Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Application of the Spacing Effect to the Classroom

While I was working on my dissertation years ago, I came across an interesting study that applied the spacing effect to the classroom.  The spacing effect is essentially the benefit to memory for information that is presented in a spaced out fashion as opposed to information that is "massed" or "blocked" or presented all at once.  The findings of this study are pretty interesting in my view....so I though I would share.  Something for us educators to consider and ponder, anyway.

Seabrook, Brown, and Solity (2004) published a paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology that provided evidence that the spacing effect could effectively be applied in the classroom with phonics lessons.  In this study (there are actually 3 experiments in this paper, but I'm focusing on the third), there were two groups of teachers and students.  Each teacher used the same methods to teach phonics, with the difference between them being that one taught phonics lessons in three 2-minute sessions per day, while the other teacher taught phonics in one 6-minute session per day.  Students in this study had a mean age of roughly 5 1/2  years, and they were taught in this manner over the course of 2 weeks. 

Which group of students scored better on a test of phonics? 

Those whose phonics lessons were "spaced" (i.e., those who were given three 2-minute sessions per day) showed SIX TIMES the improvement in phonics skills as compared to those who were taught with one 6-minute session per day.

Amazing if you ask me.

I encourage you to check out the paper if you can.  It's only one study, of course, but I'm happy to see cognitive psychology research being applied to the classroom.

Will these results influence how you teach?

1 comment:

  1. No need to email it, the paper is easily found; eg. http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Saebrook-Distributed-and-massed-practice-From-laboratory-to-classroom.pdf

    (Linked in my SR list of papers: http://www.gwern.net/Spaced%20repetition#literature-review )

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