Curriculum Design and Spacing

Curriculum Shorts (Some short musings about curriculum)

‘Spacing’ is a really useful way to improve learning and retention. Basically it means delaying before you re-study something. The opposite would be ‘blocking’, where a topic is learned over a period of a few weeks. This is a curriculum design issue as, often, teachers and departments design their curriculum around half-termly chunks.

This tends to mean that by the time, say, the class get to their mock GCSE-exam in a given subject the vast majority of pupils have little recall about the knowledge they ‘learnt’ in the first Autumn half term of year ten. Teachers then arrange extra classes after school, half term holiday catch-up classes, Easter cramming sessions, etc. Pupils are more stressed, as are their parents and teachers neglect their family and social life to squeeze a couple more percentage points from their charges.

Instead of learning and finishing an area of study in ‘convenient’ half-termly chunks, spacing the information over the duration of a course makes sense. And means less panic at the end of the course when it becomes clear that pupils have no longer forgotten a lot of what they were taught.

The way I make sense of this is to think of a rehearsal timetable for a school play. If the budding thespians just did scene one for a few weeks, then moved to scene two etc. when it came to the dress rehearsal it would come quite clear that most of the little divas had forgotten scene one but remembered most about the last scene they rehearsed before the ‘dress’. This is why a director of a school play tends to use spacing in order to structure the rehearsal schedule. (see diagram)

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If you think of each rehearsal as, perhaps, a two or three-week chunk of lessons, you can see how a rehearsal timetable model can help us think about designing a curriculum with spacing in mind. I would suggest this works best with some sort of conceptual connectivity; see my next post on interleaving and my previous posts on breadth vs depth and the spiral curriculum for suggestions as to how this might be achieved.

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