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October 1, 2010
Vol. 68
No. 2

Art and Science of Teaching / Reviving Reteaching

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Educators have used the term reteachinginformally for decades. Madeline Hunter is credited with introducing the term in the 1980s within her framework for mastery teaching. Although the term lives on in many district curriculum guides, professional literature rarely addresses it.
It's time to revive awareness of this powerful instructional tool. Many of the positive effects reported in the research literature on formative assessment are connected to reteaching.
At a basic level, reteaching means "teaching again" content that students failed to learn. Some form of assessment always accompanies reteaching; such assessments reveal student misconceptions or errors in understanding, which clarify which content the teacher must reteach. In working with teachers across the United States, we have found that effective teachers intuitively employ the basic principles of reteaching even though they might not use the term to describe what they're doing.
For reteaching to be effective, however, teachers must use a different approach from the one they initially used, one that builds on previous activities but that focuses on the omissions or errors in student thinking that resulted from these activities.

When to Reteach

Reteaching typically occurs in two situations: when introducing new content in a lesson and when reviewing previously taught content that students need for an upcoming lesson.

Introducing New Content

When introducing new content, the teacher should continually monitor students' levels of understanding to determine whether immediate reteaching is necessary. For example, the teacher might periodically ask students to use various hand signals: Thumbs up means they understand the new content, thumbs down means they don't, and thumbs held horizontal means they understand some parts and are confused regarding others.
Teachers can also use student response or voting technologies—commonly referred to as clickers—to determine students' perceived understanding. Students rate how well they understand specific content; these ratings are transmitted electronically to a PowerPoint slide or an interactive whiteboard. Teachers should design questions that address key aspects of the new content; an incorrect response would indicate severe misunderstanding. For example, if students in a science class could not answer the following question—What is the role of hypotheses in the scientific method?—they would clearly be missing essential information.
One strategy that greatly facilitates reteaching is to present the content in small increments; I call this approach chunking. For example, a teacher presenting new content about the human skeletal system might present a few selected characteristics and then allow students time to process this new information by having them ask questions or summarize what it means. He or she would then present a few more characteristics, and so on. After exposing students to each small chunk of information, the teacher can ask students to rate their confidence in their understanding or ask them questions to verify their understanding. If confusion, errors, or misconceptions surface, the teacher would immediately re-address the content. In many cases, reteaching might simply involve providing alternative examples or explanations.

Reviewing Previously Taught Content

In this second circumstance, the teacher has already taught the content; he or she now assumes that students understand it. Again, verifying this assumption requires assessing students. This commonly takes place when the teacher reviews information or skills that students need before they can learn upcoming content. The teacher might use a brief quiz or simply ask a series of questions. If these disclose errors or misconceptions, reteaching is warranted.
Reteaching in this situation is not as straightforward as in the first case, simply because the teacher may not have been planning to address previously taught content. He or she could either ignore any plans to address new content and focus instead on student misunderstandings or group students temporarily on the basis of their needs. In this small-group setting, the teacher would then briefly reteach students who need more help to understand.
To do so, the teacher must provide some type of activity for the students who are not involved in the reteaching lesson. Having a teacher's aide or paraprofessional in the classroom would be helpful in this instance. Teachers can also create small tutorial groups in which students who have demonstrated understanding help those who require reteaching. This has the benefit of focusing all students' attention on the same content. Moreover, those students who help their peers develop more in-depth knowledge of the content.
A third option is to develop what elementary teachers refer to as centers. Centers are self-paced instructional packets or learning stations featuring planned activities set up around the classroom that students can work their way through to better understand specific content. For example, a teacher might design a center focused on solving a specific type of algebra problem. On the negative side, centers require a great deal of thoughtful preparation. On the positive side, once teachers create the packets or activities, they can easily reuse them to reteach.

Tried and True

Reteaching has a rich history. It is also closely aligned with many of the current recommendations made in the name of formative assessment. Teachers will find reteaching an effective tool to use in their classrooms.

Robert Marzano is the CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory in Centennial, CO, which provides research-based, partner-centered support for educators and education agencies—with the goal of helping teachers improve educational practice.

As strategic advisor, Robert brings over 50 years of experience in action-based education research, professional development, and curriculum design to Marzano Research. He has expertise in standards-based assessment, cognition, school leadership, and competency-based education, among a host of areas.

He is the author of 30 books, 150 articles and chapters in books, and 100 sets of curriculum materials for teachers and students in grades K–12.

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