Tackling the Reformed English GCSE: Spaced learning

by Gemma Gilbert

“Tis in my memory lock'd,
And you yourself shall keep the key of it.”
  -  William Shakespeare, Hamlet

With more demanding content, closed book exams and a linear course, the bar has been raised for the reformed English Language and English Literature GCSEs.

In particular, the increased emphasis on in-depth knowledge of whole texts has focused attention on the mountain of knowledge that students will be expected to retain and regurgitate in the exam hall.

So how can we ensure that students retain an in-depth knowledge and understanding of texts studied as early as the beginning of Year 10?

One of the most effective ways of helping students commit key information to their long-term memory is known as “spacing” or “spaced learning”.

There are many variants of this idea, but the most robust and enduring is that championed by Robert Bjork, Distinguished Research Professor in the department of Psychology at UCLA.

As Bjork writes on his UCLA website:

“The spacing effect is the finding that information that is presented repeatedly over spaced intervals is learned much better than information that is repeated without intervals. This effect is one of the most robust results in all of cognitive psychology.”

In theory this sounds great. But how, in such a packed curriculum, can you find time to revisit texts, when you are hard pressed to cover the full curriculum even once?

One solution is to get creative in your curriculum design. Rather than studying a text once and revisiting it just before the exam, why not drop key literature extracts into other topics? This provides in-lesson opportunities to recap on key quotes, characters, themes and plots throughout the year.

Whilst teaching students how to compare texts for the English Language exam, why not ask them to compare characters from the English Literature texts they are already studying, such as Pip from Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ with Shakespeare’s protagonist Macbeth – what traits do these characters share? How are they different? While teaching the challenging skill of comparison, you are also providing students with the opportunity to revisit key quotes and characters.

Giving students explicit opportunities to recall key information at regular, planned intervals not only reinforces the facts, but embeds them in their longer-term memory. This enables a rapid recall of the information when needed in their exam.

To see how Doddle's ready made resources and learning platform can help you support spaced learning throughout the year, book a free 10-minute online demonstration!

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After working as an English teacher in a number of inner city schools I have developed a passion for finding the most effective and creative teaching practices. As a Senior Education Adviser at Doddle I now support schools in using technology to achieve their longer term priorities by innovating day-to-day teaching.

– Gemma Gilbert


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