No, it’s not corporal punishment.
It’s not bribing with Snickers bars.
It’s not free time.
The forbidden strategy I’m referring to has gotten a bad rap, but is so effective it’s used to train nurses, police officers, professional athletes, and opera singers.
What is it?
An Important Distinction
The overuse of repetition to teach subject matter, lovingly called “drill and kill,” is frowned upon because it can dampen enthusiasm for learning. But using repetition to teach classroom management routines is another story.
Anytime both body and mind are involved in learning, repetition must play an important role.
Administering CPR, learning a new aria, arresting a suspect, lining up for lunch. These routines are best learned, and mastered, through repetition.
It’s the only way to deepen the grooves.
There is a danger with using repetition, however.
In the hands of an unskilled or impatient teacher, students can become bored, resentful, and likely to cause trouble.
They’ll have little incentive to behave for a teacher who like an old football coach yells, “Let’s do it again! And we’re gonna keep on doing it until you get it right!”
Repetition Done Right
Repetition doesn’t have to be agony or time-consuming for you or your students. Done a certain way, it’s an effective classroom management strategy you’ll both enjoy doing.
Call it practice.
Using the metaphor of a sports team practicing for a game makes sense to students and gives meaning to a seemingly mundane exercise.
Teach and model first.
Repetition should come only after baseline learning takes place. Teach and model routines thoroughly before asking students to practice them.
Practice at intervals.
Practice each routine only twice in a row. Then take a break from that particular routine. Your students will learn faster if you come back and practice later in the day—or the next one.
Your students need immediate, positive feedback while practicing routines. Praise keeps the momentum of each repetition moving forward and effectively expresses what you expect from them.
After your students are finished practicing a routine, sit them down and tell them exactly what areas need improving. Don’t pull any punches. Be specific about what you want and accept nothing less.
If they get it right, stop.
Only repeat a routine done incorrectly. If your students get it right, tell them they were perfect and move on to something else.
Arms crossed, frequent sighs, exasperation. Many teachers dislike teaching routines. But if your students see your annoyance, it’s going to take them forever to learn. Having fun and demanding excellence are not mutually exclusive.
It’s all teaching.
Whether you’re teaching your students great works of poetry or a run-of-the-mill routine like how to clean your classroom, it’s all teaching. It’s all good. It’s what we’re called to do. Choose to see every opportunity to teach as enjoyable and worthy of your time.
Mastering Routines Is About Pride
Routines make your life easier and less stressful. They save oceans of time. They keep students focused on excellence, which will transfer to everything you do.
But more than anything…
Routines are about pride—pride in doing something well, pride in being part of a special group, and pride in standing apart from the crowd.
A brisk, confident class rolling like a train on their way to lunch is a beautiful thing.
Your students will walk tall and purposeful, taking both compliments from adults and stares from other classrooms in stride.
And you? You don’t have to do or say a thing.
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