The Importance of Giving Students Opportunities to Practice Skills

By Dr. Skip Greenwood

I ended the last blog talking about the need to make a skill “familiar”. By doing so, we increase the chance that a student will be able to access a skill they have been taught when they really need it. Of course this brings up the question; “How do we make a skill familiar?”
One key way to help make a skill more familiar is to put a focus on the student practicing or rehearsing the skill you teach them throughout the school day. It takes a small bit of planning but it is so powerful to embed opportunities for students to use newly learned skills during classroom time, recess and specials. When you want students to develop new skills you have to include opportunities to use them.

Also, research tells us that in order to generalize new skills from a teaching situation to real life, students have to have meaningful and real life opportunities to use those skills. Again, this means having opportunities within the school day to practice. I have seen so many situations where a teacher or paraeducator does a great job teaching a skill to a student. However, outside of the allotted teaching time, there is little opportunity for the student to practice the skill they were taught. How can we expect a student to use a needed skill during crunch time (such as becoming escalated) if they haven’t had multiple and varied opportunities to practice and use that skill? The answer is “we can’t”. When it comes to learning and using a new skill, particularly under times of stress, the more a student has used that skill in their daily life, the more familiar and accessible that skill becomes. For a skill to become familiar the bottom line is how often and under what situations has a student been given the opportunity to use that skill.

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