The Importance of Practice

By Emily Kotwal

talkingOver the last year, I have watched my first child develop some of the most fundamental skills: making vocal sounds, putting something (OK, everything) in his mouth, rolling over, walking…the list goes on. For all of these skills, I have seen him progress through the same stages. He observes. He mimics. He tries over and over. He looks for approval. Finally, he succeeds.

The stage he spends the most time is the trying, but each stumble, fall, and gentle bit of correction comprises the practice the gets him mastery. This process of exposure, experimentation, corrections and lots of practice is also key to building career readiness skills and a huge part of what we do at Signal Success.

The curriculum addresses core skills repeatedly through varying contexts so participants develop these skills as natural parts of their professional selves. Seasoned professionals take skills like contributing productively to group discussions and project planning for granted, but young people often need more practice and support. Research has demonstrated that ongoing rehearsal even past the point of mastery is essential to long-lasting learning. Practice a skill for a semester, and you might retain it for a year. But, without sustained practice, you will have forgotten it within 4 or 5 years. In Signal Success, participants rehearse skills with support within the curriculum, and encounter sustained practice at school and as they enter the workforce.

When we learn a new skill, it takes up space within our working memory, which has a relatively small limit. The way to get new stuff out of our working memory is to practice until it becomes automatic. If you’ve ever encountered a limp handshake accompanied by stumbling words from a young person, you were probably witnessing an instance of overloaded working memory. Once automaticity is reached, that same young person can shake someone’s hand confidently and make eye contact without thinking about it—leaving his working memory space wide open to also take in the person’s name and think of interesting things to say.

With Signal Success, participants have the opportunity to practice some fundamental skills within the professional landscape enough so that they become automatic. They have instructors available to offer feedback and encouragement as they practice. This sets our young people up to be a step ahead when they enter the workforce.

Whether taking your first steps ever or taking your first steps into a new job, practice is key in mastery of many skills in life and work.

To Learn More:
Download a tip sheet on how teachers, counselors, mentors and parents can reinforce professional skills in everyday interactions

Read more about how practice benefits long-term learning and working memory:
Why Students Think They Understand- When They Don’t by Daniel T. Willingham
Long-term memory for knowledge learned in school. Semb, George B. et al. Abstract Only
How Students Learn — and How We Can Help Them by John F. Kihlstrom

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