Friday, June 19, 2009

Repetition & Repetition

I just learned something new that confirms my prejudices; therefore I am happy.

At Joe Paprocki's blog a post on the value of repetition in catechesis referred to this document: Four Hallmarks of Jesuit Pedagogy: Prelection, Reflection, Active Learning, Repetition. The word 'Repetition' caught my attention. Because I was educated mostly in Catholic schools K-12, I was required to repeat many, many things, and retained much of what I repeated (thank ya, Jesus for nuns; they beat me less often than I deserved).

By the way, the importance of repetition is also repeated at Brain Rules, a useful teacher's resource:

Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
Rule #6: Remember to repeat.

And one more remark regarding repetition: "catechize" comes from the Greek word catechein, to re-sound, and is related to "echo," itself a re-sounding. Thus the idea of repetition is implied by catechesis. One definition for catechize is 'to teach by means of questions and answers,' or as I would say, having a dialogue with the students that is managed and directed by the teacher to specific ends. And remember, before the printing press neither books nor literacy were widespread. Thus for most of human history, catechesis (κατήχηση) has been the norm.

I was catechized through 6th grade with the Baltimore Catechism (κατηχισμός). It's page after page of questions and answers which were read & recited aloud during class. The first couplet of hundreds to follow was: Who made us? God made us. Now, saying I learned the Catechism through repetition does not mean this:

Who made us? God made us.
Who made us? God made us.
Who made us? God made us, etc., ad nauseam.

That's not repetition, that's boredom. This is repetition:

Read from your books please: who made us? God made us.
Put down your books. Maureen, who made you? God made me, Sister Alphonsus.
David, who made you? God made me, Sister.Maria, who else did God make? God made me. Yes, but besides you? Umm, God made my parents? Yes, God made your parents.Mike, who besides your parents did God make? My brothers and sister!
Yes, God made our families. Jimmy, who else? My friends! Yes.
Christian, who else? Sister, God made everybody! Yes, little pagan (true nickname), God made everybody.
Mark, besides people what did God make? My dog!
Yes, Joan? Sister, did God make the devil? Joan, that's a good question. Yes. But God made him an angel, the devil became bad on his own. We'll learn about that later.
Someone else, what did God make? My house! And....Trees! And.... The Moon! And...Everything!
Yes, God made (Sister gestures with her arms to include the whole class)....everything! Yes!
Tell me again class, who made us? God made us!
Yes, God made all of us. Good children.

Repetition is not boring. Repetition is exciting. Repetition builds momentum. It goes up and down; it goes sideways. It widens and narrows, generalizing and specifying. It bends without breaking. It's ancient and fresh. Repetition teaches and learns.

The Who made us/God made us example, while simple, illustrates specific teaching tactics that are always useful. The teacher:

1. Asks questions constantly; maintains a rhythm of Q&A.
2. Asks individual students if hands aren't going up.
3. Adjusts questions to steer the discussion, usually forward, but sideways or back is fine as appropriate.
4. Answers off-topic questions briefly & returns to topic with a question.
5. Builds on answers by affirming, repeating, restating, expanding, or refining them.
6. Uses answers as the jumping-off point for the next question.
8. Lets momentum carry the class when possible: and...and...and...?
7. Maintains a repetition of sound, e.g.: God made...God made...God made.
9. Repeats the basic question to conclude the discussion.
10. Maintains a rhythm of affection and approval through a flow of small, earned affirmatives: yes...yes...good...yes...good children.

But this isn't the limit of repetition. Who made us/God made us shows repetition used for a single topic in one class meeting. But it also works across classes, i.e, in one class I may repeat a question in different ways 5 times. But I may also ask that question once per class for the next five classes. Or I may repeat a question that generates a different answer each time, such as 'who's your favorite saint?' or 'what did you give up for Lent?' Or I may ask different questions that mostly repeat one answer, such as:

Who is Mr. Slingshot? David!
What did Mr. Slingshot do? Kill Goliath!
Who sang for King Saul? David!
Who wrote Psalms? David! Yes, King David.
Who had an affair with Bathsheba? King David!
And how about Bathsheba's husband? David got him killed!Who did David confess those sins to? Nobody remembers? Nathan!
Who was David's famous son? Solomon!Who was Solomon's mom? Y'all forgot? Bath... Bathsheba! Yes!
So who was her husband? King David!


It's surprising, but until yesterday I hadn't realized just how much I was catechizing the way I myself had been catechized so many decades ago.

Thank you, Sr. Celine.

Thank you, Sr. Alphonsus.

Thank you, Sr. Helena.

Thank you, Sr. Mary James.

They loved me like a son; my debt is great.