High Intensity Practice

High intensity Practice (HIP) Writing and Math

We embrace the idea that the best way to cultivate lifelong skills is to spend a lot of time practicing with the right kind of guidance and coaching. To that end, we developed the High Intensity Practice (HIP) program for students in the Upper Division. The program, which we call HIP Thinking, encompasses both math and writing skills. In writing sessions, students are given 20 minutes to write, uninterrupted and in silence, on a variety of prompts. In math sessions, students spend the same amount of time solving problems in small groups. The prompts and problems are designed to provoke bold responses and encourage students to take inventive risks. In these short bursts of creative and analytical freedom, students cultivate essential cognitive skills – mental agility, empathy, extended concentration and stamina – through persistent practice. From 6th to 11th grade, all students take HIP Thinking classes every other day, alternating between math and writing.

Some examples of HIP writing prompts include:

  • Write a letter to the grandparent you never met
  • Write a Twitter exchange between your past and future self
  • Write a letter to the website that rejected your password
  • Describe the secret life of your pet
  • Write a love letter to your nemesis

In addition to developing better writers and more nimble problem solvers, the HIP Thinking program allows students to regularly engage in a deeper kind of thinking than that normally demanded in other classroom settings. By practicing often and over a number of years, students develop a set of thinking skills related to the brain’s key executive functions: working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control (executive function is often likened to the air traffic control system of the brain). HIP may also improve the ability to think abstractly, reason and discern patterns – markers of what psychologists refer to as fluid intelligence. Executive function is strongly associated with long-term academic achievement across disciplines and success in life, more so than even IQ.

A typical HIP Thinking session includes the following steps:

  1. Student memory is primed and attention is engaged through a compelling introductory narrative.
  2. Students are presented with a related prompt or problem that targets one or more of the following key thinking skills: empathy, creativity, abstraction, metacognition, critical thinking, mental agility and planning).
  3. Students focus intensely on responding to the prompt or solving the problem for 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Teachers provide feedback and coaching, emphasizing areas related to thinking skills.
  5. Teachers invite select students to share their work with the class.

The long-term benefits of HIP are the subject of ongoing research at Avenues, but an initial yearlong study in the 2016-17 school year provided empirical evidence of strong growth in thinking skills. As a regular part of the Upper Division schedule, HIP Thinking builds the intellectual “muscle memory” that will enable students to unleash their creativity while staying focused – in college and beyond.

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