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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Repetition of Learned Materials (MA vs. Vienna)

     Teaching at a Viennese elementary school, I have noticed that one common method of teaching the English language there includes consistent and frequent repetition of learned materials. Reinforcement of newly developed English concepts, words, phrases, texts, etc. is crucial to students' sustainment of this new knowledge. Therefore, in Vienna, repetition occurs both within English lessons and at various points throughout the week. For example, one morning first grade students were learning how to talk about their favorite colors. The teacher introduced the phrase, “My favorite color is…” and proceeded to tell the class that her favorite color was purple as she pointed to a student’s purple shirt. Then, together the students practiced saying, “My favorite color is…” Each student was then asked to state the phrase with his or her own favorite color/s. Most students accurately exclaimed the sentence, while others required some assistance from surrounding peers. This type of teacher-supported and whole group repetition occurred frequently in the younger elementary classrooms. Since everyone was working together to complete the sentences, students felt comfortable speaking English. The repetition boosted their confidence. 
     In this Viennese elementary school, repetition of material also occurs at various times during the week. Teachers bring up words, sentences and topics from previous English lessons to refresh students’ memories. For example, after a lesson on the prepositions “in, on, under” and “behind” in a first grade classroom, the teacher asked questions and stated phrases such as, “Look! My pencil is under the chair” throughout the following weeks. This triggered students’ prior knowledge and allowed them to exercise their developing English skills.

     Repetition, although also a key component of teaching English Language Learners in Massachusetts, is incorporated differently into lessons. Although words and phrases are explicitly repeated in some lessons as they are in Vienna, repetition is incorporated in a more expansive manner. For example, in many Massachusetts schools I have noticed that teachers will work on the same book with students for weeks at a time. They begin by doing a quick read of the book and pointing out significant vocabulary words. Then throughout the following weeks they not only re-read the text, but they ask new questions related to the concepts and themes of the book, they develop new activities/games/projects that involve the book’s characters, they ask students to complete writing prompts and more. Throughout the re-readings and additional tasks, students trigger previously learned materials while developing new knowledge and skills. While vocabulary words and the text itself are frequently reiterated, the repetition itself is not as straightforward and explicit. Since English is not taught as a foreign language in the States and most classes have a combination of native English speakers and learners of English, there is not time to repeat every new word or phrase extensively. These things are incorporated into the daily lessons in a more elaborate way. Normally, however, teachers will provide additional guidance and support to English Language Learners who might need additional review of a word, topic etc. before moving on. It has been really interesting observing the differences between how teachers teach the English language in Vienna and in the States! 

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