Spaced Practice Helps Students Retain Learning

About this time of the year, teachers are beginning the review process for year-end testing. Many of you have shared that when you go over units covered earlier in the year, students simply don’t remember what was taught. This forces you to spend valuable instructional time reteaching rather than reviewing critical content. And students may be equally frustrated because they only have a vague recollection of having studied previously taught material.

So why do students fail to retain their learning over time? One significant factor may be the way the units are taught. Most math programs rely on a massed learning approach, where a lot of material is taught in a relatively short period of time before moving on to new content. This approach doesn’t allow enough time for students to grapple with and truly understand the underlying concepts. Massed learning also doesn’t provide students with the opportunity to practice what they have learned over a long enough period of time.

In math, learning retention is particularly important since math builds upon itself. Students learn content sequentially, with content getting progressively more complex from the start to the end of the school year and from grade to grade. It is essential that students retain what they learn, as they need to use previously learned skills to understand new concepts. That’s why ORIGO’s Stepping Stones 2.0 curriculum uses a spaced learning approach.

Spaced learning—distributing short teaching sessions of a particular skill over time—allows students to practice skills and cement learning. With spaced practice, students encounter concepts numerous times. So, if a student didn’t quite understand the content the first time around, they have several more chances to engage with and learn the material. Additionally, as students move on to new content, they still have opportunities to practice previously taught concepts, helping them to truly master content.

Research supports the spaced learning approach. When students have multiple opportunities over time to practice skills, they lay down several pathways to retrieve information, making it much easier to retain learning. What we call “maintain and retain,” a key differentiator of Stepping Stones 2.0. Contrast this to the massed learning approach where students repetitively practice skills in a very short period of time, maybe a few days or a week. With this approach, students typically lay down just one pathway to access information, meaning that several weeks or months later, they cannot recall information. Without recall, there is no retention.

Learn more about spaced practice and how it advances student learning.

Sara Delano Moore 1

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Sara Delano Moore, Ph.D.

ORIGO Education

ORIGO Education has partnered with educators for over 25 years to make math learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible to all.

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