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Repetition as a Teaching Device

How do we teach in a brain friendly way so our learners will be more likely to recall the information being learned? Five simple strategies will enable us to optimize memory formation. Last month we looked at chunking as one of those strategies. Over the next few months, we will explore the other strategies that can help us teach in a brain friendly way.

We will continue using a mnemonic device called CROME to help us remember the five strategies.

C stands for “chunk information.”
R reminds us of the importance of repetition.
O helps us remember the need for oxygen and glucose.
M means that we must link the learning to something that is “meaningful” or relevant for the learner.
E helps us understand that our emotional state impacts what and how we remember.

In this issue, we will look at why repetition plays such an important role in memory formation.

Repeating a concept soon after you have learned it—and repeating it often—triggers the brain to understand that this is important information. Here’s what happens:

Each of us has over 80 billion neurons in his or her brain. Neurons are linked via a specialized connection called a synapse. When we think a new thought, a new neural pathway develops. The more often you think that thought, the stronger that neural pathway becomes and the easier it is to recall the thought—this is memory!

Repetition-Memory-PathAn illustration of a path may help us understand this. The first person to walk across new terrain has to do a lot of work to find the best and safest path. But, over time, as the explorer travels back and forth, a path is worn and it becomes easier to see the way. Each time a person or animal walks on the path, it becomes smoother and easier to follow. Some of our paved roads actually originated from footpaths.

The process of learning a concept the first time is similar to that of a traveler finding the best path. The line of thought may seem to be loosely connected. But as you continue to go over the concept in your mind, to think about it and then rethink it, the thought becomes stronger. We call this automaticity. Do you remember when you were first learning to drive a car? You had to deliberately think about each action: “Put my foot on the break, start the car, shift into gear, look in my mirrors, click the turn signal . . . ” Now that you have been doing this for years, it has become automatic. If you’re like me, sometimes you arrive at your destination and can’t recall starting the car. You’ve done it so many times it has become automatic. That is why repetition is so important; information becomes automatic, a strong memory.

Ideally when we learn a new concept, we repeat it four times within the first hour and then at least once per day for seven days. So as we are memorizing God’s Word, repeating it day after day will help us develop that strong neural pathway and will assist us in making every thought captive and obedient to Christ.

While you are sleeping, your brain is sorting through the information it took in the previous day. Everything in your brain gets there through your five senses. You have either tasted it, seen it, smelled it, heard it, or felt it. That’s a lot of information entering your brain on a daily basis. As you sleep, your brain sorts through those sensory experiences and decides what it is going to hold on to and move over into long-term memory or what it is going to let go. If you have repeated a concept numerous times, it will continue to be placed in long-term memory, thus solidifying the memory.

So, in order for us to teach in a brain friendly manner, we want to chunk information into smaller bits and then we want our learner to repeat the information often in order to lock it into long-term memory.

In the next issue, we will talk about the importance of oxygen and glucose in memory formation.