Better Memory Retention With Spaced Learning

Spaced learning

Do your students find it difficult to take in and retain the facts that you’re teaching – I’ll bet they do!  Schools invest a lot of time and money encouraging their students to effectively revise.  As a teacher I find it frustrating that even though I may have flagged up a forthcoming test over and over again, I can guarantee that only a handful of my students will actually make any effort to revise.

Throughout my teaching career I have looked for better ways to encourage revision, and I’m still in search of that holy grail.  Recently I came across a reference to ‘spaced learning’ so I thought I should investigate in more detail and give it a try.

My initial search came across a link in Baroness Susan Greenfield’s site:

Spaced learning depends upon creating neural pathways which results in the development of long-term memories.  Constant stimulation did not result in the required linking of cells, but the important factor was the gap between stimulations.

Monkseaton High School embraced the concept of spaced learning, and came up with a structure for a lesson to help develop memory retention.  Each lesson consists of five key parts:

  • Teacher input of key facts / information
  • 10-minute break
  • Student recall of key facts / information
  • 10-minute break
  • Student application of key facts / information

The breaks involved some form of physical activity that avoided stimulating the memory pathways being formed.  Monkseaton recommended activities such as origami, play-dough modelling, or even ball handling games.  Teacher input involved the use of Powerpoint presentations to the whole class.

At my own school I decided to develop spaced-learning lessons following a similar method to Monkseaton.  One key difference however was the way in which the information was delivered.  To my way of thinking, it was so important that students were focused for the entire 10-15 minute period of knowledge acquisition.  My students are of average ability, and concentration is not necessarily a strong point!

I therefore decided to produce videos that students could watch individually.  With their own computer and headphones they could watch the material in their own little ‘bubble’ without distractions from others.  I also wrote short questions for completion at the end of the session.

Does spaced-learning work?  I’m not sure yet as the exam results will not be available for a couple of months.  However, students have commented on how useful the sessions have been, and staff have noted the benefits.  I have also made the videos available for use at home, and there is very clear evidence that a significant number of students have made the effort to engage in their own time.

The advocates of spaced-learning claim that it is possible to cover a whole module of work in one session.  I have tried to achieve this, and my videos have been summaries of key facts – I am indebted to the excellent module summaries in the Collins Revision Guides for content!

In the resources section in the left hand panel of my site I have included some examples of the material I have produced – I hope you find it of interest, and why not give spaced-learning a go?

Until next time,