Instant Replay
A Simple Tactic to Double the Value of Your Teaching

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

Here and now is a sample from a new book that makes classroom teaching profoundly easier for the teacher, not only more effective. This mere sample will make teaching easier for you... and more effective!

Meet right here a simple, easy-to-use classroom tactic, Instant Replay. You can learn it in one minute. Instant Replay, obviously a review method, will in fact serve you as much more than a review of your day's lesson in teaching. As an educator, you will find your leverage remarkably improved, along with your classroom outcomes.

This sample is an excerpt from a simple little book for you, the dedicated teacher whose very dedication, in the very teeth of current schooling conditions, has brought you close to the limits of endurance and eroded your originally strong desires for highest-level performance. The book’s title: Three Easy Tactics to Use in Your Classroom—How To Teach Smarter, Not Harder. This present article briefs you on one of those three tactics.

We all want better outcomes in our schools, but none of the major reforms have really worked and taken hold. Each reform has seemed to many teachers to be yet more of a burden, to require still more time, still more attention, still more energy of them than they are already putting out, pushing them closer to the point of exhaustion. In contrast, the improvements suggested here greatly improve the lot of the teacher, not only that of the students. These allow the teacher to recover much of his or her earlier vigor, clarity and enthusiasm.

In fact, you need only minutes to learn and successfully apply the three simple classroom tactics given to you here, which you can then freely use as little or as much as you please. Each time you do use one or several of these, not only you but your students will do better. This one same tactic here, from the three simple tactics in the book, is representative of a larger body of educational techniques, modern Socratic Method, whose tested outcomes have been most heartening indeed and to some even startling. More about that soon, and about the little-known special branch of Socratic Method, Maieutics(1), which these present tactics most closely resemble. Meanwhile:

Respite. Relief. Re-Orienting. Regrouping. Refreshed.

Have you ever experienced it all catching up with you as a teacher—the long hours and many competing demands for your energy and attention? Have you ever started to run dry in the middle of a lesson, your eloquence, powers of persuasion and context mostly evaporated?

Have you ever wished, in mid-lesson, for a two- to four-minute breather in which you can regroup yourself, your thoughts, and the case you are making to your students, somehow pause to re-orient yourself without meanwhile throwing your students into some routine drill or some tedious makework?

Here is a good part of how you can find yourself respite and relief, regroup yourself, and plunge back in re-powered and refreshed—while your pause to come up for air actually pulls your students forward in a major way instead of sticking them into a temporary holding action.

To do that, use whichever of these three simple tactics is easiest for you to do:

  1. Tell your students, “Please turn to the person next to you and in the next minute or so, tell him or her what, for you, is the most important point we have covered so far today—and what makes that seem to you to be the most important point?” (And, in two minutes, gently signal your students to reverse roles so the listener can tell what was most important in his or her view.) OR...

  2. Think back to the point you have just been making and devise an interesting question whose answering will compel your students to draw upon, utilize, even “internalize” that point and the bases with which you led up to it. Then ask it of your students: “Please turn to the person next to you and in the next minute or so, tell him or her YOUR answer to this question: ____“

  3. What point have you been building toward? Are your students far enough along, do they have enough already before them, to put the remainder of that major point together themselves? Devise the question which will target this main point for them to dig after, then ask it of your students in a manner like that modeled above.
Note the wording of option #1, asking the students what, for them, is the most important point, and what makes it seem to them that that is the most important point.

That creates safety for your students to respond with more confidence and fluency. It is hard to fail with an answer to a question so worded. They are answering with what is important to them and that is not all that easy for someone else to contradict.

In addition, they are having to dig into their own experience and feelings, making their own connections and relationships with the material while doing so. There is less failure. There is higher involvement. The higher the intensity of involvement and absorption that your question can develop for your students, the more complete your 2- to 4-minute respite can be. A question that really has students searching their own experiences and drawing their own relationships to the current material will not only give you a more profound and complete respite, but get an important part of your job done for you.

Our three simple tactics given in the book are almost as simple as those three options. In their descriptions below we do add a few pointers, especially on how to turn your students loose into such “buzz-group” sessions with everyone talking at once, totally involved, while keeping them fully and productively focused and on target, and how to easily and cleanly and in one quick instant pull them back to quiet order with their attention completely yours to direct. Even with these pointers added, you will find these next three simple, respite-generating tactics to be easier to conduct—and more productive for you as well as for your students—than just about any of the classroom techniques you are using currently.

