Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

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This summer, I’ve had the chance to work with a group of public school Bachelor’s level speech-language therapists who are completing their Master’s degrees in speech-language pathology. One of the themes that has come up is the use of repetition in therapy. To this point, most of the cohort hasn’t used repetition (or extension) in themes or materials or even treatment targets from session to session. They’ve indicated they’re encouraged to ‘keep it fresh’ for their students.

I think we need to challenge this way of thinking. I think that’s even more true for kids with communication disorders who don’t learn as efficiently from day-to-day interactions as well as their typically developing peers.

Case in point below…

There’s a reason this video is the number one video of all time on YouTube and a reason why every English-speaking parent is so sick of it.

That reason is repetition, repetition, repetition. And, more repetition.

Learning from repetition is fundamental. There’s even a figure of speech for it – practice makes perfect. Professional & Olympic athletes have used this adage as the basis of their careers. They’ve practiced the techniques of their chosen sports to absolute mastery.

I argue that language and language acquisition is no different. Practice makes perfect – or as perfect as an imperfect system can become. I don’t mean to imply that SLPs are able to help all nonverbal communicators become verbal communicators or that SLPs can ‘fix’ everything. We can’t and it’s not fair to set up those expectations with families. But, SLPs can help students/clients/patients develop their communication systems by teaching skills to mastery (for the individual).

How do you teach skills to mastery (for the individual)? Through repetition, repetition, repetition.

Have you noticed a repeating pattern here? Good, because repetition is the key to learning!

Let me be clear. That does not mean using the same materials in every single therapy session. However, that does mean making sure you are targeting the same set of skills or targets in everything you do. Choose Tier 2 vocabulary words that you can teach across contexts and experiences. Choose themes you can use for 2 weeks or 4 weeks so that your clients have the opportunity to experience them across different situations and contexts. Develop continuity between the concepts you’re teaching when you’re talking about science or social studies or even art and music. Practice, practice, practice. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Children who are typically developing crave the structure that repetition provides. They want to hear the same stories or watch the same videos over and over and over again because they enjoy the pattern and predictability and structure provided by the repetition. Adults do, too. How many times during the pandemic have you watched something again after your video streaming service suggested it?

So, why do we deny this very human desire and need to our clients with communication disorders? By definition, our clients need additional support and opportunities to learn new concepts and information above and beyond that of typically developing children.

Why aren’t we providing them what they need to learn and to learn to mastery (for the individual)? Why aren’t we providing the same effective learning strategies as those used by typically developing children to professional athletes?

If you think your clients will easily become bored with this, I have two words for you – Baby. Shark.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your comments below!

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