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Alice Keeler

Rethinking Learning: The Power of Spaced Repetition Over Mass Practice

Boost student learning and retention by embracing spaced repetition, a technique that involves revisiting information at intervals.
Rethinking Learning: The Power of Spaced Repetition Over Mass Practice

Independent practice is a common staple in classrooms, but its effectiveness hinges on how it’s structured. Simply assigning a large volume of exercises after a lesson, a practice known as mass practice, may not yield the best results for long-term learning. Instead, research increasingly supports the power of spaced repetition, a learning technique that involves revisiting information at increasing intervals over time.

Why Spaced Repetition Trumps Mass Practice

Spaced repetition aligns with the brain’s natural forgetting curve, strategically timing review sessions to reinforce knowledge just as it starts to fade. This method strengthens neural connections, making information more readily accessible in the long run. Conversely, mass practice can lead to cognitive overload and short-term gains that quickly dissipate.

Numerous studies back the efficacy of spaced repetition. A meta-analysis by Cepeda et al. (2006) encompassing over 250 studies concluded that spaced practice significantly outperforms massed practice for long-term retention.

 

Implementing Spaced Repetition in Your Classroom

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that involves revisiting information at increasing intervals over time. Instead of cramming information into one intense practice session, students revisit the material multiple times, with the time between reviews gradually increasing. This strategy aligns with the brain’s natural forgetting curve, making learning more efficient and retention stronger. Integrating this technique doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some actionable steps:

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Start Early and Distribute Practice

Introduce spaced repetition at the beginning of a unit or course to establish a consistent routine. Instead of assigning a large number of practice problems at once, break them down into smaller sets and distribute them over several days or weeks. This strategy aligns with the brain’s natural forgetting curve, making learning more efficient and retention stronger. Incorporate various activities like short quizzes, review sessions, and interactive exercises to keep students engaged.

Implementing Spaced Repetition in Your Classroom

  1. Break Down Content into Manageable Chunks: Divide the material into smaller, more digestible segments. This makes it easier for students to process and review the information.
  2. Create a Review Schedule: Establish a structured schedule for revisiting the material. Start with frequent reviews shortly after initial learning, gradually increasing the intervals between reviews as students’ mastery improves.
  3. Vary Review Activities: Keep students engaged by incorporating diverse activities like quizzes, flashcards, discussions, and hands-on projects. This reinforces learning from different angles and caters to various learning styles.
  4. Personalize the Experience: Allow students to adjust the review schedule based on their individual needs and progress. Some students may require more frequent reviews, while others may be able to extend the intervals.

Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning

Kang, S. H. K. (2016). Spaced repetition promotes efficient and effective learning: Policy implications for instruction. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3(1), 12-19.

Research consistently shows that spaced repetition is a highly effective learning strategy, but its implementation in K-12 classrooms is often limited. Kang (2016) explores the policy implications of this gap, highlighting the potential of spaced repetition to transform education and providing valuable insights for K-12 teachers.

Time Optimization over Time Extension

Kang (2016) challenges the conventional notion that more instructional time automatically equates to better learning outcomes. Instead, the author emphasizes the importance of optimizing existing time through spaced repetition. This approach involves strategically distributing practice sessions over time, aligning with the brain’s natural forgetting curve to maximize retention.

For K-12 teachers, this means rethinking traditional practices like cramming and homework overload. Instead of assigning a large volume of work at once, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks and spacing them out over days or weeks. This approach can lead to deeper understanding, improved retention, and reduced student stress.

A Focus on Higher-Order Skills

Spaced repetition not only enhances memory but also fosters the development of higher-order skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and the ability to generalize knowledge to new situations. These skills are essential for success in the 21st century, and spaced repetition offers a practical and effective way to cultivate them in K-12 students.

By incorporating spaced repetition activities that challenge students to apply their knowledge in different contexts, teachers can promote deeper learning and prepare students for the complex challenges they will face in their academic and professional lives.

Spaced Repetition as a Standard Instructional Method

Kang (2016) advocates for integrating spaced repetition into all levels of education, including K-12 classrooms. This shift requires providing teachers with adequate training and resources on spaced repetition techniques. It also necessitates curriculum design that prioritizes spaced practice and assessment methods that align with this approach.

