Repetition works. Even the best musicians in the world practice. They don’t typically play a song once and consider their work done. The same is true in almost all areas of life. Imagine a basketball player taking one shot and then walking off the court, content that this is all the practice needed for the big game. Yet, when it comes to school, repetition can be a problem. We need repetition without boredom. Repetition that turns into boredom is a good sign that students are disengaging, and disengaged students do not learn as much. So, how do we deal with this challenge?
There are tons of ways for us to get at this, but I’m going to give you one idea that I’ve seen work firsthand. This example comes from teaching essay writing in English, but I’m convinced that it can work across content areas. In fact, this can be a powerful tool for teaching the Bible as well. This strategy will get your students engaged in deep thinking and in reviewing their ideas and writing. You will likely be amazed at how much time and energy they put into it . . . all without boredom.
Imagine that you are teaching a writing unit, and you want the students to refine an expository essay. You can get them to write the first draft, but you run into problems trying to get them to do the hard work of revising their essays. That includes repetition, reviewing the same work multiple times. That is often not the fun part of writing.
Yet, consider this simple strategy to add more engagement and interest in the process. First, have the students write the essay and review it, potentially getting feedback from peers and you as the teacher. This is usually where the assignment ends. However, now bring in a guest to talk about the power of the spoken word. Then give students the challenge of creating an audio recording of themselves reading their essays, using the lessons from the guest. Pay attention to annunciation, pace, tone, emphasis . . . You will soon see students reading and re-reading their essays to get that recording just right. They will start seeking input from you and classmates.
Then bring in a photographer to talk about how visuals can be used to communicate a message, especially how they can be used to illustrate ideas in an essay. Next, invite students to find or capture four to six images that help illustrate their message. They can combine their recorded audio and images to create a digital story version of their essay.
Finally, have a musician come in and talk about the power of music combined with words. Have him or her illustrate the way that different styles and types of music can change the way people hear the associated words. Play sad music while reading an upbeat essay. Then do the opposite. Talk about how music and words can support each other. Students can search to find just the right music to help emphasize the key ideas in their essay.
Notice what you just did. You managed to get students to think about and review their essay dozens (it might not be an exaggeration to say hundreds, in some cases) of times. Each time they are thinking more deeply about what they meant to say. They are revising their work. They are making tweaks and additions. They are learning the power of investing lots of time and energy into crafting a clear and compelling message, and none of your students will see this as boring repetition.