This post is part of a learning sciences blog series debunking common myths in K–12 education. Read the introductory blog post in the series here.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. As a violist myself, this was a joke I heard often! I didn’t practice much, and I didn’t play that well. What if I had practiced for a total of 10,000 hours? I remember reading in Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, “10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness” and then mentally calculating whether I had done 10,000 hours of anything.
So, is the 10,000-hour rule true? At this stage in my life, I probably have done 10,000 hours of cooking, but no way am I ready for Top Chef. (I literally made some pumpkin waffles that had to go straight into the trash this past winter.) The 10,000-hour rule is a myth because it is not just any kind of practice that leads to mastery, but deliberate practice with feedback. Although our students may not be practicing any particular task for 10,000 hours with us, we want them to develop and build mastery every day, week, and month they are in our classrooms.
It’s rare that any of us aim to be superstar musicians or athletes, and few are born as savants or prodigies. Typically, K-12 students are expected to be well-rounded and succeed in ELA and STEM disciplines, plus participate in extracurricular activities. As a graduate student, my intellectual development professor David Henry Feldman had us journal while learning a new skill. From 35 years of teaching the course and assigning the 12-week project, he learned what variables helped students succeed. Time was important (one hour per week of instruction, plus 20 minutes per day of practice), but equally important requirements were a live instructor and a skill-based activity that included methods for students to learn in stages. Even in a remote learning environment, teachers can balance synchronous and asynchronous tools to provide instruction, enable deliberate practice, and provide feedback to deepen learning.
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