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Article of the month from Dr. Melody Wiseheart (March 2022 selection)

Article of the month from Dr. Melody Wiseheart (March 2022 selection)

Effectiveness Trail of Spaced Learning in Elementary Classrooms

Dr. Vanessa Foot-Seymour & Dr. Melody Wiseheart

What is this research about?

The main goal of this study was to see whether the robust spacing effects seen in the laboratory environments could also be seen in the classroom under real-world conditions, using curriculum-based materials involving critical thinking. 

What do you need to know?

The spacing effect is a cognitive phenomenon whereby memory for to-be learned material is better when a fixed amount of study time is spread across multiple learning sessions instead of creamed into a more condensed time period. This research aims to explore the effectiveness of this method with real curriculum content as well as real teachers.

What did the researchers do?

A total of 1054 students were recruited for the website credibility lessons, from 16 participating schools across York Region District School Board. There were 42 participating classrooms, each with its own homeroom teacher.

A between-subjects design was used, where classes were randomly assigned to either the spaced or massed condition, stratified to ensure that there were an equal number of grades and locations for each condition. The massed condition was used as a control. Students in both conditions were given an identical set of lessons but received the lessons daily (massed: three days in a row) or weekly (the same day of the week for three weeks).

Materials were introduced to students online, with brief, pre-recorded lessons. After the videos were complete, students went on a self-led exploration of the website, completed the corresponding checklist, and shared their findings with the teacher via a discussion. Teaching course material by showing videos is standard teaching practice—teachers were responsible for circulating, managing student behavior, answering questions, and leading the discussion.

What did the researchers find?

Researchers were surprised that during the final test, students in the spaced condition chose not to use some of the categories they knew, when explaining their ratings in a paragraph form. Meanwhile, students in the massed condition used as many categories as they recalled, while writing rating justification paragraphs, demonstrating concordance between knowledge and usage. Interestingly, researchers found that students in the spaced condition used fewer categories than they knew about. 

How can you use this research?

For practitioners, it is important to consider the implementation of the curriculum whenever planning long-term learning goals for the school year. If the goal is for students to retain as much information as possible, teachers need to be aware of cognitive strategies like the spacing effect, so that they can make small changes to their teaching practice to help students become more successful.

Researchers should run effectiveness trials with different subject materials and a wide range of measurements. Critical thinking was a major focus in the current study, which is why website evaluation was used. This choice served to enhance recruitment because it added value to teaching programs that were already in place. By using additional types of curriculum-based subject material, the results that u saw during the fact learning measures can be more fully evaluated and used to decide if spacing should be recommended in a real-world classroom setting. 

About the researchers

Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Canada
Vanessa Foot-Seymour & Melody Wiseheart

LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth Research, York University, Toronto, Canada
Vanessa Foot-Seymour & Melody Wiseheart

Citation | Full Article

Foot-Seymour, V., Wiseheart, M. Judging the credibility of websites: an effectiveness trial of the spacing effect in the elementary classroom. Cogn. Research 7, 5 (2022).