“Spaced-out” Learning

“What we know about how memories are made at a neuroscience level is that it’s not just important to repeat a stimulus, but it is important to leave spaces in between,” . . . “There are changes that happen to the genes and proteins on a neuron that help fix the memory if there are spaces between learning something.”

The latest neuroscience shows students who took part in spaced learning, where lessons are broken up by activities such as juggling, improved their attainment.

Training teachers to break up lessons with 10 minute “distractions”, such as juggling or model making, has been found to significantly boost pupils’ learning, early research has shown.

“A study involving 2,000 pupils revealed that information is more easily learnt if it is delivered in intense 12-minute bursts and broken up by 10 minute periods of an unrelated activity. The project, called SMART Spaces, is based on the latest neuroscience, which shows that information is better absorbed and more easily recalled when it is repeated a number of times, but spaced out with distractions.”

Whoops . . . wrong “space”

Spaced learning

“In Sheffield England technique as part of their revision lessons ahead of students’ GCSEs. Pupils had an intense 12 minute Power Point lesson in chemistry, then juggled for 10 minutes. After that they had 12 minutes of physics before another 10 minutes of juggling. The lesson was then finished with 12 minutes of biology. This was then repeated over two more days. Other schools broke up their lessons with plasticine model making and games of Simon Says. Mr Gittner said the study led to some significant gains in learning, and there are plans to implement a full-scale randomised controlled trial involving up to 50 schools.”

“The idea for the project came after Monkseaton High School in Newcastle made headlines in 2009 for teaching its pupils to pass a GCSE after just three days of learning. They were able to pass a sixth of a GCSE in just 60 minutes. Distractions boost results Mr Gittner said such approaches were not to counteract shrinking attention spans, adding that the techniques were backed up by the latest developments in neuroscience.

“It fits with the generally accepted views that people can only really focus for 20 minutes, even adults. Students that took part in our trial were able to concentrate fully because they new in 15 minutes they were going to get to to juggle,” 


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7 comments on ““Spaced-out” Learning

  1. As a teacher, I can confirm this learning technique. Kids need time to internalize information and this happens when they are taught smaller bits of information. I taught Hebrew (leading to bar and bat mitzvah) and noticed that other teachers liked to teach the words for the seasons, numbers, days of the week, colors, and other info that wasn’t part of the curriculum. It gave students a fun conversational adjunct to their challenging text studies.

    However, the kids constantly mixed up all the colors or all the seasons. Teaching an entire like-group fosters confusion rather than useful vocabulary building. Then there’s the problem of not being able to actually use the info in meaningful ways because the curriculum focus was on mastering prayer reading. (Mastering another language in an hour a week is the quicksand of teaching a foreign language, but that’s also another story.)

    I chose not to teach bits and pieces of additional Hebrew (what I called the hanging mobile approach) but instead broke up each lesson with games, art, and music. Sometimes we marched or danced around the classroom, getting the wiggles out, or went for a walk down the halls. When it came time to “present,” the students in my classes generally read better and had learned more than those in other classes. I incorporated many other techniques as well, and I certainly wouldn’t claim other teachers were incompetent, but I vouch for a strategy that promotes learning in small increments.


    • Sharon,
      Wow. Sounds like you were way ahead of your time. I think many good teachers have discovered techniques that we are now learning work well as we learn about the brain. The good thing is that this information encourages other teachers to try out the techniques. I bet the kids you taught had fun, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a very good friend who has a child is a special school geared for children on the autism spectrum, the model there is much like this, they break up their lessons in short “burst” then they do something else. He has excelled so much since he’s been there. In the public school he simply could not keep the attention span, or handle the over stimulation. He’s been at this school since August, it has been amazing.
    But so very expensive.


    • His mom sent me a video of him reading to me the other day. He’s 7, and was doing quite well. I miss him terribly since we moved, I’m so grateful his mom shares his life with me.
      And so very grateful he has found a place that helps him learn and feel accepted. Great post.


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