‘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

“Cosmic” eduation…. mmm we call it “Skills for Success”

by Nat Moody

S4S posterIt would seem that more and more schools are trying to deal with a lack of independence in students.  At Beaumont this issue appeared to be more of a problem at key stage 5. We quickly realised that trying to develop the skills required to learn independently at this point is too late for pupils – they need to be growing as independent learners from the time they reach our doors for the first time. As a result,  Skills for Success was born – Beaumont School’s whole school strategy that works to build these attributes from year 7 onwards, in hope of enabling students to become confident and adaptable learners.

S4S logosMaria Montessori spoke of “Cosmic” education in relation to holism; a holistic approach to educating young people, not just the production of a future employee or a robot that can pass standardised tests (although of course I appreciate that the ability to pass exams is fairly handy!). I’m not sure that our students would respond all that well to “Beaumont’s Cosmic Education” but they are certainly responding to the Skills for Success programme, which aims to foster a love of learning within an academic curriculum.

I have been teaching at Beaumont for 6 years and in that time I have experienced the introduction of strategies such as ‘Building Learning Power’ and ‘Personal Learning and Thinking Skills’, amongst others. These are great strategies which aim to engage learners, build independence and enable them to take ownership of their progress. So why did the initial buzz fizzle out? In my opinion, due to the fact that these strategies were not personalised. As with all schools, at Beaumont we have our own unique atmosphere and ethos. The S4S team have considered the principles of strategies like BLP and PLTS to create a worthwhile and effective strategy which is moulded to the particular needs of our students and our staff.

In other words, its home grown and that’s why it works.

I was recently corralled into presenting at Beaumont School’s first TeachMeet last November. I spoke about S4S, with a specific focus on Take Ownership – one of the key strands. If you would like a little more information on S4S my presentation can be found here.

The End of the Term


by Helen Wilson

When we all got together for the first time at the end of the summer term in July 2013, I don’t think any of the members of the newly formed Beaumont Teaching & Learning Team realised what lay ahead. We knew that we could all sit around and enjoy talking about something we all felt passionate about – education and making the learning experience of pupils at Beaumont School the best that it could be – but we didn’t really know whether or how we would be able to have any impact. I think we all felt that the main aim of the team would be to facilitate the sharing of ideas and the good practice that are prevalent across the departments in the school, so that everyone could benefit from the creativity of many, and the enthusiasm and commitment of all, to making learning opportunities in the school the best that they can be.TeachMeet Nov13

When we now look back at the term, I think we will all feel as if our work has had some impact. We have held 3 very well attended Learning Lunches, 2 twilight INSETs and a fantastic TeachMeet. We have set up a busy Teaching & Learning blog, established a twitter account and started to develop a pearltree of our favourite T&L websites. We have provided staff with a Black Box of Teaching & Learning ideas on cards, which we try to add to on each INSET; a Take Away board of ideas for quickly helping pupils demonstrate their learning or progress in a lesson; and an amazing advent calendar of quick ideas which appear day by day throughout December. But most of all, I’d like to think that we have helped teachers to see that they are all brimming with ideas for wonderful things to do in the classroom – so much so that we need lots of different ways to share those ideas. It seems to me that there are a lot of “T&L conversations” happening both within and, more importantly, across departments, and teachers are regularly talking about resources that they have seen or found and have adapted to use in their own subject area.

If the enthusiasm before, during and after the TeachMeet was anything to go by, talking about Teaching & Learning is high on the agenda for many of us. We hope that we can continue to provide opportunities next term where those conversations will be just as plentiful.Do it

In the meantime, if you are doing something in your classroom which you would like to share, why not drop us an email (beaumonttl@gmail.com, or anyone on the Team – see the list in Who’s Who) or send us a tweet (@Beaumonttl) or talk to one of us (the photocopying room seems to be a good T&L chat place these days!) and we will help you to find a way to share your ideas widely across the school.