06 Jul Why is Repetition Important to Learning?

As a parent, I find myself looking at my children’s homework and saying (either to myself or to other parents!): “They did this last year.”

I’m probably right. They also did the same work the year before that, and the year before that. Science and history usually alternates a little each year, but they will see the same concepts over and over, just like you did. Education is at least 6 to 8 years of repetition. Then, secondary school is even more repetition along with exposure to new ideas. Somewhere in that process, abstract thought kicks in and the student begins to make connections.

The same process works for learning a language, whether it’s with young learners, teenagers or adults.

People learn through repetition; the repetition builds paths in our brain. Once we have been down the same path a few times, we find the place quicker next time!

Our brain knows where to go to find specific information and we move from conscious thought to sub-conscious fluency.

Studies have shown that every time we remember something we strengthen the connection to it, which helps us remember it even after a gap of many years. It’s like the back-up process on our P.C to make sure that we don’t lose our work and have to start again! (We’ve all been there and know how frustrating it is!)

This is why repetition is so important in ESL e.g. the present simple will be in Beginner and Elementary books, and run through all levels up to advanced.
Memory is all about the Rs:

Recall – is usually how we try and remember facts, figures and names. We use recall for absorbed memories, such as basic information about ourselves (name, address etc., things we might need to know instantly). But recall also lets us down frequently, which is why many of us find names or numbers hard to remember

Recognition – If you can’t recall the information then you’ll be relying on recognition. There’s more information in our heads than we can actually remember – show us the answer and we’ll recognise it – it’s why multiple choice helps!

Re-learning – if you have learned something then but then forgotten it- a foreign language for example – you’ll find it much easier to re-learn and remember it second time around.

The fourth R, i.e. repetition, completes the process and helps move our learning into accessible long term memory. To stick with the computer metaphor, it takes all the information from your USB, phone, computer and emails and backs it up into one safe, permanent place.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

If repetition is a fact of ESL life, then it’s our job to make it feel fresh and fun and new each time. Creative aids, interactive tasks, using a listening task one time, changing to a speaking task next time, changing the visuals; all these techniques make it feel that we are doing something different even though it is the same content.

So, next time someone in your class says: “I’ve done this before”, answer with: “Great, now let’s see if you can remember it!”

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