Promoting Successful Practice

As part of our monthly newsletter, we highlight research-based practices that are making a profound impact on student learning at 175 award-winning NCUST schools. We discovered 8 specific practices common in these schools. In this newsletter, we shine a spotlight on the teaching practice of Promoting Successful Practice.

On the Minds of Educators Striving to Produce Equity and Excellence:

 “How can I get each and every one of my students to believe, “I can accomplish whatever challenging tasks my teacher assigns (if I work hard) because my teacher carefully guides me so I am prepared to succeed”?

By promoting successful practice, teachers help ensure that students achieve learning goals. Promoting successful practice helps ensure that all of the other teaching practices work together in a way that results in understanding and mastery. As well, when teachers promote successful practice, students are much more likely to feel valued and capable. They experience confirmation of their ability through their everyday academic conversations, their success in solving academic problems, and their everyday assignments. Through successful practice, students feel efficacious about learning and become ready to take on the next learning task. Hattie (2009) reported that well-planned practice had a substantial effect on student learning results. He emphasized that practice was most effective when teachers were able to increase the rate of correct academic responses until mastery was achieved. He stressed that this type of practice was not a dull and repetitive drill. Instead, the findings pointed to the importance of aiming toward deeper and conceptual understandings. Rosenshine (1983) found that cooperative learning activities could be powerful tools for helping students practice successfully. Collaborative learning offers students an opportunity to practice concepts and skills with the support of their peers. By working in small groups on tasks directly related to the learning goal, students are encouraged to work with and talk with each other to achieve a learning outcome.


  • In collaboration with teacher colleagues, engage in a book study of Better Learning through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility (2nd edition) (Fisher & Frey, 2014).
  • In collaboration with colleagues, plan your teaching of the next important student learning goal to include specific strategies for providing focused instruction, guided instruction, collaborative learning, and independent learning. In particular, decide how you and your colleagues will determine that your students are ready to move successfully from one level to the next. Also, consider how you might prepare to differentiate instruction when you determine that students are at different levels of understanding.
  • When you provide students with the next independent learning task, take five to ten minutes to monitor how students are performing independently. If you find that some students are answering many problems incorrectly, pull those students aside into a guided instruction group. If you find that all students are answering many problems incorrectly, stop the independent practice and provide more focused instruction. Use the students’ errors as teaching tools.
  • Before handing out the next class assignment, make predictions of how each student will perform. Instead of giving the assignment to all students, only give the assignment to those you predict will perform well. Engage the other students in guided instruction or cooperative learning to increase the likelihood that students will learn the concept or skill well, before they pursue independent practice.
  • Before giving the next homework assignment, review the assignment carefully. Determine how few of the problems would you need students to answer in order to assess each student’s level of mastery. Reduce the assignment accordingly.


Teaching Practices from Americas Best Urban Schools

Authors of Teaching Practices From America’s Best Urban Schools (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Lynne G. Perez, 2019) write, In high-performing urban schools, teachers ensure that students have at least a moderate understanding of a concept before they ask students to perform the task independently. Generally, students are not asked to practice concepts or skills they do not understand well. In more typical schools, students are often pushed to work independently on tasks that they are ill-prepared to pursue. As a result, in more typical schools, students often spend hours practicing incorrect strategies, algorithms, and processes. Misunderstandings, after they have been practiced to perfection, are difficult to correct. In stark contrast, in high-performing urban schools, teachers design lessons to maximize the likelihood that every student achieves the learning goal. Just as a potter would not place a bowl in the kiln until it was perfectly shaped, teachers do not place their students in independent learning situations until the teacher knows their students are ready and that independent learning is likely to result in success for each student. In high-performing urban schools, teachers don’t rush toward independent practice. They take time to help make sure students attend to the proper strategies, related nuances, and potential missteps. They want to know that each student understands how to pursue the task and why the process works before they release students to work independently.”

Authors of When Black Students Excel (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Stanley J. Munro, Jr.) write “Teachers in high-performing urban schools add more rigorous content to deepen students’ understanding of important concepts and skills. Teachers try to ensure that their students have more than surface-level familiarity with the standards. Teachers want their students to discuss, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and exhibit their cognitive skills while demonstrating their depth of understanding of important concepts. Teachers believe when their students achieve this level of fluency with academic standards, they will naturally perform well on state assessments.”

Leadership in America's Best Urban Schools

Authors of Leadership Practices in America’s Best Urban Schools (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Lynne G. Perez) write, Teachers allowed students to practice skills independently only when they knew that independent practice was likely to be successful. Teachers did not assign independent work if they had little reason to believe that students would be successful performing the work. Instead, lessons were carefully structured so that students experienced a balance of struggle and success that resulted in each student reaching mastery. While finding the right balance is important to the success of all students, it might be especially important for many of the diverse groups of students served in urban schools. Students who have endured a history of failure in school are much less likely to engage if they perceive that their efforts will result in one more failure experience. In high-performing urban schools, teachers generated high rates of student mastery for diverse populations of students, in part, because teachers sought and maintained the proper balance of struggle and success for each student. 

Concourse Village Elementary School
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