We tried to dissect the elements of "deliberate practice" [Ericsson, et al., 2006] during today's CWSEI Reading Group meeting. Not all aspects of "practice" are the same. We recognize that some students insist on multitasking while doing homework (e.g., watch TV or listen to iPod while engaging in practice activities). Perhaps the term "deliberate practice" should be reserved for those tasks that do not readily permit TV or other multitasking interferences. Ray Lister suggested another paper related to practice quality [Plant, et al., 2005] that may be of interest.
Some of the elements of practice include foundations that students often do not enjoy, but are recognized as skill development techniques. In music, this includes practice on scales, repertoire, technical exercises, etc. [Sloboda, et al., 1996]. In computer science, this may involve practice with "boring" parts of CS, like math skills, analyzing sort routines, fixing badly designed or poorly documented code, or coding non-interactive applications.
The studies of Sloboda, et al., showed that no matter what skill level, there is a common trend that performers that are better at that skill/age level have spent more hours in deliberate practice. The highest achievers in each level are those individuals that have practiced the most. Performers in the highest level have accumulated a considerably larger number of hours than in the next highest level, and so on. This reinforces the results of other papers (e.g., [Ericsson, 1996; Colvin, 2008]).
There is some debate about whether a long programming assignment is better than a shorter programming assignment. Historically, to convey a CS learnaing objective, programming assignments tend to be longer than necessary (perhaps because "I had to do it that way when I was an undergrad"). But, if a student cannot get the long program to work at all, does this mean the student has failed? What if the student is really close to getting it working, but just can't get it to work, or simply doesn't understand a small component of it? Might it be better to have many shorter programs/exercises and more manageable or self-contained milestones, thus building confidence for the student?
Colvin, Geoff. Talent is Overrated. Portfolio (Penguin), 2008.
Ericsson, K. A. The influence of experience and deliberate practice on the development of superior expert performance. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, P. Feltovich, and R. R. Hoffman, R. R. (Eds.). Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 685-706). Cambridge, UK: CambridgeUniversityPress, 2006.
Plant, E. Ashby; Ericsson, K. Anders; Hill, Len; Asberg, Kia (2005). "Why Study Time Does Not Predict Grade Point Average across College Students: Implications of Deliberate Practice for Academic Performance". Contemporary Educational Psychology, v30 n1 p96-116 Jan 2005.
Sloboda, John A.; Davidson, Jane W.; Howe, Michael J.A.; Moore, Derek G. "The role of practice in the development of performing musicians". British Journal of Psychology (1996), 87, pp. 287-309.