‘Spaced-Learning’ and the forgetting curve

spaced-learning-1The idea that we lose knowledge over time is nothing new to the research stream of learners and learning.  In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus created a formula for the exponential rate of ‘forgetting’ – as time moves forward we forget what we have learned. However, by repeatedly practising these skills, or refreshing our memory intermittently over time, we can increase the percentage of information remembered. There are of course variables, such as, the relative strength of memory – but as teachers this is something we are only acutely aware of in our everyday practice anyway.

It then seems crazy when we compare this stream of research (for which there is much) to how we teach in schools today. The trend of learning seems to be similar across most subjects and schools – teach a module, test a module, (record test result to demonstrate progress), move onto the next module. This process tends to be repeated (minus a few mock exams) until Easter prior to the examination period when we all suddenly start revising with gusto.

When considering writing the new specifications surely we should be reducing our emphasis on modular learning, and beginning to focus more on continuous themes of learning. The exam boards are trying to improve the clarity of command words and become clearer in the expectations of the students. We need to use this to our advantage and train the students – slowly and over time – as to how to answer exam questions and build up their content knowledge. This is the perfect time to introduce ‘spaced-learning’ into the schemes of work.

The concept of ‘spaced-learning’ is to continually refer back to previous material to ‘top-up’ and keep on top of the students learning, thus limiting the amount of forgetting.spaced-learning-2

So how do we implement ‘spaced-learning’ without rocking the boat?

I will be introducing this concept to my year 10 GCSE classes. Every third week (10th lesson) I will leave the SOW and interject with a random exam-focussed lesson. It will be random in the sense that it could be from any ‘module’ we have studied. However, it will also be carefully planned to help develop the general skills required for the exams focussing heavily on the higher valued command words – assess, evaluate, analyse, justify etc.

I have done this previously by presenting the exam question; think-pair-share to decipher the requirements of the question and develop a structure/plan. Students then used any resources they wished to help build up their knowledge; working in groups on poster paper. Students prompted to focus on the command word and develop their higher order thinking as a group. Finally, the students write the answer in full individually to be peer assessed.

Other ideas to develop ‘spaced-learning’:

There will be so many techniques used in the classroom already. The concept it to ensure these techniques are spaced out over-time, or repeated intermittently.

  • Kahoot quiz’s (could be re-used over time)
  • Google classroom tests; so no teacher marking is required. Again these could be repeated intermittently over-time (a great way to demonstrate progress).
  • Home learning past paper questions from previous ‘modules’.
  • Student workbook with questions and tasks with various due dates to forward plan the ‘spaced-learning’.
  • Stick in questions or tasks during the course of teaching to be left and reviewed in a few weeks/months’ time.
  • Peer/self-assess tasks a few weeks/ months after they have been completed by students.
  • Setting a weekly ‘review-style’ home learning task consolidating the content of the week.
  • Delay student response to teacher marking. Students could reply to detailed teacher questions 2-3 weeks after completing the work, therefore allowing them to stretch their memory.

The general idea is to ensure we are continuously reviewing concepts and ideas to slow the rate of forgetting. During a busy teaching schedule and with tight deadlines to complete units of work it can be tough to make time for this type of learning. However, it is important to note that the literature points heavily towards the benefits of ‘spaced-learning’.

This is something I am beginning to implement with my exam classes… I will let you know how it progresses. If you have any other ideas for how to implement this in the classroom please let me know – I’d love to have more ideas.

Megan Anderson


A unique insight: the first few weeks of teacher training with the Alban TSA

I suppose the biggest point that has struck me, having now visited four secondary schools in the Federation, is how widely the schools vary in their philosophy and approaches to education whilst at the same time providing their students with the opportunities essential for success. For example, at Verulam the whole approach (from lesson structure through to behaviour management techniques) is geared towards the school’s understanding of how boys can be engaged in their learning. It was interesting to see the same techniques employed during a boys only PE lesson at Marlborough School. I am looking forward to my visit to STAGS, to see how their understanding of girls’ learning affects their policies and approaches to teaching.  The interesting extrapolation will then be the extent to which gender-led techniques are streamed into mixed gender schools.

The most interesting systemic approach, unique so far in my experience, is St George’s vertical house system. The House is the core organisational and motivational unit through which all facets of non-teaching school life are channelled: behavioural; pastoral; student leadership; and competitive activities. One consequence and major difference from other schools is that there are no Heads of Years – these functions fuse into the Head of House. Fascinating, but at this stage I don’t know enough to weigh the pros and cons of this.

