Spaced repetition and lesson planning. Increasing the lesson?s effectiveness. ?Practice makes perfect? is a proverb


'Practice makes perfect' is a proverb that most of us will know but which I find incomplete. Take for example a father that wants to teach one of his children to ride a bicycle. If he decides to take one day a year to practice, the kid will probably never learn. What about twice a year or once every month' How fast will the child learn to keep equilibrium, steer the handle and brake when needed if the father decides to take one hour every day for the coming month' Only by repeating the same exercise over and over again will the child become accustomed to the skills needed to ride a bicycle. Who knows, in the future he might even use the phrase, 'it's like riding a bicycle, you never forget'.

The same theory applies to learning a language, and I believe that the lesson planning techniques existing today might stand to profit from an increased awareness directed towards this matter. Before continuing I would like to point out that there is a fine line between the lesson-planning structure and its actual implementation. Scholastic curriculums have been thought through by pedagogic specialists and I am not qualified to criticize their structure, it's the implementation part that constitutes the content of this research.

In an article containing the research background of P.A. Wozniak's (Economics of learning, Wroclaw 1995) studies of the working of the human memory, it is written that there is a correlation between the different spacing of repetitions in time and their affects on the subject's memory strength. In other words, there are different results to different spacing repetitions in time. The frequency of the repetition only becomes relevant when applied to a certain frame of time. Like in the example above, one can repeat something thirty times in a time frame of thirty years or thirty days, the effectiveness of the results is logically different.

These outcomes paired with the natural workings of the human memory form a trade-off situation wherein the teacher and the lesson plan have to adapt to one another.

The teacher must be aware of the gradual degradation of the knowledge passed on to the students in the recent past and figure out at which point in time to introduce its repetition. This is a careful balance act in which the teacher has to take into account the continuation along the path of the pre-set curriculum without losing sight of the key moment in which this previously transferred knowledge loses its memory trace.

Memory trace stands for the key word, phrase or notion that enables an individual to recall and access that part of the memory wherein the knowledge pertaining to it is stored. For example one could say, 'it's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind' and instantly the memory reproduces images, Neil Armstrong, NASA and what not. The structure and content of the year's lesson plan do not necessarily have to be altered to accommodate the recalling of the increasing number of memory traces. The theory says that after a number of repetitions the memory traces will move from the short, frivolous part of the memory, to the long-term memory and thereby ensure its preservation. Depending on the size and complexity of the data that has to be recalled, the number of repetitions might alter, but not the time needed to go over them again. Some fragments of our memory are linked by different memory traces that have to be called upon in a specific sequence. This might prove to be challenging when the topics are also part of other areas in the study of the language. To conclude, I think that a system of subject-relevant memory-trace spaced repetitions will ensure the full assimilation of the topics covered. If applied with a certain frequency it might prove to increase the effectiveness of the lessons. The student's confidence level should increase naturally due to the constant testing and recalling of the knowledge.

To my knowledge this has not been attempted so far but I believe that it might generate surprising results.