Maximize Learning with Guided Practice and Feedback


So after getting your learners' buy-in, eliciting their mental models, and facilitating their construction of knowledge around your new content, you are ready to maximize learning by providing learners with opportunities for guided practice and feedback. This step of brain-based learning design looks like student practice measured against clear standards of success, feedback, reflection upon practice and feedback, and refined action that results in transformative learning.

Guided practice involves practice, feedback, reflection and refinement of skills.

Guided practice with feedback means that we as teachers and trainers create and implement structured practice sessions that combine intentional, scaffolded (or graduated) practice with new content combined with coaching and formative (as they are increasing in mastery) feedback.

Guided practice allows learners to make continual adjustments in their new skill rehearsal and allows college students or employees to refine multiple drafts of projects or papers.

This cycle of practice measured against clear standards of success, feedback, reflection upon the practice and feedback, followed by refined action is a critical brain-based component of transformational and mastery learning, whether for college student, employee, or life skills learner.

Guided practice is scaffolded and chunked.

Guided practice with feedback urges the instructor/trainer to carefully craft meaningful practice through role play, trial and error tasks, or progressive application activities. When these intentionally designed practice tasks are accompanied by clear standards of success in Success Checklists, then the student/trainee not only has a tool to inform his practice but one with which to evaluate it afterwards and help him see where his improvement has been and still needs to be. It also provides an objective standard, revealed before practice, against which you as a teacher or trainer can evaluate a learner's progress.

Examples of guided practice with feedback activities.


Scaffolded means graduated from simple to complex. Using scaffolded role-plays means to facilitate a series of role-play practices that move from less to more challenging.

To begin at the lowest threat level first I demonstrate skills taught in the new content portion of the lesson in a role-play with one participant in front of the entire group. I practice the skills and the participant responds to my use of the skills during the role-play.  I also demonstrate the use of the following role-play practice strategies:  "Pause," "Rewind," "Help me out," or "What should I do next?" to engage the larger group. When I stop and rewind or ask for help the members of the class can call out suggestions for me to try. This makes the role-play less demanding than being on the spot at the front of the room with another learner with no supports.

I've used this strategy for any number of interpersonal skills practice sessions including parents practicing non-violent discipline with children, teachers or trainers practicing responses to challenging classroom behavior, and job seekers practicing responses to tough interview questions.

When students/trainees have more confidence, I have asked teams of three to role-play the new skills using a model in which 1 person practices the skill, 1 person freely responds as the recipient based on the first person's use of the skill, and the 3rd coaches the skill user by standing behind him/her to whisper words to say if the practicer gets stuck or flustered. Team members debrief their experience in their respective roles, discussing what worked and why, and then rotate until each person has had an opportunity to take each role. The variety of roles gives each learner a deeper understanding of the impact of the skills and a more nuanced skill set to take with them back into their life.


Ask students for a list of topic-related scenes they encounter most frequently because research shows that role-play is most effective in changing behavior when practice sessions use student-generated scenarios. Write these student-generated scenarios, one per index card or strip of paper. Have participant pairs draw one of these scenarios from a container. Pairs of students/trainees use the skills they've learned during the new content portion of your session to role-play their scenario in front of the group. They are encouraged to use "Pause," "Rewind," "Help me out," or "What should I do next?" The rest of the group identifies the skills they observe in the role-play and offers additional skills that might be used in that scenario, coaching the role-players as needed. This one activity offers practice at the Bloom's levels of recognition, application and creation.



Another guided practice with feedback activity I frequently use is to create a real-life assignment that allows the learner to practice applying the new content to a relevant situation in his world. I have asked graduate students in an adult education program to use Gagne's Events of Instruction (their new content in a curriculum design course) to create a lesson plan using Gagne's model to design a learning event for their individual work context (a training for their department, a lesson for their ESL class or GED students, or a workshop for their supervisees).


I have asked incarcerated parents to use a Conversation Plan template outlining critical steps to effective communication for tough conversations to plan a conversation with their child's caregiver. This template guides parents through the construction of a conversation plan that begins with demonstrating respect, appreciation and empathy and then seeks to build trustworthiness and connection by making requests politely and reflecting back concerns of the child's caregiver.


Provide a Success Checklist with specific criteria for what an excellent work product should look like when learners prepare to apply new content to their context. Success Checklists can be used for all kinds of assignments - projects, papers, role-plays, plans, etc.

I often ask learners to use a Success Checklist to evaluate their own work and to evaluate at least one other student's/trainee's first draft. These evaluations are shared in a small group, in groups on Blackboard, or one-on-one with the participant evaluated, depending about the assignment.

I always check the scoring and comments before the student uses that feedback to create a second draft of a project, plan, role-play or paper. I also ask students to turn in their evaluation of themselves when they turn in their work. I return their evaluation with my own and can use this as an opportunity to help students think more critically and objectively about their work as they build mastery.

I have used Success Checklists in a graduate level adult education course in which students designed a lesson plan following Gagne's Events of Instruction model and in a prison parenting class in which students created Conversation Plans for phone calls home to talk with their child's caregiver.

Don't skip practice and feedback!

It is so tempting to skip the practice in favor of just a little more new content, but research shows that it is only with guided practice, feedback and opportunities to refine work that new content is mastered and then becomes transformational in the life of the learner.

What are your challenges with guided practice and feedback?

How can I help you build practice and feedback into your sessions? Leave your questions below and I’ll get right back to you!