Use repetition during class to reinforce understanding

When your students file out at the end of class, how do you know that they can use what they've learned? Repeating information during class ensures that students know how to use the software in theory and in practice.

By Michelle Hutchinson

As a trainer, one of the most important things to me is ensuring that my students understand what I’ve taught them after they leave my classroom. Will they be able to repeat what they’ve done when they get back to their own desks? Since most trainers do not get the opportunity to check up on their students to see if they are using their new skills, they can only hope.

One way to make sure that students “get it” is to repeat what you have just taught over and over again throughout the same class. Repetition is an important key in learning. Repetition is an important key in learning.

Designing the class plan
When I’m preparing my training materials, I try to find a way to repeat information throughout the class. I’ve tried testing students as another method to encourage retention, but I’ve found that although they know the answers, they still don’t remember how to use their knowledge to complete tasks.

Many of the common features in any software program can be repeated throughout a single class. While you’re preparing your training materials, look at some of the features that you will be covering, and you may find that you can repeat some of them during your class as well. I will use one of my current Excel courses as an example. All of these features take just a few minutes to cover and can be thrown in throughout a class without taking up too much time.

Repeating tasks in Excel
We start the class by creating a simple spreadsheet. Because I’m a big movie fan, we create a spreadsheet of movies that the students have seen, and we rate them. I like starting the class on this note because right away we’re talking about something the students are familiar with, and they become a little less intimidated. (I also get my own personal movie review.)

We start our spreadsheet by creating a header row that describes our spreadsheet.

The top row headers are Movie and Starring.

I show the users how to change the format of the text by adding color and changing the font. We change the format on most of the cells in this and future spreadsheets, so this action is repeated many times.

Once they’ve formatted this row, we add another header to this selection (our rating of the movie).

Rating is the third header.

Demonstrating a new tool
At this time, I introduce the Format Painter button, which copies the current format of a cell and pastes only the format to another cell. It’s a very handy little button.

The Format Painter button can save a lot of time.

We use the Format Painter button to copy the format of our previous cells to our new cell. Later in the class, we add another header and do the same thing. I don’t tell them what they need to do but instead ask them what they think we need to do right now. We continue to do this for each new spreadsheet we create. Again, repeating this action will help them remember how to do it later.

Moving on to content
Now it’s time to add our movie titles. Since most of our titles won’t fit inside a cell, we cover how to automatically adjust the column width by double-clicking on the column header.

When the cursor turns into this tool, double-click to adjust the column size.

We continue to add more movie titles and adjust the column widths as we go. Students are constantly adding to this and other spreadsheets, which means they are constantly adjusting the column width. By the end of class, they have performed this function so many times they now do it without even thinking.

Explaining the Fill Handle
The Fill Handle (my absolute favorite feature in Excel) is another tool we use repeatedly throughout the class. The Fill Handle, found in the lower right-hand corner of every cell, can copy data and formulas or fill a series of data based on the sequence you start.

When the cursor looks like this and you’ve selected cells this way, you’ve got the Fill Handle.

For example, by typing in a 1 and then a 2 and using the Fill Handle, Excel will fill the rest of the numbers for you. (Holding down the [Ctrl] key while using the Fill Handle will do this as well.)

The Fill Handle will insert numbers into as many cells as you select.

This is my favorite part of the class simply because I receive a lot of oohs and aahs. We start out practicing with a sequence of numbers to show how the Fill Handle works.

Explaining AutoSum
Next we move to the AutoSum button, which automatically adds a selection of numbers.

This button does calculations quickly.

Now we find another use for the Fill Handle as we fill/copy the formula to the rest of our range of data. We continue to use the AutoSum and Fill Handle throughout the class by creating and copying future formulas. Since the Fill Handle is such an important tool in Excel, we get a lot of use out of it.

With every new spreadsheet we create, we continue to use these same features while we’re covering new ones.

Saving their energy for the hard stuff
There are some portions of the class that we can only cover once. However, because we are covering many features over and over again, those features become second nature, and the students can focus on the more difficult aspects of the software.

Now, when my students leave the class, I know that a good portion of what was taught really has sunk in because I’ve seen them use their new skills throughout the entire class. It’s sort of like following up on your teaching while you’re teaching.
Do you make sure to go over important topics several times? Do you have pop quizzes in the middle of class? Do you visit people at their desks and ask to see an example of how to use a specific tool? Send us your ideas for making sure students have benefited from your classes so we can share them with fellow TechRepublic members.

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