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Dr. Fred Jones's
Tools for Teaching

Beyond Say, See, Do Teaching:
Exploiting Structured Practice

This is the sixth in our series addressing the prevention of classroom discipline problems. We have focused on the loss of classroom control during Guided Practice as we attempt to give corrective feedback to our chronic handraisers. We began our last segment with a question; "Is it possible to teach a lesson so effectively that the need for corrective feedback is nearly eliminated?" And the answer was...

The answer to our question was YES! It is possible to teach a lesson so effectively that the need for corrective feedback is nearly eliminated -- if we employ Say, See, Do Teaching. With Say, See, Do Teaching, the heart of any lesson is a series of Say, See, Do Cycles, in which we tell and show students what to do next and then put them to work doing it before they forget. As students learn by doing, we continually monitor their performance, as would any good coach.

In this segment, however, we learn that there is more to successful coaching than just Say, See, Do.


As we begin to plan a lesson, having a simple model for packaging student activity will be helpful -- to make sure nothing is left out.

Read More!

Have you seen these Education World articles...

...About Dr. Fred Jones?
* The King of Classroom Management! An Education World e-Interview with Classroom Management Expert Fred Jones
* Preferred Activity Time (PAT) Is Preferred by Kids and Teachers!
* Tips from Fred Jones's Tools for Teaching

...By Dr. Jones? * Teaching to the Physical Modality: Say, See, Do Teaching
* Weaning the Helpless Handraisers -- Part 2: Teaching to the Visual Modality
* Weaning the Helpless Handraisers -- Part 1: Reinforcing Helplessness
* Succeeding With Classroom Structure: Rules, Routines, and Standards
* More Time on Task, Less Goofing Off

Lessons, regardless of their subject area, tend to have three sections: beginnings, middles, and ends. We'll call those three sections:

Setting the Stage. This is the wind-up before the pitch -- a series of discretionary decisions you must make: How much time do you want to invest in such things as (1) anticipatory set, (2) review and background, (3) goals and objectives, (4) advance organizers?

Acquisition: This is the "meat and potatoes" of the lesson -- the main event. During Acquisition students learn the new stuff. Acquisition is where Say, See, Do Teaching occurs. During Acquisition, however, one item must be added to Say, See, Do Teaching -- one that is crucial to the lesson's success, yet one that often is omitted. That item is Structured Practice. Structured Practice simply is repetition so highly structured by the teacher that the likelihood of error is as close to zero as possible.

Consolidation: Consolidation is synonymous with "practice, practice, practice." To represent levels of mastery, we coined such terms as Guided Practice and Independent Practice. Consolidation, however, is an open-ended category. As any musician or athlete knows, the quest for mastery has no end.


The role of Structured Practice is to build correct performance while avoiding bad habits. The traditional method of "getting it right the first time" is to slow down students and walk them through performance one step at a time, while watching them like a hawk. If an error is made, now is the time to fix it.

When I was in grade school, my teachers taught that way. Imagine my fourth grade class going to the chalkboard for math. My teacher would say, "Let's walk through this first one together slowly, so we'll all get it." She would explain and write the problem, and we would write the problem. She would explain and write step one, and we would write step one. She would explain and write step two, and we would write step two. She could easily check every student's work at each step since she easily could read our large chalk numbers. If anything needed to be fixed, it was fixed immediately -- before we went on to the next step. That was Say, See, Do Teaching.

After walking through the first problem, my teacher would say, "Let's erase this one, class, and do another one." The second problem would go a bit faster, the third a bit faster, and the fourth, faster still. After my teacher had satisfied herself that we were getting it, she would say, "I think you have it now, class. Let's do one more for speed, and then we'll take our seats." Those repetitions were Structured Practice. They welded new learning into patterns of thought and action that had a respectable degree of habit strength -- what Benjamin Bloome calls "automaticity."

The diagram below shows the structure of a lesson with Say, See, Do Cycles serving as the heart of Acquisition. Following the initial performance, R1, R2, R3 and R4 represent the repetitions typical of Structured Practice. Only after the creation of a reasonable level of automaticity -- with constant monitoring to ensure correct performance -- would we dare go on to Guided Practice.


In a previous segment of this series, we quoted Vince Lombardi, who said, "Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect." A key part of our job as teachers is to create perfect practice. The alternative is the creation of bad habits. Teaching it right the first time is far easier than the work required to break bad habits.

Of course, students often chafe at Structured Practice. The guitar teacher tries to get his student to play five clean notes in a row with proper intonation, while the kid dreams of doing Jimi Hendrix riffs. The basketball coach tries to get sixth graders to shoot a lay-up off the correct foot, while the kids dream of going coast-to-coast. Students want to go fast and furious -- and ragged -- while teachers want them to slow down and get it right. The eternal struggle of the teacher is to slow down students until the speed of performance can be increased without increasing the frequency of error.

Only with Structured Practice, do we have enough control over performance to produce perfect practice. If students are busy doing something, rather than sitting and getting bored, they usually will cut us enough slack to accept the repetition of Structured Practice. They consent to being coachable.


Structured Practice is not to be confused with "Drill and Kill." We all can remember being stuck at our seats doing math problems long after learning had reached the point of diminishing returns -- just so the teacher could keep us busy and quiet. Over the years, however, because all repetition has been stigmatized as "drill and kill," it's become hard to find a new teacher who is comfortable with even the moderate level of repetition that constitutes Structured Practice.

Common sense tells us, however, that mastery requires a certain amount of repetition. Students don't gain comfort and fluency the first time a new skill is introduced. If we don't provide the necessary repetition under controlled conditions, repetition will occur under uncontrolled conditions -- usually with students going "fast and furious."


If we "pay our dues" during Structured Practice, however, by providing adequate repetition within the context of constant monitoring and feedback, correct patterns of thought and action can gain a reasonable level of habit strength before we ask students to engage in Guided Practice. Then, it's reasonable to expect students to need very little help during Guided Practice.

From the perspective of discipline management, moreover, we will have laid the groundwork for truly successful and productive Guided Practice -- the kind that produces independent learning, not learned helplessness. For starters, adequate Structured Practice eliminates much of the performance anxiety that leads to "helpless handraising" during Guided Practice. Then, Praise, Prompt, and Leave, and Visual Instructional Plans, reduce the duration of corrective feedback to just a few seconds. Helpless handraising is finally headed toward extinction.

We are setting ourselves free. We now can move from tutoring helpless handraisers to more important tasks. During Guided Practice, we now can monitor student performance to ensure additional perfect practice. Other dividends that will reduce our stress and exhaustion while increasing the quality of student work also can be reaped from successful Guided Practice, however. Tune in next month to learn about those.

This article is condensed from Dr. Jones' award winning book Tools for Teaching. Illustrations by Brian Jones for Tools for Teaching.

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Updated 4/16/2012