Gaining 4.4 Years' Academic Achievement in One Year:

So far, one school has trained its entire faculty in modern Socratic Method, of which these three present simple tactics are representative. Individual teachers and professors have used elements of this method before in their classrooms and been ecstatic about the results, but now an entire school, presumably the first of many, has started using the results and testing the effects of those results before and after.

Why does the student body of St. Andrews Country Day School in Buffalo, NY, learn so well and more rapidly on average with our modern Socratic method, compared to conventional schooling methods? How well? On average these students in Buffalo gained 4.4 years in academic achievement level in one school year, 2008-2009. One really fun class gained eight years in just the one year. Graduates are winning scholarships in unprecedented numbers. Reports from the subsequent year are that, instead of tailing off, these gains are actually expanding: the students are now doing even better.

In this present paper, we hereby give you use of the first of the three tactics, tactics which are representative of the methods now in use at St. Andrews and which have been selected not only for their power but for their immediate ease of use and for the respite and restoration their use gives to teachers.

Practice this simple Instant Replay and to a substantial degree, like the classes at St. Andrews, your classes will also substantially improve, enrich and accelerate.

As you will see, that such very happy educational outcomes should happen makes good sense, even if it seems astonishing to most teachers and school officials today. Because:

  1. Nearly all learning is by association with previous experiences and concepts. Learning of key concepts and understandings is especially dependent upon long chains of associations with previous meaningful experiences. Meaning and memorability both depend profoundly on how things relate to our previous experiences. (Example for your own benefit:  In your own experience, when do you see a student come to understand a key point? When you see that "he is making a connection.")

  2. Each of us has not only differing educational levels and backgrounds, but different learning styles, different cognitive styles, different sensory modalities and, of course, different lifetime-accumulated experiences from which to make his own most uniquely meaningful associations with current learning material.  No teacher can teach well directly to all or even most of that extensive range of differences.

  3. Therefore, it makes sense to arrange for the students to make their own associations with the material currently being learned. See below how easily this can be done. It gets even easier once you understand the principle behind it. Here we will just refer to the instructions for Dynamic Format, which greatly extend the usefulness of the technique.

In addition, there is a lot of research showing that not only learning but growth and development of the physical brain itself stem mainly and best from feedback on one's own activities.(2) In other words, those students in Buffalo are not only learning more and faster and with more understanding, but their physical brains are also improving: studies in neuroplasticity recognize this phenomenon - they are becoming smarter.

In practical terms we have been finding that an optimal classroom mix is about half didactic instruction such as what goes on conventionally now, and half Socratic "buzzing" on key issues and questions. This proportion optimum will vary from teacher to teacher and from topic to topic, but at least a third of classroom time should be Socratically invested if students are to realize anything like that 4.4 times greater learning gain.

And now, here are your instructions for the first of these three simple tactics for use in your own classroom:

How to do “Instant Replay”

Even 5 minutes invested at the end of each lesson, invested Socratically as shown in the simple way given you here, can double the value and long-term memorability of that lesson. Here is that simple, easy, Instant Replay technique:

  • Name of Tactic #1 of 3:   Instant Replay.

  • Main Use: A method for reviewing lesson contents.

    Certainly everyone here appreciates the value of reviewing so the learner absorbs more for longer. What's different is how much, for this review method in contrast to other review methods, and how easy and enjoyable this particular technique is for both the teacher and the students.

  • Second Use: to develop the thinking, perceptual, reasoning, social and language skills of your students.

  • When to use: for just a few minutes at the end of the lesson.
  1. Organize your next lesson to be ten minutes shorter than usual, so that you can use this procedure at its end. With practice you will need only five minutes at the end and can restore that much length to the duration of your lessons. Square away the next day’s assignments.

  2. Have on hand something that can sound as an agreeable chime, one pitched high enough to be heard easily without being loud when everyone is talking at the same time. Or you can position yourself at the light switch, to use instead of the chime as another of several easy ways to startle and re-capture everyone’s attention without having to raise your voice over everyone else’s.

