Easy Application of Spaced Practice in the Classroom

I’ve written at length about many learning strategies (dual coding and retrieval practice, for example) that positively impact our student’s retention of material.  Perhaps one of the toughest learning strategies to ‘show’ your students so they understand its importance is spaced practice.  By definition, it can take days, weeks, or months to demonstrate its positive effects.  And, for the most part, high school students want to see how this or that will make them better immediately.  So, this past week, I decided to take the first 5 minutes of class Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday to demonstrate how spaced practice is a more efficient and effective use of my student’s time…much more than highlighting or rereading.  

We were just finishing up discussing Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development in my AP Psychology classes and there was a nice chart that quite succinctly addressed all necessary information:

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 9.01.05 PM

I chose this information for a few reasons:

  1. It is commonly confused with other <Enter Psychologist’s Name>’s theory of development.
  2. It is ALWAYS on the AP exam.
  3. It nicely fits into a chart that can help to organize the information for processing.

The process is quite simple, with just a few steps.  The more important part, in my opinion, is the discussion you have with students about why they should use this sort of learning strategy over cramming the night before the test.  However, I was able to show my students in just a few minutes over the course of a week that spaced practice works…much better than most other study habits they probably use.

So, here we go:

  1. Have students copy down the chart and the students should work using only their brain to fill in as much of the chart as possible.  
  2. Next, students need to highlight what they’ve written from step 1 in yellow.
  3. Then, by using their notes or textbook, students should complete the rest of the chart.
  4. Students next need to highlight what they’ve written down during step 3 in orange.

Explicitly ask students how much of their chart is highlighted in yellow and how much is highlighted in orange.  Certainly, the more yellow, the better.  More yellow highlighting equates to more aspects of Piaget’s theory known.  

An important instruction next is to have the students keep their chart.  Maybe ask the students to try and recreate the chart at home.  They again should only use about 5-10 minutes to do this.

The next day, or maybe in a couple of days, have students follow all of the steps from above.  Most of my students were able to remember more information for the chart during step 1, which required the notes and textbook being used less.  Do this all over again another day.  In my experience, my students continued to remember even more during step1.  To tie it all up, have the students view all of their charts.  Ask them which chart has the least yellow highlighting?  Which has the most?  Again, most will see an increase in yellow highlighting, indicating they’ve remember more information from day to day, or from retrieval to retrieval.

Finally, I ask my students a few questions about the exercise:

  • Does this take more time than cramming?
  • Does it work better than cramming?
  • Does it literally show you what you know and what you don’t know?  
  • Does it give you a better sense of what to study?  

Also, like most of the learning strategies I discuss on my blog, I point out to my students that these steps can easily be applied to a wide range of topics across most classes.  This isn’t a strategy that is specific to psychology class.  It works with math, English, history, science, etc.  Lastly, since most of my students will attend college, I ask them if this is something they can apply to college…could they, during or after a lecture, attempt to retrieve information on their own to better assess their level of understanding and then repeat it days or weeks later?  The answer is, of course, yes.  

Spaced practice can be tricky to properly demonstrate to adolescents; most teenagers want the immediate gratification.  Its positive effects are worth the time and effort, however.  Our students need to know how to use learning strategies and why they are effective.  In my experience, once they understand the how and why, they are more likely to apply these strategies and improve their study habits.  

How are you applying spaced practice, or any learning strategies, in your classroom?How can this simple application of spaced practice be adapted to your classes?

I certainly appreciate any and all comments/questions.


Image source – edubirdie.com

20 thoughts on “Easy Application of Spaced Practice in the Classroom

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  1. Excellent blog! I’m loving the explanations around spaced repetition and retrieval practice, and the technique exercises in 3 passes (one from memory, one from notes, one with colleagues).

    As a lifelong student, I would like to apply some of this techniques to my general study, but in general the books I follow and I would like to learn from, don’t have exercises or questionnaires to test oneself.

    Do you have any advise on how to apply this in such cases? Should I make up my own questions? I do summaries and then pass them to ANKI (flash cards), but the feeling is that there is something missing.


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