Practice makes permanent

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“In my opinion, the importance of practice in all aspects of education has been unfairly vilified by many so-called experts in education over the last decade or so. To deny the importance of what these experts call ‘drill and kill’ in learning any new concept or skill proves that they are truly not experts at how children or anyone learns.” This quote is from Marilyn Reed, an educational consultant with the Commonwealth Education Organization, Pittsburgh, commenting on Dr. John Jensen’s book titled “Teaching Students to Work Harder and Enjoy It: Practice Makes Permanent.”

In the preface of the book Dr. Jensen writes “In sum, skill in any field – in knowledge as well as social skills and self-management – depends on practice.” This makes perfect sense to me and probably to you. The question we have to ask is – do our children practise what they learn in school? Do they practise mathematical concepts and procedures to the point that they have quick recall or better yet instant recall? Would greater efforts in practice improve our math scores? My answer to these questions is a resounding YES!

So what do we mean by practice? Dictionary terms lead to repetition where actions are done over and over again in order to develop and retain a skill. We all know that Sidney Crosby or Hayley Wickenheiser and our gold medal women’s and men’s hockey teams are as good as they are because of individual practice and team practice. Practice makes perfect or, as some would say, perfect practice makes perfect. Really, increased time on task makes the task, concept, or skill easier. Do you know a good golfer, musician or ballet dancer who does not spend hours and hours perfecting their abilities? They all practise.

Perhaps mathematics skills need the same devotion to time and practice. To me this means practice in school and even more important practice at home. Homework should include practice of math skills. Dr. Jensen says “that the principle (practice makes permanent) has been ignored is unfortunate, but because it’s so simple and powerful it’s also promising. It’s easy to put to work, and effects show up the same day you start.”

I trust teachers practice this concept with their students in school. Outside of the school day perhaps parents need to insist on homework for their children. We all need to remember that Practice Makes Permanent.


An education advocate, Ron Marks has been an outspoken member of local and regional school boards and a former Stellarton mayor. His column runs weekly.

Organizations: Commonwealth Education Organization

Geographic location: Pittsburgh, Stellarton

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Recent comments

  • Earl MacKenzie
    February 27, 2014 - 15:18

    Ron, I couldn't agree more. Your article reinforces the need to get back to basics. For math, there is only one correct answer. Mental math exercises, math drills, practice and homework seems to have disappeared from the classroom, and more importantly, from the home environment. Today, it appears that we rely solely on the classroom to educate our children and homework interrupts our busy lives. Poor study habits and lack of homework, all too often, are evident once the student is off to university. Take a look at a private school...I bet you math drills are part of the curriculum. Enjoyed your article.