‘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


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!

Bring and Buy – 3. Revision Resources

bring and buy 3The appeal of the Teaching and Learning “Bring and Buy” doesn’t seem to fade. (read all about the format of the first one here). This time, Zoe Shepherd requested staff to send any useful revision resources they had used or created which could then be shared with the staff who popped along to Room 6 at lunchtime. The “Beaumont Buck” given to all staff in their pigeon-hole was placed in the envelope of their favourite resource of the day, and everyone who attended completed a shopping list of the resources which they would like emailed to them later.

Links to the resources shared are included here or in the resources section on the homepage.

The Questioning Quails have arrived

question marksIn our Teaching and Learning INSET sessions at Beaumont, we always try to demonstrate the ideas we are aiming to raise and discuss, by using them in the session itself. For our third T&L INSET of this year we focused on how to use questioning in lessons in order to assess understanding, increase engagement and promote depth in pupil learning. We tried out and discussed a variety of techniques during the session and staff (as ever) were enthusiastic about about sharing their own ideas.

The first slide on this powerpoint shows the questions we talked about first – showing questions at the start of the lesson as pupils arrive is always a good way to get them thinking right from their arrival in the room, the trick being to find the “right” questions. We then went on to play “pass the parcel” (yes, we had a real parcel and music – thanks Dave) and inside each layer was a new question which we could discuss. This idea could be used in small groups to promote discussion amongst peers, or as a whole class for assessing understanding and promoting further learning. As a whole class teaching and assessing device, it works at it’s best when the questions are “bounced” around – using the ideas from one pupil to feed the understanding and further ideas from others. The technique of “pose, pause, pounce, bounce” promoted by @TeacherToolkit is a useful tool here. The questions we discussed in our pass the parcel were:pass the parcel

  • What do you do about the student who always says “I don’t know”?
  • How can you ensure the class listen to and build upon the responses of others?
  • How do you encourage students to ask quality questions before, during and after your lessons?
  • How do you ensure your questions cater for all abilities whilst making sure all students are engaged?
  • What is the best question you have ever been asked by a student?

thinking diceWe then had a go at using the “Thinking Dice” by throwing these lovely soft cubes of questions around the room and thinking up questions as we went along. Something similar with particular questions could be produced by pupils (cube nets are very easy to generate) or by using the dice which have a little whiteboard on each face (see the advent calendar).

A treasure hunt followed where we had time to think about how some very useful questions can be used with a very powerful effect – allowing pupils to make connections, extend their thinking, provide more depth in their answers, but also teach the idea that learning is also about them asking quality questions of their teacher (Skills for Success strikes again!).

Staff then spent some time thinking about a lesson they were going to teach the next day, using the questioning triangle and answers triangle to plan their questions for the lesson. They considered:

  • When they were going to ask the question (at which point in the lesson);
  • How they were going to ask the question (a technique we had talked about or another they already knew to be successful);
  • How the answers might affect the rest of the lesson (there is space to write these thoughts at the bottom of the sheet).

Most felt that this process was extremely valuable as it showed how by deciding upon the questions for a lesson, and considering what a teacher does with the results, allows the lesson to be very effectively planned.Questioning Quail

It was then time for a bit of origami, as those teachers who could remember fortune tellers from their primary school days deftly demonstrated the technique of folding which had previously allowed them to find out which primary school classmate was to be their future husband (or wife!). These fortune tellers are a lovely engaging way to get pupils asking and discussing questions, perhaps even designing their own in order to challenge their peers.questioning quails

Finally, the Questioning Quails were brought out so that staff could write down ideas which they already use and know to be successful ready for sharing around the school. Some ideas are already in the nest of Questioning Quails in the staff room, some will be made into cards for the ever growing black box of ideas, and we will put a list of as many as we can in a blog post once they have all been gathered in.