Research Bites: Spaced Practice
22 March 2018
Author: Shaun Allison
What is it?
Spaced practice (or ‘spacing’ or ‘distributed practice’) involves repeatedly coming back to information that we are learning in various short sessions, spaced out over time, rather than cramming in a long intense period.
What does the evidence say?
In 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus ran a limited study (on himself) where he taught himself nonsense syllables and then tested himself on them days after the initital exposure to them, recorded how many he remembered, reviewed them again and then repeated the process over time. This resulted in the now-quite-famous ‘Ebbinghaus forgetting curve’ (see above). Essentially this suggested that spacing out the reviews, with an increasing gap between them, helped him to remember the syllables. This has been replicated more recently.
By allowing ourselves to forget and then having to retrieve that information from our memory, we are strengthening that memory. In the words of Daniel Willingham:
Memory is the residue of thought”
How can teachers mobilise this evidence?
- Plan opportunities to revisit previously studied topics in lessons. You can read about how one maths teacher has done this here.
- Set homeworks that ask students questions about what they have been doing recently, but also have sections on topics that have been studied previously.
- Use low stake quizzes at the start of the lesson that require students to retrieve information from last lesson, last month and last term.
- When encourage students to devise their own revision plan for your subject, make sure they space out the topics, leading up to the exam. A blank revision calendar will help with this.
- Plan the curriculum so that you return to topics over time.
Posted on 22 March 2018
Posted in: Blog
Tags: ResearchBites, spaced practice