Interleaving

Blocking is how skills are traditionally developed. For example, this means mastering ‘A’ before moving on to ‘B’. For example, a teacher using a blocking technique might have students master basic addition facts (‘A’) before introducing the concept of subtraction (‘B’). While a teacher using an interleaving technique might teach addition one day, subtraction the next, and then on the third day, combine both skills.

There is promising research behind interleaving when it is compared with blocking. There have been numerous studies on the benefits of interleaving in sports (badminton, baseball, basketball, see the Scientific American article for more details). In 2003, a study found that medical students were able to produce more accurate electrocardiogram diagnosis when taught with interleaving than those taught with blocking.

Research has also shown that, in order for interleaving to be effective, students must be familiar with the topics first. For example, when learning a new language, students do not tend to benefit from interleaving until they reach a point of proficiency. My best guess is that when the starting level of background knowledge is so low, interleaving gives too many new concepts too fast and, as a result, confuses the learner.

When it comes to learning in schools, studies on interleaving have been promising. A 3-month study done on seventh graders learning about slope and graphing found substantial results. About half of the seventh graders were taught with a blocking technique, while about half were taught with an interleaving technique. At the conclusion of the 3-month training, students were given a pop-quiz. Those taught with an interleaving technique score 25% better than those taught with a blocking technique. The results grow even more profound when students were given another pop-quiz one month later. Those taught with interleaving scored 76% better. In short, one reason that interleaving is more effective than blocking is that it leads to less forgetting over time.

Interleaving involves studying multiple topics in one study session. For example, if the subject is science and you are studying the rock cycle, you should cycle between each type of rock and how they change within one study session.

An example would be to spend 5 minutes going over igneous rocks and how they form. Then spending the next 5 minutes going over metamorphic rocks and how an igneous rock can become metamorphic. Then spend 5 more minutes going over sedimentary rocks and how a metamorphic rock can become one.

  1. Properties of igneous rocks and how they form
  2. Properties of metamorphic rocks and how they form from igneous rocks
  3. Properties of sedimentary rocks and how they form from metamorphic rocks

It is important to make connections between one topic and another. This is why you need to make connections between each type of rock (knowing how they change). Doing this helps make connections and knowledge more permanent. Then, after you have finished one round of studying, go over the topics in a different order.

  1. Properties of metamorphic rocks and how they can become igneous rocks
  2. Properties of sedimentary rocks and how they can become metamorphic rocks
  3. Properties of igneous rocks and how they can become sedimentary rocks

This is the step that will be most difficult to achieve for teachers because many students will feel that they have studied everything, why do it again?

I think that one way we can help students to practice interleaving is in how we design our homework and or study guides. To continue with the rock cycle example.

The first part of the assignment could be matching keywords to their definition. Then the students may look at a series of photos and label the type of rock underneath the picture. After that, students could be asked to draw a rock cycle diagram with key terms included. Finally, students could explain how a sedimentary rock could become a metamorphic and igneous rock.

This style of assignment would have students cycling through each stage of the rock cycle throughout the assignment. Teachers can also structure their lessons in similar ways in order to maximize the effect of interleaving. Finally, interleaving is most effective when combined with other learning strategies such as spaced practice, elaboration, and retrieval practice.

Sources:

http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/8/11-1

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-interleaving-effect-mixing-it-up-boosts-learning/

 

6 Learning Strategies

Learning strategies are a new thing for me, but they shouldn’t be. I majored in elementary education, but found that I didn’t learn all that much about how students learn.

I stumbled upon learning strategies when I was doing a research assignment for grad school by finding the Learning Scientists blog. The blog essentially breaks down which strategies are the most effective along with why.

The most effective strategies are Spaced Practice, Retrieval Practice, Elaboration, Interleaving, Concrete Examples, and Dual Coding.

Spaced Practice

In brief, spaced practice says that repeated practice for relatively brief periods of time is more effective than cramming. Spaced practice should be practiced in conjunction with other learning strategies.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is just like it sounds. Students should try and retrieve all the information they can using only their brain. An effective way for students to use this strategy is by having them write down all the information they can about the topic. Encourage students to go deeper than definitions, how are the terms and concepts related? After students finished this, they should use their textbook/notes to check for missing information and the accuracy of what they have written.

Elaboration

To utilize the elaboration learning strategy you should encourage your students to ask themselves how and why questions as they are reading or studying. After students have posed the how or why question, they should search for the answer in the material and discuss it with classmates. When doing this, students should intentionally work to make connections between different concepts that are related. Then students should analyze the ways those concepts are different. It is important that students are accurately explaining the concepts. So, train them to check their explanations with their notes or textbooks.

Interleaving

Think of interleaving like making a rope. A rope takes several pieces of thread and winds them together, making the whole stronger. In interleaving, students should take several topics and study them one at a time. As they go from topic to topic, students should work to make connections between the different topics. After students have gone through each topic, they should then go over the same topics but in a different order. For example, if the subject is Biology and students are studying natural selection, the topics may include environment, traits, and reproduction. The students could study the following topics as follows:

  1. Environment, traits, reproduction
  2. Traits, reproduction, environment
  3. Reproduction, traits, environment

By studying the topics again in a different order, students will be strengthening their connections within and between the topics.

Concrete Examples

The purpose of concrete examples is to make vague or new concepts more easily understood by students. For example, if you are teaching elementary science and the topic is ‘adaptations’ students may not immediately understand the term. You can help them by giving a concrete example: “An adaptation a bird has is its wings. The wings help a bird to fly.”

After students understand the concrete example, help them to apply the concept by guiding them into making their own concrete examples.

Dual Coding

Dual Coding is a combination of written and visual examples. A common example of dual coding is seen in diagrams. Diagrams are essentially a labeled picture. When students use the dual coding strategy, they should look at the visual component and explain what it means in their own words. Another way to apply dual coding is for students to draw a picture/diagram of the concept they are learning. Then they can label/explain it.

As all these strategies are essentially new to me, I am still thinking about how to incorporate them into my teaching. I plan to explore each strategy in depth in future posts.