Sunday, March 18, 2012

Repeat After Me

“So you’re saying that we should only teach new material for 15 minutes in a 45 minute period?”  That was the question on all of our minds after Audra and Scot explained their example lesson plan.  Since most of us have been sitting in graduate level courses for the past year or two, the idea of repetition in teaching is somewhat foreign to us.  However, if you think about the basics of learning, repetition is key.  None of us learned to read, write, spell, or perform basic math functions like multiplication and division without lots of repetition.  How long did it take you to memorize your times tables?  I remember spending almost all of second grade going over them again and again. 

Of course, learning shouldn’t always be reduced to repetition and memorization.  As teachers, we should also teach students the skills they need in order to be able to self-learn.  If you think about it, these skills involve repetition.  Things like going over your notes after class, making flash cards to study, editing your essays, explaining what you know to a friend, taking sample exams.  As adults, companies try to sell us tools that will help us learn new material.  Their secret?  Repetition.

In his 9th grade math class, Trenton ensures that his students will practice the same type of problem several times over the course of a class period by creating lesson plans with built-in repetition.  First, students work review problems on their own, then the class goes over them on the board.  Next, new material is introduced:  the class works problems together, then students work on their own, then they help other students.  Finally, students work practice problems for homework.  The next day, the whole process is repeated as students go over their homework and work review problems. 

I do.  We do.  You do.

Repetition is the mother of learning.  

-Sarah File


  1. One of the adult education teachers I interviewed as part of my dissertation had an interesting strategy that relates to repetition -- she would tell her students during their health literacy class, "Listen like you're going to have to teach this to someone." Then after the didactic part of class, she'd actually have them do it.

    When you know you're going to have to do something again, you listen differently.... like "Is this going to be on the test?" You know half the class tunes out when the answer is no! Yes, even (and especially) in grad school!

    So based on all of this -- I'm curious to know what suggestions do you have for grad school classes when there is SO MUCH material to cover?

  2. Even teaching high school I struggle with the amount of time it takes to get the necessary repetitions with the pacing that we're giving. I'm convinced that repetition is even more important in math, because mathematics is the study of patterns in numbers and space. If my students don't do enough problems to begin finding these patterns that are not learning math, and they probably won't remember it.

    My goal is for them to see, do, and teach enough examples so that they haven't just memorized my rule, but have actually conceptualized the learning and can create their own rule. That's problem solving. That's rigor. That's math.

    The problem in my classroom and many other low income classrooms that I've seen is that teacher fail to invest students in their learning. As a result their students don't actually complete all the repetitions they should. The result is teachers convincing themselves that a couple of problems done well can replace repetition and pattern finding. I've been to many district level meetings where this practice is taught.

    I will continue to try to convince my students and others that repetition matters. And I will continue to try to invest my student in my classroom and in their future. It's the hard way, but to me, it's the only way I will create students ready to compete in the global economy.