#ililc5 – Spaced Learning: Rory Gallagher

Rory – or @eddiekayshun to his burgeoning army of online admirers – treated us to an explanation of, and then a trial of, a relatively new approach called “spaced learning”. This theory, “based on the temporal pattern of stimuli for creating long-term memories reported by R. Douglas Fields in Scientific American in 2005, was developed into a learning method for creating long-term memories by Paul Kelley, who led a team of teachers and scientists in 2008.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaced_learning]

Essentially, to my mind its 5 phases can be summed up as follows:

  • BANG BANG BANG!!!
  • CHILL…
  • HOOKS
  • YOGA
  • RECALL

In the demonstration we took part in, Rory flashed up 50+ Japanese kanji characters, literally one after the other in a rapid flow, only pausing long enough to tell us the English meanings. I felt swamped as soon as we passed number 10, and although I rate my powers of recall fairly highly, 5 or so minutes later, by the time we were up to 50, I thought “Hmmm… no chance!”

The second 5-7 minutes phase involved switching off ENTIRELY. Doodling, drawing, simple origami, bouncing a basketball – anything to remove the mind completely from the content previously received. I was good at this bit… 😉

In the third segment, Rory took us back to the kanji characters and gave us a visual/mental “hook” for each one. By definition, pictograms have a visual quality which lends them to this task. The word for “school” or “learning” (interestingly, the same in Japanese – oh so different in English!), for example, shows the character for a child under a little roof-like structure… The more outlandish or surprising the mental “hook”, the better, in terms of later retention.

Fourthly, the yoga bit. I can imagine the “neo-traditionalist” edu-twitterati licking their lips at the prospect of decrying this as just the latest secretion of snake-oil, in the wake of Brain Gym and VAK… but although the space was cramped, we did our best and I certainly felt very relaxed by the time Rory’s gentle voice had taken us through some simple centring and breathing techniques.

Onto the final phase. We were asked to estimate how many words we expected to remember. Most thought between 15 and 20 or so… but in the event, many of us managed 40+, which really took me by surprise.

Postscript: I was determined to try this one out “in the field”, as it were, and so yesterday I took my Y10 French class through some of the explanatory theory, before firing 60 new pieces of vocabulary at them – we happen to be starting a fresh topic (good timing!) – and taking them through the remaining 4 stages. Interestingly, finding “hooks” for words rather than pictograms proved no more difficult. They too anticipated a lowish recall total, and so were quietly amazed when several of them managed as many as 52 out of 60. One pupil who finds learning vocabulary a real challenge said this was a huge step forward for him… They did find the yoga a bit “out-there”, but we’ll see…

Thanks to Rory for a fascinating and stimulating talk, and for giving us something very new to try out.

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