  3. Say to your students, “Please turn to the person next to you and tell him or her, within a minute or so, your answer to the question I'm about to ask. Hitch closer to each other to be heard easily once everyone is talking, so you can answer softly. Please tell the person next to you your answer to this question: _____”

  4. Ask whichever one of these next five questions seems to you most strategic for this occasion, considering what you have taught and how you think it was received. Over a succession of lessons, rotate among the different questions to keep things fresh, and eventually or at need, create your own questions. For this first occasion, ask one of these five questions:

    • "What are some of the many ramifications of the main point in this lesson?"

    • "What main point in this lesson do you think that you most need to give further attention to, and why?"

    • "What are some of the many ways you think that the various points in this lesson might relate to one another?" (or have some sort of bearing on each other?)

    • "What, for you, was the most important point of this lesson, and what made that the most important point for you?"

    • “What in your experience does the main point of this lesson somehow remind you of? And can you tell why that point somehow reminds you of that experience?"

    (This last question might be the best one to start out with, not only because it helps the students make connections with their own meaningfully relevant experience, but also because it is safe for them to answer because no one can contradict their answer to it to call them wrong. That same thought is behind the wording of the introducing of the question above, “Tell the person next to you your answer to this question....” Many students need a good running start in such processes, and some strengthening and encouragement before it’s appropriate to challenge and correct them.)

  5. Somewhere along the way write up on the board the same question you've asked the students, so you can refer back to it in Step 7 below.

  6. Move lightly and casually among your students, not only to make sure each is participating and on topic, but to overhear something of how they have received what you have attempted to teach them today. Not for assigning grades, not for correcting behaviors other than with a positive nod and supporting smile, just to get a surprisingly better feel for how they are processing your teaching, a far better feel for that than you can ever get from their written work and tests.

  7. Five minutes before the school bell sounds to change classes, lightly sound your chime (or flip the light switch off and on) and look expectant. Surprise will momentarily hush your students.* Use that momentary pause to say: “Finish that thought, finish that statement, but then let your partner answer to you his or her answer to the same question that you have been answering. Please continue to finish that sentence, but then switch roles so your partner can answer to you; please continue now.“
    (* A surprise the first time or so used. If you like this technique and wish to continue its use, you already have your students halfway conditioned to an agreement to use three light taps of the chime as the agreed signal for an instant pause in talking so that the next instruction is easily heard. (See Dynamic Format.)
  8. A minute before the school bell rings, sound your chime lightly or flip the lights and, in the resultant pause, advise that "when the school bell rings we'll want the seats back in place for the next class, but meanwhile, can we hear one or two of your answers?"

Why these steps, and what are they leading to?

These are easy small steps leading toward a situation where, if you let it go full course, you will eventually have everyone in your classroom being a Socrates to themselves and to each other, drawing out each other and themselves in detail, in depth and at length, perceptively, reflectively and thoughtfully, on every topic in your curriculum.

Socratic Method is the original accelerated learning or "super-learning" method. Socratic Method serves both as a powerful learning method and as a problem-solving method and a method for inventing and innovating and discovering, basically a method for figuring out things. It is better tested and demonstrated than any other good learning method throughout 2400 years of history. Your very own profession, education, is named after its central concept, of "drawing forth" knowledge and understanding—"educare."

Each time the Socratic Method has been widely used, it has always resulted in the highest levels of intellectual performance. The questioning approach of the great Athenian, Socrates, became the Hellenic foundation of western intellectual tradition. In late classical Greece, when it was used with a few tens of thousands of people, we saw not only a much greater proportion but a greater absolute number of world-class geniuses than all of Earth’s present-day seven-plus billion people are producing today, even with all our information technology advantages. Later, in Renaissance Europe, Socratic Method was revived and used with a few hundred thousand people, and we again saw not only a much greater proportion but a greater absolute number of world-class geniuses than with today’s seven-plus billions.

Today, thanks to several centuries of science, we know why. As we explore through the 3 Easy Tactics book, or through the introductory and advanced courses taught by the Center for Modern Socratic Innovation(3), we will touch on some of the reasons why use of Socratic Method has these effects. Also, we will touch on some of the things we've done to ensure that use of Socratic Method has more of these benefits and, especially, to make it easier to implement than the original version was. Note that one of the main reasons traditional Socratic Method dropped out of general use was that its practice demanded higher levels of knowledge and skill from teachers than were available. By contrast, you have already seen here how easily you can set a modern Socratic process in motion.