Turning to Beaumont, I want to thank all of the staff, who have been very welcoming and supportive and ready to provide me with opportunities to develop my understanding of the practicalities of day to day teaching. Being able to observe subjects outside of my own speciality has allowed me to see a variety of approaches and methods, and gain insights as to how some can be translated successfully into the music environment. The music lessons I have observed are far and away the most interesting and entertaining I have ever experienced! The sense of enjoyment and humour that pervade classes of any age combined with the practical focus in the lessons themselves create enthusiasm for experimentation, self- expression and recognition of the pleasure available from music even for students who would not otherwise enjoy it.  The challenge for me, which I face with a mixture of relish and apprehension, is finding out if I can deliver anything remotely akin to this when eventually I get in front of a class.

By Jonathan Burrett

More New Ideas for Everyday Learning

Following on from Nat Moody’s post about one of the ideas she has been trying out over the last few months, here are some more tried-and-tested activities from members of Nat’s focus group.

by Sue Lutz

Planning aheadI am using some ideas from “Teaching Backwards”.  I always plan my lessons with the end goal in sight.  However, this book suggested getting students to audit where they are, as well as thinking about any previous knowledge they have, transferable skills etc.  I made the attached sheet for my Year 9 class and will read their responses when I mark their books later this week. I am hoping that I will be able to provide some independent activities that support some of the areas that they have highlighted.


by Kyl Messios

I have been using Beaumont School resources to explore questioning across the key stages.  I’ve been working from the Black Box and the Teaching and Learning blog.  It has been brilliant to go through the wealth of ideas that other teachers suggested in the Questioning Quail inset activity, and I’ve tried out quite a few.

If this is the answer, what is the question?

This has been really useful, wherever I’ve applied it.  I’ve tried it with Year 7, 10, and 13, and found that the result is consistent, regardless of year group of topic – the students are compelled to look at the answer from different angles and think much more deeply about it than they would with a straightforward ‘key question’ to start the lesson.  This can be applied as a starter, but is just as effective as a plenary.  Year 7s used it to identify and define subject specific vocabulary, while I used it with Year 10s as a way into a new scheme of work.  Looking ahead, I plan to use it with Year 13s to get them identifying and creating exam questions based upon answers given.

Percentage correct 

Quick and easy way of getting students to build upon, and add to, their own and others’ answers. This was put to good use in Year 9 and 10 evaluations.

I’m planning on trying out What’s in the Bag?, but just haven’t yet worked out what to put in the bag! I’ll keep you updated!


New Ideas for Everyday Learning

by Nat Moody

The principle of this group is to for members to experiment with new ideas and then share their experience with their colleagues and the wider teaching community. We draw on various resources on rotation. The aim is to celebrate and share approaches that can be used by staff in a variety of subjects easily within day-to-day teaching.

My task for term one was to focus on feedback, drawing on websites as a resource. I decided to experiment with my A2 Sports Psychology group. These students struggle with long answer responses and, as a result, their drive to improve their performance in this area can dip due to a lack in confidence; some feel that reaching higher grades is just not possible for them. When I have marked these responses in the past I have often found misconceptions in one or two aspects which have a significant impact on their final grade. Motivating this group to respond to my feedback independently is not easy. I feel this process is essential and I had been looking for a simple way to motivate them to do so.

NMoodyYellowBoxDuring my research I found a post on www.teachertoolkit.com called ‘The Yellow Box’, which had been taken from The George Spencer Academy. Employing this strategy allows the teacher to mark a section of work in great detail, highlight that to the student via the yellow box. Feedback is then provided, focusing on the work in the yellow box only. The hope is the guidance given will have a positive impact on the entire piece of work without the teacher having to mark to entire piece in detail.

NMoodyExampleI have employed this method in a different way to meet the needs of my group. I have been marking the entire long answer questions as per normal. Instead of asking students to re-write or apply my feedback to the entire response which can be demotivating for a student who struggled to complete the work in the first instance; they only re-write the work highlighted in the yellow box in response to my feedback. Students approach responding to my feedback more readily, they are learning to identify areas within long answer questions that have a significantly negative impact on the entire piece and the work they produce in response to my feedback is focused on quality not quantity. This also saves me time when remarking work; in most cases the work in the yellow box that has been re- written by the students increases the grade of the piece, and also increases the confidence of my students when approaching a difficult aspect of assessment in this course.

Over the next few weeks other members of Nat’s focus group will feedback on everyday ideas that they have tried and tested. Keep checking back for more ideas!

Step aside, VLEs. Google Classroom is here, and it’s free.

Hanh originally posted this on her own blog as part of a New Year’s resolution to blog more, and has kindly allowed us to publish this separately! You can read Hanh’s original blog post here.

