Spaced, interleaved and retrieval practice
These are three strategies that can be used to increase student retention and recall of their learning. They are based on the neuroscience of how the brain takes in, retains and retrieves information. These techniques can be used for any subject.
Spaced practice is when students are tested at spaced intervals on the material they have been learning. First every day, then after two or three days, then with longer intervals. The act of retrieving the information forms part of the learning process. The assessment can be in the form of low stakes or no stakes spot tests with only one or two questions. Once a topic is ‘finished’ the assessment continues over time so that the learning is not forgotten.
Interleaving is when a large topic is split into smaller chunks. Each chunk is interleaved (mixed) with small chunks of other topics. This is sometimes called spiralling as each topic is returned to and built on. A spiralled curriculum can be constructed for a year level or for a whole school.
Retrieval practice is a technique that students can learn to help them revise and retain what they have learnt. Students should be encouraged that studying little and often is better than cramming. By doing a few minutes of retrieval practice a day they should not need to cram for hours before a major test or exam. Retrieval practice can be achieved through techniques such as the use of flashcards, rewriting of definitions or equations or writing down what they remember about a topic.