Improving the Syllabus: Surprising Benefits of Jumbling


Recent entries on this blog have focused on the kind of practice that helps students learn best.

(Hint: it rhymes with “retrieval schmactrice.”)

What can researchers tell us about the schedule of that practice?

Imagine that my students are studying three different grammar topics: direct and indirect objects, predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives, and prepositional phrases. How should I organize the practice problems on the syllabus?

Jumbling practice problems?

I might put those practice problems in chunks: all the in/direct object questions, then all the PN and PA problems, and then the prep phrase problems. (Psychologists call this schedule “blocking,” because students are practicing in blocks.)

Or, I might jumble all the practice problems together: a prep phrase question followed by an indirect object question followed by a predicate adjective problem. (The technical term here is “interleaving.”)

Which schedule works better?

And, does that schedule help both factual learning (grammar) and motor learning (tennis)?

This brief video, starring Bob Bjork, has the answers:

As a bonus, here’s a study where a college professor tried to interleave material in her classroom.

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