Repetition is the mother of skill.
If you’re a teacher, you’ll relate to this experience: If you teach a lesson or unit two times, you get twice as good at it the second time. And if you teach it three times, you’re three times as good. When I taught middle school, I had five sections of language arts, and felt really good about myself by the end of the day—but felt pretty sorry for my first period class.
When you repeat a lesson, you get more clear and concise. You anticipate confusions before they occur, and you find ways to weave in humor and catchy anecdotes. You don’t have to be as aware of time, because you know how to pace each component of the lesson so you end just on time—so, when the bell rings, there’s no shouting last-minute summarization as students stream out the door. Students are more engaged and have a learning experience that is fluid and linear.
It’s not infinite, though. When you teach a lesson too many times, there is a point where you don’t get better anymore. You forget what you said to one group—“Did I tell you this already?” and “Stop me if we’ve gone over this”—and you’re kind of sick of yourself, so you slack off and become robotic about the whole thing. You become inefficient and miss important points.
All of this is worth thinking about with our students. Just as when we present a lesson, giving our students the chance for a couple go-rounds is a good thing, because it allows for refinement and thoroughness. Practice and repeating begets mastery. But not too much. At some point it’s time to set something aside and move.
Think about guiding students through a piece of writing. I’ve seen teachers have students revise, and rewrite, and revise, and rewrite . . . until the student doesn’t remember what changes she’s made along the way; what he was trying to say in the first place; or, worst of all, what the goal of the writing was in the first place. I’ve seen a student make an editing change and not be able to remember if it is a new change—or just a change back to the way it was in the first place.
This is not true just for writing—it can be true for reading, speaking, listening, and any sort of creating, really. It takes time and effort to find an excellent end product, but it’s easy to cross over into overkill—which leads to boredom and disengagement.
Part of the challenge is finding a balance between what’s enough, what’s not enough, and when it’s time to move along. Remembering how we feel when we’ve tromped through our first go at teaching—and how we feel after we’ve taught it umpteen times—is like putting a pair of student moccasins on and walking a mile in them. Which is always a good idea.
This week we look at how to improve lessons. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Long an avid reader, Jennifer Schwanke has worked as an educator for 15 years. She taught middle school language arts for six years before moving into administration at both the middle school and elementary level. Jen enjoys thinking of more effective ways to present literacy to students at these vulnerable ages. You can find her latest thinking at her Leading and Learning blog.
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Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris describe their process of slowing down and entering lessons more mindfully:
Mary Helen Gensch explains how to find craft lessons in beloved children’s books. She uses a mentor text with an engaging main character to illustrate:
Stacey Shubitz shares a concise primer on the fundamentals of minilessons:
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Melanie Meehan gives three quick management tips for tackling the challenge many teachers face — keeping minilessons short:
In this week’s video, Christy Rush-Levine uses a vivid anecdote from her youth to teach her middle school students about the importance of context in literary analysis:
Tara Barnett and Kate Mills share how one book can serve as an anchor for lessons on everything from writer’s craft to test-taking skills in One Book, Many Lessons:
In an encore video, Tony Keefer uses his writing as a mentor text in this fourth-grade minilesson on manipulating time in personal narratives:
That’s all for this week!