Tech Tools for Deliberate Practice

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By Scott Sterling

The great teachers, and those on the way to achieving greatness, view their craft as a process—and processes should always lead to improvement. The strategies and steps you take in that process are what make up deliberate practice.

However, if you think deliberate practice can only be accomplished through two old-fashioned tools—data and observation—then you are mistaken. There are plenty of ways to leverage 21st-century technology to improve your ways of work.

Keeping a virtual “to-do” list

Say, through some self-assessment, that you’ve decided to focus on a certain formative assessment strategy in today’s lesson. So far, you’re moving right through to step 3 on the deliberate practice cycle, engaging in focused practice. You’re ready to go (with your camera set up; more about that later), but you blank on what you’re supposed to be working on and, more importantly, how to accomplish the goal. You revert to your old habits.

Many teachers walk around with iPads or other gadgets during a lesson, either to manage data or control a presentation. They all come with rudimentary to-do list apps. Keep a little cheat sheet of what deliberate practice you want to accomplish in this lesson. Then, check off your steps as you go.


These days, you will rarely see a professional golfer out on the driving range who isn’t taking video of his or her swing to spot ways to improve. Professional, college, and even some high school football teams employ coaches to specifically watch game film and bring notes to the other coaches’ attention.

Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010’s National Teacher of the Year, takes video of her lessons. Every lesson. Every day.

She sets up a Flip camera (a small digital video camera that can be found cheaply online or at electronics stores) on a tripod and goes to work. Her students have gotten used to the camera, knowing that they aren’t really the ones coming under scrutiny. After school, she loads the camera into her computer and watches her “game film”, just like a football coach would, looking for specific goals she was trying to accomplish. Sometimes she brings in an extra set of eyes, like her administrator, to receive added feedback.

This really helps her hit the fourth step on the deliberate practice cycle, receiving focused feedback. She no longer has to wait for her observation to come around to see whether she’s making progress toward her ultimate goal.


We’ve already covered how iObservation serves as a great tool for online collaboration. But this powerful website can also be used to inform the entire deliberate practice cycle.

Observation and student data is collected and disseminated, which serves as pre-assessment. Actionable items are suggested. Teachers can even receive instant professional development on those items through the new iObservation Academy feature. They then engage in their targeted practice and receive more observation, either through their own video or by a teacher or administrator. Then they can track their results and their students’ achievement. It really is the easiest way for teachers to engage in a deliberate practice process without creating a prohibitive amount of extra work for themselves and prospective observers.

Next week: Implementing Standards-Based Grading

Do you have any more techy tricks that inform your practice and help you improve as a teacher? Share your thoughts with your colleagues in the Comments section.

Want to go into even more depth with standards-based lesson planning and cognitively-complex tasks? Check out the Learning Sciences International bookstore for resources that help educators make the critical instructional shift required by rigorous standards.

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