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/

 

Elaboration

Elaboration is a useful skill for students to learn. It is also a skill that helps students to learn. The primary way elaboration helps is by the connections elaborating forms.

As a teacher, there are many ways to get students to use this strategy in your classroom, or on assignments. One way you can do so is to have students answer how and why questions based on the key concepts/ideas you are teaching. Then, you can have students explain the relationship between the different concepts/ideas.

Then, as an extension to this, it is helpful to have students make connections from the content to their daily lives. This can be done simply by asking students, “How does this relate to your day to day life?”

By answering these questions, students will be organizing the content in their minds. This then makes it easier for your students to both comprehend and recall the information at a later date.

In answering these types of questions, students can use their class materials, but it is more helpful, if they attempt to answer the questions without looking first. Approaching the assignments in this manner will have the added benefit of showing the student what content they do not already know (students will need to be trained in order to do this effectively).

As teachers, I am sure that we include many elaboration strategies in each of our lessons, but do we make it explicit? I know that I do not often do so. So, instead of simply having students answer leading questions (how, why, etc), I am planning on having my students come up with the how and why questions on their own after I have modeled it with them.

The students will have a list of vocabulary words along with the key concepts of the particular unit. They will then need to create a diagram that shows and explains the relationships between the vocabulary words, and the concepts. Then, they will either include how it is related to their life in the diagram or they will write several sentences explaining how the content is related to their life.

For example, we are studying the water cycle in my 5th-grade science class. The key words are evaporation, condensation, precipitation, sublimation, and transpiration. The key concepts are how the water cycle works, and what affects the water cycle.

What I would expect from my students would be to draw a traditional water cycle that includes all the vocabulary words. Then, on the arrow that goes up for evaporation, students could write that temperature affects the rate of evaporation (hotter=more, colder=less). Something like this would continue for each step until they get to how the water cycle is related to their own life. Here, students would have flexibility. One student might write about how the water cycle helps plants grow. Another might write about how humans impact the water cycle by changing the environment.

For me, this blog is one way that I practice elaboration! I am working to connect various teaching strategies that I am reading about to my practice. Thinking and writing about how I am using, or will use each. And then working out how I can use the strategies together in order to maximize their effectiveness.

 

Sources:

http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/7/7-1

http://www.mempowered.com/study/elaborating