Long-Term Learning Strategy: Interleaving

This is the seventh in a series of posts highlighting classroom strategies that support long-term, profound learning, rather than short-term, superficial learning.  The previous posts are linked below.

This post is related to Interleaving, or the structure of learning in which you intentionally switch between concepts of study during one session.  Similar to Spaced Practice, Interleaving is about when and in what order students should intentionally access the specific content.

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The week-long calendar below articulates a sample plan for studying 4 concepts using the Interleaving strategy.  Notice the order of the concepts are shuffled day-to-day.

The dates and number of concepts on this calendar are arbitrary, presented here as an example for clarification.

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In addition to the order in which the concepts are reviewed with Interleaving, another valuable aspect of the strategy includes the connections made between and among the big ideas.  For example, using the calendar above, on Monday the student may review concept 1, then concept 2.  While studying concept 2, he/she should make connections back to concept 1 in order to more fully develop understanding.  Then, when the student moves on to concept 3, connections are made with 1 and 2.

Building connections strengthens understanding.

As with Spaced Practice, Interleaving includes the act of accessing information in cycles, similar to interval training for the brain.  You must find yourself in a new mental state in order to strengthen your ability to recall information – this new mental state differs, depending on what concepts you most recently studied.  Think of this like navigating your way home from a variety of locations.  You know where you live, but getting there from a different starting point takes more mental effort than would, say, your daily commute at 5:00 pm.

You must begin to forget in order to have to remember.  That is, Interleaving is impactful when you have given yourself enough time to have to make an effort to remember.


In Article V: Organizational Transformation, we recognize the importance of student ownership of learning.  We work toward equipping and empowering students to advocate for, self-manage, and monitor their own learning.  The strategies and tools in this blog series are examples of means to support such learning.  Interleaving and Spaced Practice are related to the timing and structure of the learning.

Interleaving, like the other long-term learning strategies, must be intentionally taught, modeled, and practiced with students.   Incorporate meta-cognition in the learning experiences so the students are able to think about their thinking.

We hold that: V.j Profound learning (owning the knowledge) as opposed to superficial learning (short-term memory) comes more from engagement and commitment than from various forms of compliance, coercion, sanctions, or rewards. 

Want to Learn More?

I encourage you to check out www.LearningScientists.org, including the downloadable content related to Interleaving.    In addition, you may access an interview by Jennifer Gonzalez with Megan Smith and Yana Weinstein on her site, Cult of Pedagogy.  These resources served as my own inspiration to explore Interleaving.



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