linking theory with practice, resulting in the development of significant initiatives both within schools and at a sector level.

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This article was originally published in Education Matters Secondary Magazine – to read the issue download it here. 



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