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Seven Instructional Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know, Part 1: Practice Over Time
posted by: Melissa | May 09, 2016, 05:00 AM   


Today, we’re beginning a seven-part series on instructional practices every teacher can and should be using.  In 2007, IES identified these strategies as proven to work and NCTQ brought attention to them earlier this year when they suggested the principles for teacher preparation classes.  You’ll find nothing flashy or fashionable here–just time-tested and well-worn tools that too often get neglected.


The first strategy we’re examining is Practicing over Time.  This is not to be confused with spending more time on a topic, something often done to increase depth.  This technique refers to revisiting a topic multiple times over the course of an academic year. If done properly, it can increase retention.


This strategy works as a process. First, instruct on the concept initially as you normally would.  Then, wait several weeks or months.  After the break, revisit the concept again a second time in homework, a lesson, a test, a quiz, etc.


While the strategy seems simple enough, it’s not difficult at all to make mistakes when implementing it, usually because the instructor does not wait long enough or revisit it often enough.  Think of this all-too-common scenario: A teacher introduces a concept at the beginning of a unit.  Right before the unit exam, they review the topic and then move on to another unit with all new concepts.  In this scenario, there isn’t enough time between the initial teaching and the review for the student to remember it.


Picture this classroom instead:  A teacher introduces a concept and gives a lesson.  The next day, the teacher holds a bi-weekly review lesson.  During this lesson, the teacher reviews one or more concepts that were taught in previous units.  In the weekly homework assignment, 90% of the questions are on the current material, but a few of the questions are on previous concepts.  At the end of the month, the teacher gives a regular cumulative exam.


The second scenario is a perfect illustration of what IES recommends.  IES makes the following recommendations:


  1. Review and re-teach material in class.
  2. Use homework as an opportunity to reinforce and practice previously taught concepts.
  3. Give cumulative midterm and final examinations.


All of this research builds on well-established brain science.  Namely, the more often material is dredged up into working and short-term memory, the more likely it is to make the transfer to long-term memory.  Next week, we’ll discuss a proven technique for improving a student’s problem solving skills.


Are you utilizing this strategy in your classroom?
Comment below.


Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Jacqueline McKinley Texas, June 20, 2016

I use this strategy for teaching Math. While I can't ensure that all students will do homework, I can monitor class work so I use a daily warm-up/bell-ringer to revisit previously taught skills. It is definitely a tried and true practice for mastery in my classroom.

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