by John Jensen
The three-volume Practice Makes Permanent series (in publication with Rowman and Littlefield) offers a strategy for turning classrooms around quickly and accelerating learning. Training and certification in it, however, encounter a problem common to professional development.
Certifying results. When you read a book about classroom techniques, what represents change in your actual ability? Ask the same question of your students. After they have read, listened, and watched something, what represents change in their actual ability?
We rely on two clues. You and your students can 1) explain the material, and 2) perform the actions that apply it. Other indicators may suggest your ability, but only producing it in words and deeds assures it. Can you do these two things or not? Embedded in a certifying process, we need to find explaining and doing.
Given the vagueness of so much learning among teachers as well as students, a single change makes these two signals a reasonable expectation. We cease crediting checkpoint knowledge, and instead aim for maintained knowledge. Checkpoint knowledge is what you know on the occasion of a test, or upon handing in an assignment. Minimizing it even further for a teacher is sitting through a course for which you then receive a continuing education credit. Maintained knowledge is what you can continue to explain. You studied it and returned to it often enough that you can produce it any time. Where practical actions are involved, we want to observe them.
Test instruments at checkpoints are insufficient because they are designedly an attempt to shortcut the process. If we elicit ten points of knowledge on a test, this theoretically assures us that we know the other ninety points implied—except that 1) we needed help even to produce the ten points, and we 2) studied just the ten points instead of the other ninety, and 3) we plan to discard the results anyway. The checkpoint clues were enough to document that the points of knowledge passed through our attention at least once.
Because the learning was not intended to be maintained, any attempt to validate and certify it amounts to a wild guess. Since we have no assurance that the student knows the ninety points, we do need to evidence to assure their validity: explain the material and perform the processes. Remember “orals”—the expectation of facing people knowledgeable about your subject and being able to answer competently what they ask.
For professional development in general, we need a shift toward maintained knowledge a trainee can demonstrate at any time. Learning through checkpoints (sitting through the lectures, turning in assignments, answering questions) will never be worth much because based on a faulty structural design: after the course, people are free to discard the knowledge.
The Practice Makes Permanent approach is likely to have not only an impact on students but also on professional development for teachers by demonstrating the fundamental nature of maintained knowledge. Professional development may incorporate a swath of ideas about human nature and pedagogy, but its bottom line remains, “What do I do on Monday?” Teachers need to act in certain ways for which they draw on reasons why: “These teacher activities produce these results, and here’s why.”
Cost and materials. The training entails no financial cost beyond an occasional phone call. Materials are available without charge since I can send out the ebook copies:
Teaching Students to Work Harder and Enjoy It; Practice Makes Permanent.
Changing Attitudes and Behavior: Practice Makes Permanent
Effective Classroom Turnaround: Practice Makes Permanent
The first was published in February 2012, the second is due in August, and the third in the fall. Participants are welcome to purchase print copies if they prefer.
Training outcomes. The training is appropriate for teachers wishing to improve their classroom results, mentors or master teachers who pass on ideas to others, district trainers, independent consultants, and curriculum designers. While teaching experience (or at least concurrent training in it) is presumed, there are no specific prerequisites nor time frame. The outcome is competence with the approach and a certificate from me affirming it.
While many of its steps can be undertaken before beginning the training formally, applicants are encouraged to relay their intent early, since I may be able to help accelerate their progress. Email me at [email protected]. The training itself is in five overlapping threads:
Thread 1. Defining your purpose
Think through what you want. At the start, your goals are likely to reflect how limited you regard your resources. We tend not even to entertain what seems beyond our scope. In your history with students, for instance, they work just so hard and learn just so much. To see yourself galvanizing them (or other teachers) past prior limits, you need awareness of how to do this.
The Practice Makes Permanent approach enters here as a novel resource. As you explore it, your picture of the possible should expand, enabling you to project an outcome that energizes you, calls up your ability and effort, and moves you to expand your resources. The resulting picture then becomes a criterion guiding your actions.
To complete this thread, write out a description of how you hope to apply what you learn in the training–where and with whom you will do what. Imagining that the universe were ready to fulfill perfectly the scene you set forth, what would you want it to activate? Rewrite your description until every word reflects exactly what you want and spurs your enthusiasm. Because you will consult this picture as you draw on your effort later, you want a clear picture that fits you.
Once you have a written form for your vision of the future, spend regular time ruminating upon it. One way is to take a daily exercise walk while directing your attention specifically to this interior activity. Imagine yourself in the setting you choose and talk out exactly what you will say. Picture what you will do. This activity is important because you are making something possible that your deeper mind does not yet believe is possible. Today you create the history your mind will act on tomorrow. You need to convince your deeper self that you are perfectly comfortable doing what you envision doing. This “perfect comfort” with efficient action in fact will mark your superior competence later, so you want to enter that state of mind about it as soon as possible and stay there while your actual skills catch up.
Send me a draft of your goals so we can discuss how best to achieve them given your personal circumstances.
Thread 2. Knowing the material
The second thread is absorbing the ideas of the approach. A straightforward way to do this is to go to the table of contents of each of the three books. Make a question out of each chapter heading, and be able to answer it comprehensively without opening the book or referring to your notes. Explain the content of each chapter.
For a way to mark your progress to yourself, give it a quantitative boundary. “Can explain Chapter five for seven minutes.” At that point you know what you know, and later I can ask you, “Give me your seven minute pitch on Chapter five.” You can describe individual methods: ‘Can explain Appreciation Time in three minutes.” When separate points delineate a technique better, state your ability accordingly: “Can explain the five steps of problem-solving.”
