Reformed GCSEs: tackling the knowledge mountain through spaced learning

by Crispin Chatterton

As the dust settles following the first sitting of the reformed Maths and English GCSEs in England, attention turns now to the next wave of new exams. In particular, the narrow grade boundaries this year have focused attention on how to make sure students are picking up every possible mark next summer.

In my conversations with schools, a recurring theme is the mountain of knowledge that students will be expected to retain and regurgitate in the exam hall. From French irregular future verb stems, to physics equations, to historical dates, rote learning of facts is back in vogue. One of the most effective ways of helping students to get these facts into 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 most recently 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 I can hear many a stressed out science teacher asking how, in such a packed curriculum, they are supposed to find time to revisit topics – when they are hard pressed to cover the full curriculum even once.

One solution is to use your homework policy. Rather than throwing a worksheet at a class because “it’s homework night”, homework can be used to revisit material that was covered weeks ago.  Using a platform like Doddle, I can teach a unit and then pre-assign homeworks to appear in student accounts periodically over the next few months, so they are continually revisiting material – spacing out the learning to improve knowledge retention.

Doddle contains a vast range of self-marking interactive tests, so teachers can not only assign revision material but test knowledge with no impact on workload. Question level analysis of pupil performance allows teachers to identify gaps in learning quickly, without having to mark a full class of homework resources.

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As a Doddle Education Adviser I work with lots of different people from SLT to middle leaders to the teachers using Doddle in the classroom every day. Working with this variety of teachers, who are all interested in different aspects of Doddle, enables me to identify and share great practice in order to help all our customers raise the attainment of their students.

– Crispin Chatterton


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