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Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Andrew Gibbons, Director of Instructional Design at LDS Business College.

There is an old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” But, is that always true? As students prepare for the future, do we want them to do what we teach them perfectly? Well, yes! However, if students are practicing something incorrectly, they are learning how to do that thing perfectly wrong!

To overcome this, we can find wisdom in a saying attributed to Vince Lombardi, the famous football coach. He said: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” The simple distinction about the character of the practice makes all the difference. So, how do we facilitate perfect practice? The one-word answer is feedback.

Vince Lombardi knew that if an athlete was doing something wrong in practice they would do it wrong in the game. And, because bad performance does not win games or trophies, practicing the wrong action will simply lead to failure. To build winning teams, Vince and his coaching staff would work with players to identify and eliminate incorrect actions while identifying and encouraging correct ones—and he did it through feedback. In the same manner, we need to help students identify incorrect and correct actions, and then let them practice perfectly.

At LDS Business College, we strive to create educational experiences that allow students to be immersed in the subject they are studying. They are asked to engage in learning at a professional level. This type of learning has many components, but let’s focus on the teacher-student interactions. This is where feedback is most easily provided, and where it can make a significant difference. As educators, there are many ways to provide insight to students, and as students, there are many effective ways to accept and apply that guidance. To that end, I would like to share the 5 Be’s of Feedback.

First, Be Humble

For the instructor, that means having the humility to realize that the Holy Ghost is the real teacher. As you humbly watch for opportunities to share your experience and expertise, you will be prompted to provide the right feedback at the right time.

For the student, that means that you need to put your pride aside. Realize that you don’t know it all, and come to educational experiences ready to learn and willing to be taught. Take your learning seriously and take advantage of this special time of life. You have the chance to focus on learning in a way that you probably will never have again. Enjoy the experience, and make the most of it!

Next, Be Kind

For the instructor, that means saying, “You’re doing it wrong!” is never right. Learning by its very nature has elements of uncertainty and doubt, and a learner should never receive the message that they aren’t good enough. Each of us is better suited to certain subjects than others, and we can find that out without the brow-beating that is part of unkind feedback. This does not mean being untruthful with students; if they are not making the cut, let them know. But, as you deliver difficult feedback, be kind and encouraging. Remember, you’re evaluating a person, and they are more important than performance.

For the student, that means being kind in return. Remember that the person providing the feedback may not always do it as kindly as you wish—and, even being judged kindly can sting. In those times, remember that they are not judging your worth as a person, they are judging your performance. Don’t take it personally, just work on what you’re doing. And, if you do feel someone is providing feedback in an inappropriate or harsh manner, let them know. They might not realize the effect their criticism is having on you and will most likely be grateful to get your feedback.

Then, Be Timely

For the instructor, that means providing feedback at the appropriate time. This usually means during or soon after the performance. The context of your comments is very important. If you wait too long after a performance, the context of being there in the moment, totally focused, is lost. Learners new to a subject or performance may need more immediate feedback, while more experienced learners may only require a debrief at the conclusion of an activity. 

For the student, that means hearing and accepting the feedback, then acting on it right away. If you receive feedback and don’t act on it, your performance doesn’t change, and neither does the outcome. You need to be willing to accept feedback and incorporate it into what you are doing. This does not make you a mindless drone—you are not just a remote-controlled object doing what you are told! Try to understand why you received that feedback and decide what you can do to perform better. The feedback you gain from personal evaluation can also be very valuable.

Always, Be Specific

For the instructor, that means you focus on the desired outcome of the performance. If you focus on desired outcomes, your feedback will be clear, concise and impartial. Specify exactly what about the performance was correct or incorrect, then help the student to discern the best solution. Keep in mind that feedback provided during a performance takes the form of coaching or guiding, not telling. You are helping students to find the right answer, not telling them what it is. Coaching rather than telling is very much akin to the old, “teach a man to fish” proverb.

For the student, that means that the feedback you receive should be very focused. So, if someone is giving you advice, listen to all of it, not just the part that seems most important. You may find value in the nuances and details of what was said. As a side note, if you are struggling to do something, going back to the fundamentals of the performance and practicing doing those correctly usually results in exceptional overall performance. 

Finally, Be Iterative

For the instructor, that means providing students with the opportunity to practice the right behavior multiple times. Receiving feedback and improving performance may be energizing, but that doesn’t mean the learner can necessarily repeat their improved performance again. Providing learners with the opportunity to repeat what they have done helps them to ingrain the correct performance in themselves. They do not need to do the exact thing over and over right after you give the feedback, but having them do it later or as part of another larger performance is highly encouraged!

For the student, that means practicing—doing something correctly, then doing it again, and again, and getting as much practical experience as possible along the way. Don’t be satisfied with practicing only in the classroom or as part of your homework—seek out internships and volunteer work (paid or unpaid). Even if you aren’t getting paid, you’re making an investment in your future. The more experience you get, the more valuable you will be to employers, partners, and customers. 

The mission of LDS Business College is to “Develop capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ.” Students will become capable as they practice doing something correctly over and over. They will become trusted as people see their capabilities and consistent, excellent performance. Therefore, if feedback is provided and accepted appropriately, students will feel appreciated and supported, they will improve quickly and teachers will add more value to the learning experience. In this way, perfect practice makes perfect!

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