(Danville, Ky) – People who get better at any skill, do so through carefully designed purposeful practice. Purposeful practice focuses students on their learning zone, and develops a life-long learning attitude-a different way of learning.
We had the  opportunity to work with small groups of students in a Governor’s School for the Arts, photography ArtShops. The challenge was, how do you help the students improve their skills in just a few hours? More importantly how do you enable the students to take this short workshop experience and run with it the rest of their lives?
The four step design of our  GSA ArtShops target the goal of purposeful practice . Let’s consider the details.
 
Establishing Current Capability
The first step in designing purposeful practice was to identify specific skills the students needed to take better photos. Our students brought portfolios of their current work for evaluation. We set benchmarks of where the students were so we could decide where we wanted to take them.
Setting Goals
Three learning zones were considered when designing the student goals.
  1. Goals that were already mastered would have been in the student’s comfort zone.
  2. Goals too challenging would have put the students in their panic zone.
  3. Knowing where the benchmarks were, we set some goals just beyond their current performance levels. This was that magical zone where students push forward and learn best. Their learning zone.

With our goals in mind we introduced a discussion of concepts in lighting, composition, camera angles, leading lines, etc., that the students could use to improve their photography.

Our BASICS OF PHOTOGRAPHY video, and Keynote presentation (a Powerpoint version is also available) can be downloaded.
Hands on practice
The students were given a photographic assignment in their learning zone. We asked them to produce purposeful images, using the concepts and techniques we discussed. They were asked to be prepared to show their techniques later in a critique session. We accompanied them during their hands on practice, looking for teaching moments. This way we could observe and identify points of difficulty, gently providing guidance.
Critical review
Feedback was so important as we reviewed the work that the students produced. More importantly, the review included how to continue improving the images. Where to get help and what to do next.
Specific questions helped the students analyze what they saw in the images. What do you like? What captures your attention? Were specific compositional/lighting techniques used to create the images? Where do your eyes focus? Is there a mood captured? How will you use what you have observed in this image to improve your future images?
At this point, the students began to design their own purposeful practice. We stressed a model of deliberate, highly structured practice, with specific goals for each student to take with them. The discussions were carefully guided to enable the students to become “their own best critic”.
Review of purposeful practice
Purposeful practice starts by identifying what you want to accomplish.  Set goals that are just beyond current performance levels.  This is your learning zone.
Don’t work in your comfort zone, or your panic zone.  Work in your learning zone until you master the goals.  Seek feedback from experts. Blogs, podcasts, videos, classes, coaching, etc.,  are great sources.
Be your own best critic.  Never give up!  Be a life long learner!
Additional information and registration for GSA ARTSHOPS.