This year at Putney High School we have taken our Action Research exploration one stage further and we've undertaken a whole-school project. The topic? Science of Learning.
Lots of schools have been looking into this 'term' and many schools have had great success with it, both internally and off the back of the results its generated. What we have done is therefore nothing new, nor is it unique, but what we have been able to do it measure its impact and value across both staff and students over the course of a year.
To find out the results of the study, please see the 'Action Research Projects' page for more details. This blog post isn't about the whole project, instead it is a chance to share with you the discussion had between staff at the latest Teaching + Learning meeting on one of the Science of Learning Strategies - Spacing + Interleaving.
So Spacing in practical terms could be a simple as creating a study schedule that spreads study activities out over time.
In an ideal world what it looks like is that students block off time to study and restudy key concepts on multiple days or weeks before the exam, rather than repeatedly studying these concepts right before the exam, which is proven to be a more common behaviour among students (Weinstein, Lawrence, Tran + Frye, 2013).
Interleaving on the other hand is when students switch between ideas – that can be whole topics, or specific types of problem within a topic - and study in different orders. In an ideal world they also take it one stage further and note what connections they can make between them.
But why are these strategies useful?
When you are actively thinking about something, processing something or solving a problem, you are doing this with your working memory. However, this is only a temporary storehouse.
Therefore, for learning to have taken place, knowledge needs to be transferred from the working to the long term memory. The long term memory is a fantastic storehouse, the capacity of which is, as far as scientists can currently tell, infinite.
However, our working memory, on the other hand, is extremely limited. Therefore, the working memory acts as a ‘bottleneck’ preventing information from being transferred to the long term memory. We as teachers, need to work out ways to help improve the working memory and develop strategies to get the information from the working memory into the long term memory.
Because the sad fact is... we forget 70% of what we learn in just a few days.
But... there is light at the end of the tunnel. Each time we review material we slow down the rate of forgetting!
The rate of forgetting is influenced by retrieval strength and storage strength. We can maximise storage strength by the process of effortful, varied practice.
So we can use the strategies of Spacing and Interleaving to achieve this.
Practice of learnt material should be spaced out over time so as to prevent 'retrieval induced forgetting'.
Allowing yourself to forget something a bit actually means when you review that information, you will learn it better (because reviewing it is harder).
So, although as teachers it sometimes feels like we are constantly battling against students forgetting what they have learnt, forgetting is actually an integral and useful part of the learning process. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, the best way to ensure knowledge isn’t forgotten, is to allow some forgetting to take place. Once some forgetting has taken place, effortful retrieval will delay the rate of subsequent forgetting, as demonstrated on the forgetting curve. And the longer you want information to be remembered for, the longer you should leave before retrieving information, as demonstrated by the table. So if you want students to remember information in a week, they should be revisiting this information every 1-2 days. If you are aiming for longer term retention, you should be retrieving this information every 4 weeks.
Check here to find out the optimum times:
But what does this look like in practice?
Well the T+L group discussed a number of ways we could implement this:
1. Lagged Homework
Mr Benny (2016) staggers homework assignments on a given topic by one month, and then teaches a review session a month later (and a few months later as well for topics studied earlier in the year).
You can refer to the “optimum time’ grid to work out when to ask the retrieval questions. Note here… if you are SPACING your retrieval then the questions must only review that topic, but over a set period of time. If you ask questions about a variety of topics then you are interleaving!
3. The Memory Clock
4. Interleaved Revision Schedules
See example below
5. Creative activities that you can use in class or for homework
For more information on any of the below please feel free to contact us.
These are just a snap shot of some of the many ideas shared between colleagues and departments.
We have only reached this point however with the help of The Learning Scientists (http://www.learningscientists.org/). We were lucky enough to have them join us in school in January. They shared their research (all of which the above is based on) and findings with us, so that our staff can drive the ideas forward in the classroom. Their book is a fantastic resource and we highly recommend it for any teacher or school who wants to explore this further: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Understanding-How-We-Learn-Visual/dp/113856172X