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Evaluation of the importance of practice: strengths and limitations

Looking at the 'practice' in-depth
Tropical fish in sea
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According to Prof. Li Shiqi, a professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai, there are four cultural roots of the belief that ‘practice makes perfect’ in China.

  • The tradition of mathematics

    Mathematics is viewed largely as a set of rules and skills for solving all kinds of problems, and mastering the rules and skills is the first important task.

  • The traditional belief about study

    Mathematics is a subject everyone can learn well. This is because it is since not just intelligence but also diligence that is essential for success. Although not every student is clever enough to learn mathematics easily, most of them can learn it by working hard towards success. And learning is doing – solving problems according to rules and examples.

  • The examination culture

    For high-stake tests, diligent practice is the most effective method of preparation.

  • The basic ideas in curriculum standard, which all schools must follow (the Two Basics)

Under the Chinese cultural tradition and educational environment, it is not a problem for teachers to ask students to do a lot of practice in their learning of mathematics. Do you think your students would be happy or willing to do a lot of practice? If not, how would you motivate and help them?

You should note that practice (such as pure repetitive practice) might not lead to proficiency in mathematics. What students practice and how they practice in mathematics make a difference. Teaching with variation can be an effective way to tackle this issue, and teachers need to nurture students as reflective learners, so they can learn better through reflection on their own practice. There is no fixed formula about how much practice is enough for each student. Different students have need to have different amount and content of practice.

In any case…

Practice makes perfect

  • Adequate practice is fundamental in learning mathematics.
  • Practice will help develop students’ understanding and creativity.
  • Good practice can be measured/achieved through ‘familiarity’ and ‘variation’.
© University of Southampton
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