repetition – repeat after me

Nov 3, 2017

Real learning happens most often and effectively in light of:

1)  Danger

2)  Personal relevance

3)  Repetition

I heard this years ago at a professional development day for teachers and it has helped me tremendously in supporting students with working memory challenges for whom repetition becomes a most dependable academic ally.

I guess it makes sense, doesn’t it?

A toddler who burns himself on something hot will most likely learn quickly not to touch. But what is learned in school is rarely dangerous enough to tattoo less-then-fascinating course content on even the most impressionable of minds.  Second only to that is how infrequently the course work is personally relevant to students from their viewpoint, at least.  Even as adults, we  learn more quickly when we are even vaguely interested in a subject.

That leaves repetition.  The broken record of life.

How else did you first learn your phone number when you were old enough to travel further than your front yard?  Or memorize the multiplication tables?   Or cajole your parents into buying you something you wanted at the grocery store with an endless ‘please, please, pleeeeease!’?  Or be able to sing the theme song lyrics to every 70’s-80’s sitcom?  “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…” repetition.

But is that all there is?  Just repetition?  Where’s the passion?  Where’s the drama of learning in the theater of life?  Where’s the curiosity to explore unknown cognitive landscapes?  The getting high on vibrating cerebral connectors that are firing on all cylinders and that glorious ‘aha’ moment?  And how on earth do I inspire my students with the richness of being open to seeing things in a new way with the dull mantra of “shampoo, rinse, repeat“.

A few years back I tackled a physically, emotionally and mentally draining certification process to become a yoga instructor and I was amazed at how often repetition played a key role.  Besides making flash cards to memorize the Sanskrit names for all the poses, it was actually doing the yoga poses again and again and again that was beneficial on so many levels.  Most significantly, it was how the physical repetition ingrained the poses into our bodies’ memories.  It was as if our cells would know precisely what to do in Trikonasana even if the light of our brain was extinguished due to a middle-aged brain-freeze moment or an actual coma. Well, maybe not a coma!  It was a simple yet potent reminder of the power of repetition.

As it is with work, relationships or our work-out routines so it is with even our greatest passions.  Sometimes it comes down to basic repetition.  Mastery of the moment. The practice of presence that happens in this moment, then this one, then the next and so on.

So even when repetition is the task, I can still inspire passionate learning in the young minds who have no choice but to listen to me go on and on repetitively about things that move me and that I think are monumentally important to them. Colour me relieved.

I have seen the power of intentional repetition and recognize its ability to build a more resilient memory and eventual mastery.  And, I have just discovered that this is precisely what I’ll share with my next batch of unsuspecting students.  Lucky them!

Cue the eye-rolling.

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