Interleaving Helps Students Distinguish among Similar Concepts
- 2.3k Downloads
When students encounter a set of concepts (or terms or principles) that are similar in some way, they often confuse one with another. For instance, they might mistake one word for another word with a similar spelling (e.g., allusion instead of illusion) or choose the wrong strategy for a mathematics problem because it resembles a different kind of problem. By one proposition explored in this review, these kinds of errors occur more frequently when all exposures to one of the concepts are grouped together. For instance, in most middle school science texts, the questions in each assignment are devoted to the same concept, and this blocking of exposures ensures that students need not learn to distinguish between two similar concepts. In an alternative approach described in this review, exposures to each concept are interleaved with exposures to other concepts, so that a question on one concept is followed by a question on a different concept. In a number of experiments that have compared interleaving and blocking, interleaving produced better scores on final tests of learning. The evidence is limited, though, and ecologically valid studies are needed. Still, a prudent reading of the data suggests that at least a portion of the exposures should be interleaved.
KeywordsInterleave Blocked Spacing Math Learning
I thank Pooja Agarwal and one anonymous reviewer for their comments on an earlier version of this review. This work was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A110517 to the University of South Florida (PI: D. Rohrer). The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.
- Bloom, K. C., & Shuell, T. J. (1981). Effects of massed and distributed practice on the learning and retention of second-language vocabulary. The Journal of Educational Research, 74, 245–248.Google Scholar
- Carter, J. A., Cuevas, G. J., Day, R., Malloy, C. E., Kersaint, G., Luchin, B. M., et al. (2011). Math Connects Plus: Course 3 (Florida Version). School Education Group (SEG), McGraw-Hill, Glencoe. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
- Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (in press). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest.Google Scholar
- Halpern, D. F. (2008, March). 25 learning principles to guide pedagogy and the design of learning environments. Paper distributed at the keynote address at the Bowling Green State University Teaching and Learning Fair. Bowling Green, OH.Google Scholar
- LeBlanc, K., & Simon, D. (2008). Mixed practice enhances retention and JOL accuracy for mathematical skills. Paper presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
- Metcalfe, J. (2000). Metamemory: Theory and data. In E. Tulving & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), Oxford handbook of memory (pp. 197–211). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Rohrer, D. (2009). The effects of spacing and mixing practice problems. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 40, 4–17.Google Scholar
- Schwartz, B. L., Son, L. K., Kornell, N., & Finn, B. (2011). Four principles of memory improvement: A guide to improving learning efficiency. International Journal of Creativity and Problem Solving, 21, 7–15.Google Scholar
- Siegler, R. S. (2003). Implications of cognitive science research for mathematics education. In J. Kilpatrick, G. W. Martin, & D. E. Schifter (Eds.), A research companion to principles and standards for school mathematics (pp. 119–233). Reston: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.Google Scholar
- Siegler, R. S., & Shrager, J. (1984). Strategy choices in addition and subtraction: How do children know what to do? In C. Sophian (Ed.), The origins of cognitive skills (pp. 229–293). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Willingham, D. T. (2002). Allocating student study time: Massed vs. distributed practice. American Educator, 47, 37–39. Summer.Google Scholar