Routine and learning



 If I do not practice for one day, I know it. If I miss two days, my wife knows it. If I miss three days, my audience knows it.

This quotation is attributed to several musicians. The composer and pianist Franz Liszt, the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, the cellist Pablo Casals and the violinist Jascha Heifetz. Whoever it was, it reminds us of the great importance of practicing.

I do have my doubts as to whether we would hear it after three days. But not many people will deny the importance of training to perform at such a high level.

Anders Ericsson and his colleagues point out to us the shocking amount of hours that are required to reach this high level. It depends on the discipline and whether a tradition of professional training has developed, but roughly speaking research indicates about 10,000 hours of training in ten years are needed. That is 20 hours a week. That is 3 hours a day!

Of course it depends on the quality of that practice which level you will reach.

I increasingly realise that these performers have built something into their lives so they can make those hours. It has become a routine. A routine that makes you feel weird when you skip a day.

A colleague of mine has just completed a master’s programme. For two years he had all kinds of incentives to develop himself because of this programme, which resulted in an enormous amount of learning. Now it is quiet. He describes it as a black hole. The incentives to ensure the development that took place are gone. It stands still. It has not become a routine. There is no time, place and behavior built in to ensure that development continues.

I suspect that Pablo Casals and Vladimir Horowitz had a routine. I don’t think they wondered every day if they were going to practice or not. It must have become an integral part of their lives. It has become a routine.

We just got back the first results of a questionnaire for teachers working with DigLin+. One of the questions is how long their students work with DigLin+ per week. Possible answers 1 hour, 1 – 3 hours, 3 – 5 hours. Most teachers (over 70%) indicate that their students work with DigLin+ for 0 – 3 hours. One of the other questions is whether they think their students are progressing a little faster because of DigLin+, much faster or not faster. Each teacher indicates that their students are progressing faster (2 teachers indicate that they cannot assess this).

Of the group of students who work with DigLin+ for 3 hours or less, 17% of teachers think they are progressing “much faster”.

Of the group of students who work with DigLin+ 3-5 hours a week, more than 60% of the teachers believe that they are progressing “much faster”. I must point out that there is a small group (23) of teachers who completed the questionnaire.

This indicates a certain routine. Learning to learn, and certainly learning a complicated code like the sound-character coupling requires a certain routine. A routine where consistent repetition takes place and where a certain amount of time and intensity is needed to achieve an optimal effect.

A colleague in the world of sport told me that there is a principle in his field of expertise: if you only do it once, there is no sense in practicing, when you practice something twice, you maintain your level (and don’t fall behind any further) and when you practice 3 times, there can be progress.

I believe that this also applies to DigLin+. I think that students who practise 5 hours per week learn more than a student who practises 2.5 hours per week for 2 weeks with the same material. A certain intensity is required to achieve the optimal effect. I even think that this optimal effect requires more exercise than 3-5 hours per week. I think we can notice it if students do not practice for 3 days.

For “lifelong learning” or developing yourself, it is necessary to build a certain routine into our lives. A routine in which time has been set aside for development. A routine in which a behavior has developed to stand still, to ask us how something can improve. To ask ourselves whether what we do still works and how something can be improved. In order to ask us whether it should be done differently. This is also a routine of optimism. The reality is, in any case, partly feasible. We can get better.

When Pablo Casals was 83, he was asked why he was still practicing for 4-5 hours every day. His answer:

Because I think I am making progress.




Reaction Ineke van de Craats

Jan, if we translate your blog about the routine of practicing to the practice of literacy, it is important to spread at least 3-5 hours of practice in the week over at least 3 teaching days, of which at least 1.5 hours are used for practice. A higher frequency is even better. If the intervals increase, there is a chance that most of the knowledge won’t stick. An interval of 1 day and 1 or 2 nights is excellent to allow the gained knowledge to be processed. This knowledge will still available for further expansion. If the learner waits longer, for example a week, then he needs more time to activate and build the fresh knowledge, or that knowledge has disappeared altogether. Especially for people who are not accustomed to learning, this quickly leads to frustrations. On the other hand, it is also useful to allow knowledge acquired to settle down for a while. The night is very suitable for this. What happens next is that the neural structures formed during the daytime in the working memory are transferred to the middle (long-term) memory. The same operations that were difficult to perform in the working memory cost less brain activity in the middle term memory and go faster. However, if they are no longer practiced, they disappear from the midterm memory within a few weeks or months.

Your blog is mainly about the routine of learning. The automation – it is no longer necessary to think about the sound-letter correspondence – is perhaps even more important. This involves the transition from midterm memory to long-term memory. This requires a lot of training. Only when a literacy-learner has reached that phase, there is room for the meaning, the phrasing, the fun and the beauty of what you read.


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