[Pedagogy-list] Article on the "Spacing Effect" for retention

Wittig, Carol cwittig at richmond.edu
Fri Jan 4 13:50:22 EST 2019

Mike and all – great article and it reminded me of a pedagogy-book club choice from a few years ago – Small Teaching by James Lang.  It’s very readable – and even your 15 year old might enjoy it as I know a few faculty  included it in their students’ readings.


From the summary –it highlights how we can change small things – taking advantage of cognitive theory – to make a difference in how students learn and retain information.

Employ cognitive theory in the classroom every day

Research into how we learn has opened the door for utilizing cognitive theory to facilitate better student learning. But that's easier said than done. Many books about cognitive theory introduce radical but impractical theories, failing to make the connection to the classroom. In Small

Teaching, James Lang presents a strategy for improving student learning with a series of modest but powerful changes that make a big difference--many of which can be put into practice in a single class period. These strategies are designed to bridge the chasm between primary research and the classroom environment in a way that can be implemented by any faculty in any discipline, and even integrated into pre-existing teaching techniques. Learn, for example:
·        -How does one become good at retrieving knowledge from memory?
·        -How does making predictions now help us learn in the future?
·        -How do instructors instill fixed or growth mindsets in their students?

Each chapter introduces a basic concept in cognitive theory, explains when and how it should be employed, and provides firm examples of how the intervention has been or could be used in a variety of disciplines. Small teaching techniques include brief classroom or online learning activities, one-time interventions, and small modifications in course design or communication with students. (less)<https://librarycat.richmond.edu/vwebv/holdingsInfo?searchId=553&recCount=25&recPointer=0&bibId=1893472#less>

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Carol Wittig
Head, Research & Instruction / Boatwright Library
FYS Instructor and Adjunct Assistant Professor, SPCS
Boatwright Library, Rm. 179, University of Richmond
261 Richmond Way
Richmond, Virginia 23173
im: carolwittig / cwittig at richmond.edu

From: pedagogy-list-bounces at richmond.edu <pedagogy-list-bounces at richmond.edu> On Behalf Of Dixon, Mike
Sent: Friday, January 4, 2019 1:38 PM
To: pedagogy-list at richmond.edu
Subject: [Pedagogy-list] Article on the "Spacing Effect" for retention

Happy new year everyone! While we get ready for a new semester, K-12 is already back at school this week (at least for my 15-year old daughter in Chesterfield). Their mid-term exams were canceled due to the early December snow, but teachers have been scheduling tests on that information…some with very little notice. She’s been frantically studying as she has three tests today. It seems my daughter has developed a habit I have tried to thwart: cramming the day/night before.

She challenged me to find evidence that regular reviewing is better than cramming. That’s a fair request. So I went digging. In trying to find an article that was understandable to a 15 year old but also useful to adults, I came across this one (below link) that describes the origins and benefits of the “spacing effect”.


In the past, I have encouraged my students through weekly pacing guides, reminders, etc. to review what they’re learning regularly. I chunk my course material so that none is overwhelming to retain over time (I teach primarily online at-present). I teach music history primarily, so it’s critical they retain all the way through. Regardless, I still see the results of cramming: reduced retention of previously learned information as the semester progresses. When I teach seniors, it’s less prevalent (perhaps they’ve figured it out), but it’s far worse with freshmen. It probably has to do with what this article references in its first sentence: “We are not taught how to learn in school, we are taught how to pass tests.”

I’ll be sharing this article with my daughter and explaining some of the references therein so she fully understands the concepts. I’m thinking about also sharing with my students at the beginning of the semester, in an effort to drive home how the brain works best and why cramming won’t work. As I consistently ask students to provide feedback on my course throughout the semester, I’ll also be adding a query on what practices they use to retain information they’re receiving in college classes. If I get enough valuable responses, I will share back what I get with the community.

Michael Dixon, Assistant Director
Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology
University of Richmond

ph: 804-289-8066 (direct)
ofc: 323 Boatwright Library (office)

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