Using a spaced-learning approach to modernise primary maths instruction
This article is the second of a five-part series on using what we know to modernise primary maths instruction.
In the previous article I introduced the following four “influences or actions” that come from John Hattie’s (2017) groundbreaking research. These four influences score high in terms of effect size and are relatively easy to implement at minimum or no cost. I will focus on the first one in this article.
- Implement a “spaced” program of learning mathematical ideas over time
- Adopt a Piagetian approach to teaching mathematics concepts and skills
- Develop students’ mathematical language
- Foster discourse in the mathematics classroom
A spaced-learning approach
Historically, publishers have driven the maths curriculum by producing materials that become adopted as the primary resource for teaching maths in schools. The traditional approach in Australia has been to “clump” content, which is another way of saying “teaching to the standard.” In this massed-learning approach, key content is covered all at once, which then requires significant time dedicated to practising those concepts and skills throughout the remainder of the year. This eats into valuable instruction time – that is the precious time that Australian schools simply can’t afford.
There is now growing evidence that suggests we need to “space” key content over time. This spaced-learning approach allows us to learn faster and assists us in remembering key ideas and skills. In fact, the National Center for Education Research (2007) recommends exposing students to key ideas at least twice during a period of weeks or months.
View this one-minute animated video for further explanation of a spaced-learning approach.
Why would we want to consider spacing our learning over time, rather than teaching the standard to mastery? Because the practice of spaced learning has an effect size of 0.71! That’s close to two years of growth for every year of schooling. The question should really be, “Why wouldn’t you?” This approach is particularly powerful when teaching basic facts strategies. In my experience, the development of fact fluency is too often treated as an “event” that takes days, rather than as a “process” that can take many months. Effective mathematics programs are designed where topics are distributed over time.
Fluency is a process – not an event!
The ORIGO Stepping Stones Structure
ORIGO Stepping Stones is an innovative elementary maths program that uses a spaced-learning approach. The key ideas and skills have been identified and placed in smaller blocks over time. The chart below shows an example of how a selection of topics is spread out across the year. There are 12 modules in the year and each module has 12 lessons. The solid blocks represent a series of lessons within the module that focuses on a topic such a multiplication.
“Teaching to the standard” is much like cramming for a test – as it is heavily reliant on memorisation. As a student, I rarely retained information beyond the needs of the test. A spaced-learning approach gives students multiple opportunities to truly understand the ideas, by revisiting and relearning them. Additionally, “space-learning” programs such as ORIGO Stepping Stones require fewer hours for practice, so more instruction time is freed to help students make vital connections among concepts. It’s no wonder that this approach supports close to two years of growth for every year of instruction.
Click here to read the next article in this series.
About ORIGO Education
ORIGO Education is dedicated to making learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible for all students and their teachers with Early Education and Primary print and digital instructional materials, as well as professional learning for mathematics.