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on 6 June 2017

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Transcript of Interleaving


The idea comes from computing whereby a slow processor in a computer would have info stored across different banks and if it needs to access similar info all at once, it can do so by accessing the different banks instead of accessing the same bank and waiting. Think about it as queuing at Tesco; the difference between having one cashier and five cashiers - things move much faster...
'Mixing It Up'
In education:
What interleaving means to us is 'weaving' our subject matter within itself as opposed to teaching in blocks of matter. Instead of teaching one concept at a time (AAAA BBBB CCCC), we teach them as a recurring process (ABC BAC ACB CBA)
The benefits:
Students can make links between topics/concepts more easily.
Students can develop a deeper understanding of each concept (when this is approached logically).
Students are less likely to forget this material through spaced interleaving.
Material can be revealed layer after layer across an entire subject as opposed to drilling down into detail once or twice in a half-term/term/year.

The Draw-backs
Students may feel concerned if material is only 'touched upon' initially.
Making links between topics (which is a fundamental of this process) may require additional teacher support/student independence.
It can feel sluggish for teachers.
My Experience
With my A-Level class, I have approached the massive body of set works they must know in an interleaved way.
For A-Level Music, students must get to know 25 set works (pieces of music ranging from 1 minute to 15 minutes each) in depth but instead of studying them 'vertically' (one at a time in great detail), I have studied them across the musical elements (pitch, rhythm, tonality and harmony etc) which means we have been chipping away at a few of them each lesson and making links between them as we go.
The Research:
How students performed in a test - blocked vs interleaved practice.
Further research and evidence
The article below is worthwhile and looks at the science behind the working of the brain.
Equally, Make It Stick has a good section on this which introduces the concept and how it is used, particularly in Primary education.
The Mixing Desk Analogy
When I first explained this concept, I used the analogy of a mixing desk with 'self-righting' levels.
If you imagine each channel is a topic; traditionally, we teach a topic to its deepest, assess it then move on. We will undoubtedly revisit it but not for weeks or even months (!) That is the equivalent of pushing one channel on the desk up to max volume but then over time, because it is 'self-righting' it will be returning back to zero.
Interleaving is the equivalent of pushing a number of levels up, one after another in smaller amounts but then constantly going back and topping them up enough to reach a higher level and maintain it.
Make It Stick
In our book, Make It Stick, the authors describe how 'massed practice' is practical for a short space of time but is quickly followed by 'massed forgetting'.
Practice which is spaced and interleaved produces better mastery, longer retention and more versatility...it just feels slower.
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