By Hanh Doan

I’ve always enjoyed giving students an online option to resources used in the classroom and making homework tasks and deadlines as clear as possible. In 2008 I set up the Beaumont Music Department Blog which is still going strong.  Curriculum and extra-curricular information and resources are posted here, and students understand that they need to check here before coming to ask me an “unquality question.” My school has made some attempts into VLEs, and both times I have jumped on board and tried to use them.  However, the downsides (as many will agree) to Serco (I think it was called this) and Frog were too many to overcome and too many to name here. Students didn’t love it and quite frankly, neither did I.  But I tried, and the students tried but only because I persuaded them to, not because they wanted to.

Eventually, along with my colleague and now boss, Dave Guinane, we have been using the blog, Evernote, and a very cool app which Dave designed to manage students’ work.  Of course, at KS4 and KS5 they still hand in work on paper, and that’s fine too.  We have always known that it hasn’t been the perfect system, but it’s been close. There is a link to KS3 recordings from lessons on the blog, and feedback and “dialogue” (groan) all on the end of each recording. Boom. At KS4 and 5 however, I still found myself with a huge folder of stuff. Most of it is written or harmony work which needs marking which is fine, but then there are countless bits of paper with information like names of pieces for solo and ensemble performances, or music which needs to be scanned in for submission to examiners.  It was manageable, but you know how life is, the fear of losing something really important was always there, and occasionally it happened.

This year, the school has started to trial Google Classroom.  The word “Google” made me think that this was always going to be a winner and I signed up immediately to be on Andy Gray’s team of teachers who would pilot it. Andy is a 2nd year teacher and a member of the school’s T&L team, he knows loads of stuff about technology and more importantly has the personality to work with teachers to show them how to implement relevant technology into their current practice. But here’s the thing, after he set up my classlists (the school needs to sign up to a domain for Google Classroom, you can’t just do it as an individual teacher) and gave me and a test class (or 3) our passwords, we didn’t need any training. It’s so intuitive and easy to use. Like any other Google app. What’s more, the students love it too, because they are logging onto something that they all use every day. Google Classroom is also FREE unlike most VLEs. As well as being fantastic, each member of staff and student gets UNLIMITED STORAGE on Google Drive. Unbelievable.

Google Classroom is basically a virtual classroom. You can securely share comments, files and all sorts with your students, as well as have a dialogue with them about their work. The Google Classroom app is available for Apple and Android devices, and again, it’s free. Students who have downloaded the app receive notifications when the teacher posts assignments, returns work, or comments on their work. Here’s how we have used it so far:

Homepage: 4 classes so far (the UCAS one is something separate):

1 classroom_and_your_tweet_has_been_posted_

You can post an assignment, announcement, question or reuse a post:

2 11a_music3


Creating and assignment means you can set work and attach files or Google docs/slides and assign them to everyone in the class:

3 11a_music2

Students can then return with a private message and you can discuss amendments either on the document or in private message (please note this is from a Year 8 German class I teach):

4 home_learning_-_revision

Here’s an example of an interaction with a student:

5 home_learning_-_revision1

And here is an excerpt from the document:

6 meine_schule_-_lara_jones_-_google_docs

So you might be now thinking, well that’s fine for written work, but what about other types of work? When assigning a task, you can attach a link a sound file or even a YouTube video along with questions on a document as well:

7 11a_music4


These are brilliant for just posting up quick bits of information, resources, or useful links. You can upload from Google Drive, your own computer, or weblinks:

8 11a_music6

Students can also post comments on the classroom. Whilst you may fear that they might take advantage, I have found that giving clear boundaries with clear sanctions for inappropriate comments deals with this issue. Students have posted questions for me or classmates.

9 11a_music7

The most recent paper and time saver, however, was actually the question function.  I asked “What are you doing for your ensemble piece?”

91 11a_music10

Their answers are all private (you can set them to be public as well) and all in one place! No random bits of paper everywhere or emails clogging up your inbox:

92 what_are_you_doing_for_your_ensemble_piece_


This is only the story so far and there’s huge scope for students uploading recordings at KS3 in particular. On a whole school level, we are working on Google Classroom reading our MIS and fingers crossed, we will be good to go on a wider basis. We have no intentions to get rid of our blog or twitter accounts; they are still essential in the running of our department, but they will probably focus more on extra-curricular activities and celebrating students’ work and achievements. I do think that in terms of a virtual classroom, Google has everything you need.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t done it justice here, but happy to discuss on Twitter.


As Hanh mentions above, Andy Gray will be leading on piloting Google Classrooms at Beaumont, so you can expect to see more this in the future! If you have been inspired in the meantime, speak to Hanh or Andy for more information.