Elevating Spaced Repetition: The Power of Varied and Progressive Practice

While the core principle of spaced repetition lies in revisiting information at intervals, the nature of these revisits can significantly impact learning outcomes. Merely repeating the same exercises may not be enough to solidify understanding and foster long-term retention. Instead, research suggests that incorporating varied and progressively challenging practice activities can elevate the effectiveness of spaced repetition.

Progressive Challenge: From Recall to Analysis

Spaced repetition can be structured to progressively challenge students’ thinking. Initial reviews might focus on basic recall, ensuring that students have a firm grasp of fundamental concepts. As their understanding deepens, subsequent reviews can introduce more complex tasks that require application, analysis, and synthesis of information. For example, students might be asked to compare and contrast different theories, evaluate evidence, or develop solutions to real-world problems. This gradual increase in complexity not only reinforces learning but also stretches students’ thinking, encouraging them to engage with the material on a deeper level.

The Role of Technology in Spaced Repetition

While spaced repetition can be implemented without technology, digital tools offer an array of features that streamline the process and enhance the learning experience. 

Quizizz

One essential tool for me is Quizizz. With the paid version, you can create a question bank. Instead of all students completing 30 problems of homework I ask them to do 3-5 questions but get a score of 80-100% depending on the assignment. 

Create a spiral review Quizizz quiz by duplicating the previous quiz and adding new questions from the current lesson. Doing this repeatedly provides you a series of quizzes you can use next year that provide random review on past topics. 

Unlike many quiz tools, Quizizz is not boring. For the most part, students like to do a Quizizz. 

Nearpod

Nearpod‘s versatility shines when it comes to formative assessment. With features like polls, quizzes, and open-ended questions embedded directly into presentations, teachers can quickly gauge student understanding and adjust instruction accordingly. The “Live Participation” mode allows for real-time feedback and discussion, creating a more interactive and engaging learning environment.

To create a spiral review using Nearpod, duplicate a previous lesson and add new content from the current lesson. This process can be repeated to build a series of lessons that gradually introduce and reinforce concepts over time. However, unlike Quizizz, does not automatically randomize questions from previous lessons, so you’ll need to manually select and arrange them to create a spiral review effect.

BookWidgets

BookWidgets, a versatile creation platform for interactive exercises, quizzes, and games, provides a unique opportunity to gamify learning while reinforcing concepts through spaced repetition. With over 40 interactive exercise templates and 35 different question types, teachers can easily create engaging activities. For example:

  • Week 1: Students create character maps using BookWidgets to explore the relationships and motivations of key characters.
  • Week 2: Students analyze key scenes and create interactive timelines of the play’s plot using BookWidgets.
  • Week 3: Students collaborate on a virtual performance of a scene using BookWidgets’ video recorder and annotation tools.
  • Week 4: Students create an interactive presentation analyzing themes and motifs in the play using BookWidgets.
  • Week 5: Students write a reflective essay on the play, incorporating insights from their previous BookWidgets activities.

Book Creator

Traditionally, we might think of spaced repetition in terms of flashcards or quizzes. But Book Creator offers a refreshing alternative, allowing students to actively engage with material in a multi-sensory way, creating interactive multimedia projects that reinforce learning over time.

Imagine a digital “Concept Carousel” where students embark on a journey through previously learned material. Using Book Creator, design a template with pages dedicated to different units or topics covered throughout the year. Each page can feature a variety of activities, such as interactive quizzes, concept maps, visual summaries, or even student-created videos explaining key ideas. 

Google Classroom

While not directly built into Google Classroom or our LMS, spaced repetition can benefit from a digital platform. Leveraging the organizational structure and communication tools of Google Classroom, teachers can create a spaced repetition system that is both effective and easy to manage. By assigning review activities at strategically timed intervals, utilizing Google Forms for quizzes and feedback teachers can create an engaging learning experience that reinforces prior knowledge and promotes long-term retention. 

FigJam

FigJam is an unlimited canvas that allows you to create different sections of content. For a topic, design several learning sections to break up the practice over time. Right clicking on a section allows students to copy the link to the section, thus allowing them to submit just the current section of spaced practice when it is due. FigJam is owned by Figma and is completely free for educators. 

CalAdd Add-on by Alice Keeler

I have created an Add-on to help you to schedule your Google Calendar events. For each topic, plan out the days you will space out independent practice on the topic. After creating the list, push all of the plans to Google Calendar quickly. This helps you ensure you practice each topic over time, with a plan. 

Note that this Add-on is freemium. Premium features are free to Teacher Tech premium members. 

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