Make room at end of your lesson for this little Instant Replay session. Tell your students to “turn to the person next to you” to buzz answers to the question you ask them, then ask them one of those five questions, which leads them to review their perceptions and experiences and search out and express meaningful relationships with what you have just taught them.

You can settle for this one simple quick-Socratizing Instant Replay. Even if you stop with this one technique and add it to your repertoire, it will more than double the value and lasting memory in your students of what you have been teaching them. Or you can go on, for that was a drop in the bucket, a way to get started in an ocean of easy yet vaster improvements you can make in the educational outcomes of your classroom. Your classroom.....

Strongly recommended activity:

If you are in a group studying such method, please turn to the person next to you now, or when coordinator or facilitator so indicates, and tell that person in 2-3 minutes your answer to one of the four questions just below.

If you are working alone, you might want to do the same activity with an audio recorder. This will give much sharper focus and stronger leverage to your perceptions and understanding than will simply thinking your answers or writing them down.

  • "What (do you think) are the ramifications of the main point in this lesson?"
  • "What main point in this lesson do you think that you most need to give further attention to, and why?"
  • "What are some of the many ways that you think the various points in this lesson relate to one another?"
  • “What in your experience—or in your whole life so far—does the main point of this lesson somehow remind you of? What do you think might be the reason that it somehow reminds you of that? ..."

Then be there for that person while he or she tells you his or her answer. If you are studying this briefing alone, perhaps you can round up a friend as live listener while you run your answer by him or her or summarize what you have read to him or her. A poor substitute, but at least some sort of productive working substitute, will be to use some sort of audio recorder, with the intention or expectation that eventually someone else will hear what you have recorded. That external listener will, just by possibly being there, cause you to focus more of your attention better on what you are saying and describing, resulting in an amazing improvement in quality of your own understanding and perception.

What's good for your students is also good for you: having—and using—a meaningful audience is supremely important not only to figuring out things, not only to learning lesson content, but to higher development of some of our most important and fundamental traits and abilities as human beings. Your converting some of those goof-offs in your classroom into being meaningful audiences, meaningful participants, meaningful human beings, can be among your very greatest triumphs and achievements as a teacher and educator.

Note, please, just how easy it was to get meaningful involvement by your students going in this very first lesson. You can settle for achieving in pretty much your present range of classroom results, but do so far more easily and less stressfully than by the methods you have been using up to now. And/or you can also achieve much more by doing what we expect most of your colleagues will soon be doing, using a combination of your old methods with some elements of the new, modern maieutic Socratic Method.

If you have not done so yet, please DO turn now to the person next to you, or nearest best equivalent to such a person such as an audio recorder, and tell your answer to one of those four above questions.

(1) Maieutics you will find described in Wikipedia as being based on the idea that the truth is latent in the mind of every human being due to one's innate reason but has to be "given birth" by answering questions (or problems) intelligently proposed. The word is derived from the Greek word for midwifery. It allows a more open-ended exploration and discovery and is less confrontational, where the main classical Socratic Method tends toward a singular correct answer, exposing and correcting error and prejudice along the way.

(2) As reflected in the work of such notables as John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Omar K. Moore, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, and Marion Diamond. Their gist: not only learning, but the basic physical growth and development of the brain itself derive mainly and best from feedback upon one’s own actions. This can also be related to behavior’s principal natural law, the Law of Effect, informally stated: “You get more of what you reinforce.”

  • John Dewey, father of “Learn by doing.”
  • Maria Montessori, as in her Spontaneous Activity in Education: Learning proceeds best as feedback from one's own spontaneous activities.
  • Omar K. Moore, creator of the Edison Talking Typewriter for, purely by feedback, teaching two-year-olds to read, write and type and of the Responsive Environments Foundation: Clarify the environment to provide better feedback for better learning.
  • Santiago Ramon y Cajal, father of Neuroanatomy: Nerve cells, nerve circuits, and the brain itself, grow mainly not from just stimulus but from feedback on one's own actions. Findings published in his encyclopedia, The Histology of the Brain.
  • Marion Diamond, current leading researcher in neurological development: stimulus alone doesn't do it; you have to play directly with the toys yourself!

    (3) The Center for Modern Socratic Innovation, CMSI (or “Semsi”), formed for the purpose of organized professional training in modern Socratic Method, can be contacted through Win Wenger at Project Renaissance or N. Bakos at Solutions Partnering.


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