Teacher of psychology, author, researcher.

Memory & Education Blog

A blog about education, psychology, and the links between the two.

Interleaving - using it in the classroom

There have been a lot of discussions about interleaving and spacing on Twitter this week, which is great. It’s always good to see teachers engaging with research, asking questions, and trying to make their practice evidence informed.

As I have just been working on a systematic review of research into interleaving, I though I’d share a couple of things that I think are easily overlooked when people apply interleaving to their classroom practice (including by me, when I first came across the idea!):

Interleaving seems to be beneficial because it allows learners to contrast different problems or examples…

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Jonathan Firth
Psychology - background reading list

I’m often asked by new or prospective Psychology students (or their parents) if I can recommend some interest-based reading to extend their understanding or prepare for a degree. Here are a few options, all of which are chosen to be interesting, easy to read, and very relevant to studying Psychology or related disciplines.

They vary a lot in their style and authorship (some by researchers, other by journalists and the like), and I certainly don’t endorse everything that they say, but they are all interesting, well-written, and collectively would give a useful overview of the subject. In alphabetical order…

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Exam Preparation With 24 Hours To Go: Advice On Revision (Part 2)

Having only a day or two to go until your exam is not ideal, but at some point we all get to the stage where there is very little time left. Whether you have been working systematically through your learning and revision all year or have left it all a bit too late, there are still several important things that you can do at this stage. The following applies to the final day before the exam and will be expressed as such, although if you are planning ahead, these revision tasks would be best begun with two days to go!

Your main focus at this stage should be…

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Jonathan Firth
A week until the exam? Advice on revision (part 1)

If your exam is close, it’s time to really focus. There’s no room for procrastination, but you do still have enough time (if you use it well) to seriously upgrade your level of detailed knowledge as well as your exam technique. This post explains how evidence from the science of learning can help you make the best use of the study time you have left.

The first thing you should do is to make sure you have all of the materials you need. This includes your textbook(s), classroom notes, sets of flashcards, your own summaries or concept maps based on your reading, and any available past…

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Spacing and interleaving in the STEM classroom

I thought I'd share a slightly extended version of my answer to a question about spacing and interleaving from the CogSciSci email group.

The question asked what spacing and interleaving might look like in practice when teaching science (I have written about these two concepts in much more detail and in ways that apply to multiple teaching subjects in my book Psychology in the Classroom).

The spacing effect means that when study and re-study are separated...

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Jonathan FirthComment
Practical Suggestions for Tackling the Teacher Retention Crisis

The quality of teaching matters to how well pupils do at school. So how do we, as a society, encourage high-quality and experienced teachers to stay in the classroom rather than leave the profession or move into management? This question was addressed by the Scottish Government's recent report, 'Teacher Workforce Planning for Scottish Schools', and also featured in the initial findings from their panel of international advisers...

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Jonathan Firth
What is evidence-based education?

Evidence-based education is the idea that research of various kinds should be used to inform decisions about teaching and learning. It is conceived of as an alternative to teaching practice that is guided by intuition and/or experience.

An educator’s job includes a huge amount of decision making. For example, what should be taught today? What about tomorrow? What type of homework should be set, and when? How can the teacher maintain discipline effectively? Evidence-based education aims to tackle these questions pragmatically on the basis of past findings, and is sometimes referred to as a "what works" approach.

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Jonathan FirthComment
What are tests and questioning good for?

The testing effect is a well-known psychological phenomena whereby people remember things better if they are tested on them. The benefits don't stem just from getting feedback on right or wrong answers - although that can help too. It appears that the process of retrieving information from memory actually helps it to be consolidated. In other words, a test can make the memory more secure and less likely to be forgotten.

So what role should tests play in the learning process? This phenomenon can certainly be applied to self-testing during revision; students who do this appear to get better grades (see Hartwig & Dunlosky, 2012). Self-questioning of a text has also been linked to…

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Jonathan Firth
Can teachers be researchers?

Can teachers engage in research? And if so, should they be supported in doing so?

It has been great to be involved in the launch and running of Scotland's first school-based research centre over the past two years. This work has included running a research conference for our senior pupils with external visiting speakers, establishing an ethics approval procedure for teacher projects, and managing a number of collaborations including a research fellowship for visiting researcher Anna Beck of the University of Strathclyde.

My own experience is that teacher research is valuable but not always valued. Engaging in research is one of the most valuable CPD activities I can think of, boosting my skills while making me more aware of…

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Jonathan Firth
What did memory evolve to do?

Humans have evolved over the course of millions of years. Since we last shared a common ancestors with chimpanzees more than 6 million years ago (White et al, 2009), a number of hominin species have evolved - most, of course, have died out (as recently as 100,000 years ago, 4-5 homo species existed concurrently).

For most of this time, our ancestors and near relatives probably lived in grasslands environments, hunting and gathering. This environment has shaped...

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Memory in education - a mission statement

I believe that memory is very important in education. This might seem obvious - of course children and students need to remember things. Perhaps it also seems threatening - reducing education to mere passive memorisation?

I don’t think so.

Improving how we use memory is not threatening, in my view, because remembering is essential regardless of your view of how teaching should be done, or what the syllabus should consist of. Whether…

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Improve your focus: The 'pomodoro' technique.

Coursework, data analysis, revision...  It can be hard to concentrate on a task all day, or even for an hour or two! Which, of course, can lead to procrastination, and to short breaks that become long breaks.

The pomodoro technique is a method of time management that encourages us to focus for 25 minute spells, each followed by a shorter break of 5 minutes or so.


The exact time can depend on the individual - each of us has a...

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The social brain hypothesis

What caused human brains – and those of other apes – to grow so large? One theory is that it resulted from the complexity of our environment – the day to day problems that our ancestors would have encountered in foraging and survival: Where are the fruit trees? Which ones did I pick from yesterday?

Another idea – the social brain hypothesis – is that the complexity of our social groups require a big brain to keep track of, especially when the group is large – a bigger group means more relationships to remember...

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