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Get In the Game


In my last post, “Worst Day Ever,” I shared that I am a mom of boys who play soccer.  In the post, “They Kept Playing,” I wrote about my daughter’s softball team.

While I am not very skilled on any field or court, I am a skilled spectator.  As a spectator, you can see a lot; you watch the game and what is happening in addition to the game.  Specifically, if you’re watching baseball or softball, you can watch the batter swinging at pitches when they’re up to bat.  You can also see the next batter in the lineup practicing their swings in the on deck circle.  If you’re not familiar with this, check out the photo, “Baseball On Deck Circle” by Thomas Woolworth below.  The batter in the foreground is not up to the plate; the batter in the foreground is practicing his swing while the batter at the plate takes his turn.  

In this photo, the batter warming up in the on deck circle is missing a key tool used by many ball players to assist them in increasing their strength and making their swings faster.  It’s the bat weight.

Writing for, Mark Bailey explains, “Bat weights help players adjust, making the bat feel lighter during swings.  Essential for improving bat speed, they’re a must-have tool for any baseball team.”  In other words, when playing baseball and softball, the players want the practice to be harder than the game.  

Baseball and softball are not the only sports that make the practice harder than the game.  Runners will affix a resistance parachute to make them work harder during practice–but I have never seen a runner in a race wear a parachute.  Football players will drag weights in practice for the same reason.  These are just two examples, but the list is long.  

Now let’s apply this concept to schools.  Are we making the lessons for students harder or easier than the test?  Based on my conversations with teachers and students, the tests are the hardest experiences for students.  Tests are often the first time the students have to work without any support or assistance.  Tests require higher amounts of stamina than the assignments or experiences leading up to the test.  Tests are administered in high-pressure situations that cause our sympathetic nervous systems to kick into overdrive in ways that we do not prepare for during the practice time of learning.  Certainly, I am not suggesting we create high-pressure situations and increase student anxiety during learning practice.  I am, however, suggesting that we can reduce the pressure of tests when we let students know the test will be easier than the practice.  

In the realm of academics, incorporating elements of difficulty could involve more rigorous assignments, thought-provoking projects, or problem-solving exercises. By doing so, educators would be emulating the philosophy applied in sports training, where the goal is to make practice more demanding than the actual game. This approach not only helps students develop a robust foundation but also instills confidence and resilience, essential qualities for success in any field.

Here are just four examples of how you could make learning practice more challenging.

  1. For exit tickets, use questions that parallel what students will see on the test.  It’s critical when the students are answering the questions, the teacher does not assist so the teacher can see what the students independently know and can do.  

  2. Students love to stump each other.  Have the students design questions that are aligned to the learning standards and objectives.  Having students think through the learning intentions in this way can deepen their understanding of the learning itself.  

  3. If you have lengthy, time-consuming tests, when do students experience lengthy, time-consuming assignments that require stamina?  If it’s only on the day of the test, find ways to build stamina during the learning. 

  4. You can even consider exposing students to learning that exceeds the expectations of the current course standards and objectives.  Doing so will allow students to learn more than they need to and better prepare them for current and future tasks.

It is crucial to strike a balance and ensure that the level of difficulty is appropriate for the students' developmental stages. The intention is not to overwhelm but to provide challenges that promote growth and learning. By adopting such a strategy, educators may find that students approach assessments with greater confidence, having already navigated challenges during their learning journey.

This also means neither teachers, parents, nor peers should jump in and rescue a child who is having trouble completing the task independently.  We would never allow a coach to take a swing for the batter.  We would never have a parent run on the field and put on their child’s glove.  We would never allow a teammate to do the work of another player for them.  Yet, in schools, it is not uncommon to see teachers ask a question to the class and when a student doesn’t answer the question properly, the teacher will still say, “Not exactly” and then give the correct answer themselves.  In schools, parents assist and/or do their child’s homework which gives teachers a false positive on what the child can do themselves.  As a result, the teacher believes the child is independently capable and moves on to the next lesson when, in fact, the parent did the work or at least assisted the child; thus, the child is not capable of doing the work independently.  Finally, in schools, students copy answers from their peers as a matter of course which deprives the student doing the copying from doing the real learning.  

By embracing the idea of making practice harder than the test, educators can better equip students for the challenges they will face in assessments and beyond.  Just as we attempt to make practices more challenging than the game for athletes, we should challenge ourselves in the classroom to make the learning process more challenging than the test.


P.S. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to catch up with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while.  Since we’re both readers, I asked her if she’d read any good books lately. While she did mention a few noteworthy book titles, she also enthusiastically shared her affection for a television series she had recently watched. Intrigued by her endorsement, I started streaming the show and quickly found myself captivated by it too.  So my Catch of the Week is 1883.  Even if, like me, you didn’t watch or were not a fan of Yellowstone, you should give 1883 a try–it has something for everyone…action, drama, suspense, and romance.  Enjoy!

P.P.S. Please remember to...

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