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How does Interleaving help struggling students?

How does Interleaving help struggling students?

3 min read
  • Spacing & Interleaving

Interleaving is becoming an increasingly popular revision technique, with teachers and students becoming more aware of its positive effects on learning. With the mounting research surrounding interleaving, we are able to have a deeper insight into how it affects specific groups of students.

In every classroom, teachers will find a student (maybe even a few) who struggles to keep up with their peers. These students require extra attention and guidance when it comes to learning in the classroom and revising outside of school. We’ve done the research and found that interleaving is especially helpful for these students. 

Here’s how interleaving can be used to help struggling students

What is Interleaving?

Interleaving is a revision technique that involves students alternating the topics they study. It has been shown to improve learning as it helps students make links between different topics leading to enhanced recall. 

For example, an interleaved list of maths questions would look like this:

                11 + 8 = 19

                10 x 3 = 30

                13 – 5 = 8 

                9 – 3 = 6

                10 / 2 = 5

Notice how the questions switch between addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, instead of a list of all addition questions followed by all multiplication questions?

This is just one example; however, interleaving can be used across almost all subjects. For instance, mix the material that students are currently learning in class with older material, requiring them to access previous knowledge.

Benefits of Interleaving

Better academic performance

Research shows that students assigned to an interleaved revision condition performed almost 7% better in their final exam, than those assigned the blocked revision condition.

Improves memory

Many psychologists believe that interleaving strengthens memory associations. This could be because the constant back and forth between different subjects forces the brain to create stronger connections. Evidence suggests that retrieving information whilst interleaving consolidates the information and leads to better long-term retention in the memory stores.

Enhances recall

Interleaving focuses on recalling previously learnt information. The ability to remember this knowledge is enhanced as the brain is being forced to continuously retrieve information as each question in interleaved revision is different from the last.

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How Interleaving helps struggling students

Interleaving has only recently been considered one of the most effective learning strategies. This means that many teachers are still unsure about using it. Instead many teachers use ‘blocking’, which involves learning one subject in its entirety and then moving on to another. While this can give us the illusion that students are learning, in fact they are not retaining much information in the long-term, they are simply repeating the same information over and over and just increasing their fluency. Of course, if tested immediately after revising, they will perform well. However, this is only temporary as they will forget the information soon after.

In nearly every subject, information is retained better when interleaving is used. Research showsthat low-skill students placed in an interleaved condition significantly outperformed those in the blocked condition. 

Final thoughts

Students who are struggling with the workload or find it especially difficult to revise can benefit significantly from properly using interleaving. Interleaving involves retrieval practice and can therefore, seem more difficult than blocked practice. However, students must remember that putting more effort into studying may feel tiring, but it produces better long-term results. When interleaving is used, the ends definitely justify the means.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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