The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Teaching, Reteaching, and Reteaching Again

Conventional wisdom tells us that someone needs to do something for 21 consecutive days in order for it to become a habit. However, that conventional wisdom is based on rather faulty anecdotal evidence, and so a team of researchers, Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld, Henry W. W. Potts and Jane Wardle, set out to find a more definitive answer to the amount of time it takes something to become habit forming.

Their results, to use the vernacular of modern click-baiting links, will surprise you: they found that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to make any given action a habit!

What does this have to do with me, my students, and fourth grade?

From the very start of the year, we start working on establish routines in the classroom. I teach them, the students practice them, I reteach them, they practice them again. We put them into place and we use them consistently throughout the day, all day, every day, every week, every month.

But it takes time for those routines to become habits. We know that young children take longer to learn skills and have the things they are told move from their short-term to their long-term memory. And so I find myself telling my students the same things over and over and over again, although I try to find different ways to say it and different ways to model it.

Some days I feel like I have told them something a hundred times, maybe even a thousand times or more. And the reality is that I probably have. The reality is also that they need to hear it a hundred times, or ever a thousand times. They are learning new habits.

This is also why I feel it is so important for their to be consistency across grade levels. If students hear similar messages in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade, it is more likely that they will quickly respond to signals and expectations when they reach my room as fourth graders. While the research referenced above says that there is not much difference if someone misses a day or two when trying to form a new habit, the reality for my students is that they are only in school for less than a quarter of the day, less than half of a year. So it is to be expected that it will take them much longer to form those habits.

And that means that I need to teach, then reteach, the reteach again. That’s what teaching is all about. And so we will continue to revisit our routines, continue to practice, rehearse, implement, and use them again and again and again.


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