Use the methods on yourself as you would apply them with students: input-output. Read ideas to absorb them, and then explain them in your own words in bigger and bigger chunks. Personal experiences and prior learning are likely to come to mind to help you illustrate an idea (or its default). Completing this thread gives you a rich and detailed model of salient ideas and how to apply them.
As you proceed through the material, I would ask you to keep at least a rough record of one particular aspect of your time use since this single factor will affect most directly how you restructure your teaching. It is the time you spend in input compared to output, gathering knowledge compared to expressing it outwardly, study time with book open compared to study time with book closed. Aim for two-thirds of your time spent book closed. A minimum is half and half, but the optimum may be closer to four to one—explaining compared to reading. If you read for ten minutes, take a half hour walk and explain to yourself what you just read while integrating it with everything else you know.
The expression phase is not done all at once on a single point. You return to each piece of new learning at later intervals so that it becomes smoothly assimilated into everything else you know. First just plant the ideas in your mind by reading thoughtfully and then for an equal time relating out loud (or to someone else) what you read. For ultimate competence with the ideas, you need to return to them repeatedly later; in different situations, with different colleagues, expressing yourself both spoken and written.
The time you devote to expressing your learning may vary with your purpose. If your intent is just to apply the methods in your own classroom, articulating them for others’ benefit is less important. If you expect to help others understand the methods, answer questions, and provide background and context, then expressing the ideas to others matters more.
Thread 3. Communicating with peers
Explaining ideas to someone else makes our mind work differently. We realize we are “on the spot” to make sense, stimulating us to get to the point, give order to random pieces, and think more purposefully. Ways to practice at this are:
1. Preferable is finding a study-buddy who also wants to do the training. Compare ideas, explain them back and forth, and help each other understand the approach.
2. Alternatively, find someone who will listen to you talk about what you learn. A spouse may serve, or a nearby colleague. As the two of you prefer, the other may take the role of skeptic, of one finding it “hard to understand,” or of one wanting to increase his/her own knowledge. Others may fill this role even if they know nothing about teaching. Your narrative presents the approach from a common-sense perspective.
3. If you can’t find a partner to whom to express your learning, you can pursue more public means. Offer the ideas you can speak about to your school PTA, church groups, business organizations, neighborhood groups, and at staff meetings. Public experiences, while fewer in number, move you to deeper preparation, balancing out the shorter time spent.
4. If no other avenues are open to you, record yourself repeatedly as though giving a talk to a group. Doing so provides you a tangible account for later review and development.
Thread 4. Classroom applications
The proof of this approach emerges only from its application. You need to be able to put to work all the methods described in the three books. Several appear in more than one book, so explanations for main ideas overlap.
Your own classroom may need only a few of the methods to obtain the results you want, but if you plan to present the ideas to others, you will need competence with all of them. For methods designed to remedy problems you don’t face, at least be able to explain each clearly. In your log of learning activity, eventually list each method, and the date and setting when you explained it to someone else or applied it in a classroom.
Thread 5. Theoretical overview
The aim of this thread is to be able to communicate how and why to others—students and teachers. The central why is that only practice leads to skill, and the how is that we practice knowledge by explaining it.
Some may wish to label the approach according to a theory familiar to them. People may characterize themselves as someone “who believes X,” and miss entirely what new angles might offer them. While you can respond on their ground if you wish, you are likely to do better moving directly to application: what to do with students and why it works. Theories ultimately must boil down to practical steps–how children learn, how they are motivated, and how results reveal the efficacy of methods.
The final piece of the training is a talk of forty-five minutes or more. Find an audience (e.g. teachers, administrators, legislators, a civic group, or parents) and explain to them how the ideas and methods of the Practice Makes Permanent approach come together in a model of learning. You can log in a brief description of an actual experience of doing this, or can record a practice talk to send to me.
Documenting your effort
Document your efforts. Since we want your competence to be genuine, report actual gains in learning. This provides me a reference point for supporting your process and certifying your accomplishment. Means are:
1. Log book. Maintain a log of time spent when at what: “9/10/12: Read & explained Bk 1, Ch 3, 20 min.,” “Traded ideas about approach with study-buddy, 30 min.” Send me your log when you complete the steps above.
2. Oral examination. This can occur all at once or in pieces. After a study phase, you may be able to explain an entire book or several chapters in one. Inform me when you are ready for a call (phone or Skype). I will ask you basic questions. You show what you know, and we discuss issues that arise. I should emphasize that this is a human process. There is no pressure to achieve perfection at once.
3. Academic Mastery Report. Upon completing your program, write an Academic Mastery Report for yourself according to the model shown in the third book of the series, and send it to me. It comprises a transcript of your learning during the training. Myself or someone we agree on takes you through it, inviting you to express a sampling of the points you claim to know; checks you and signs off on your actual percentage of mastery compared to what you claimed.
The document outlining your claimed knowledge remains in your professional portfolio and is significant because 1) it represents maintained knowledge, and 2) its accuracy can easily be checked. Because you say you know these things continually, a prospective employer or institution can invite you to explain any of them. Training and certification in the Practice Makes Permanent approach assures you and others that you know what you say you know.
4. Certificate. Upon completing the prior steps satisfactorily, you receive a certificate of completion of the training.
John Jensen is a licensed clinical psychologist and author of the Practice Makes Permanent series (Rowman and Littlefield). Contact him at [email protected] with questions about the approach or the training and certification program.