Spaced Out Practice, Not Spaced-Out Kids!

Spaced Out LearningYou’ve probably heard this advice about studying for an exam:

Don’t cram. Study a little every day. And get enough sleep!  

But reading and spelling skills are not like math, science or history facts—or are they? What does memory research have to say about how we can best help children improve reading, spelling and writing skills?

Spaced out practice, the opposite of cramming,  supports memory, so it applies to any skill, including playing a musical instrument or mastering a sport.  This is why piano teachers give their students practice to do everyday and why soccer practice is not scheduled for just once a week.


In his guest post, Spacing in Teaching Practice, Jonathan Firth, a psychologist and teacher, reviews the history and research that dates from the 1800s, when early psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus first tested how people remember information. His research on how well people  remember nonsense syllables showed a “spacing effect”.

Today, after thousands of studies on human memory, we know much more about how practice helps us transfer information into long term memory and how to design practice that is as effective as possible. We know that sleep is important for memory transfer and that the way we use our digital devices and media can disrupt the type of sleep that supports memory. (Read this article to find out more about how sleep supports memory.)

Decoding and spelling can put high demands on memory, especially for students who have not yet mastered these skills to an automatic, effortless level.  It’s no wonder that parents tell us that their struggling student is exhausted after school!  Developing readers and spellers must juggle a lot of complex information, like:

  • letters names and what sounds they can represent (For example, the letter -a- can represent a number of sounds, as in bat, bar, bail, bay, about…)
  • how to write each letter correctly (for example, -d- versus -b-)
  • how neighboring sounds and letters relate to spelling and pronunciation (For example, -ck- is used only following a vowel)
  • how syllable patterns relate to pronouncing and spelling words (For example, the 2nd vowel sound in rabbit is spelled -i- but sounds like “uh”)
  • how to spell when adding a suffix (for example, bat→ batting)
  • how to read and spell common, old words that have unexpected patterns (for example,  said)
  • when to spell with capital letters and when not to
  • when and how to use punctuation      

And, of course, all this (and much more!) must be done fluently and automatically so there is memory capacity left over to process the meaning of words, sentences and paragraphs!

Practice is absolutely essential to developing expertise, but 2 hours of concentrated practice may be exhausting and not work as well as 15 -30 minutes a day of well-designed, “spaced out” practice.  In other words, to keep from spacing out the child, space out the practice!

Lexercise Structured Literacy Teletherapy is designed with a little practice everyday. Here is a Lexercise blog series with information about how well-designed practice supports memory and learning.

You can learn more about Lexercise Structured Literacy Teletherapy and even schedule a free 15-minute consultation with a Lexercise dyslexia therapist here.

Learning and Memory- What Works?: Practice Opportunities

What Works- #3 (4)

So far in this series about methods for improving learning and memory, I have covered two facts from consensus research:

  1. No one method works for all types of learning and memory. The best method depends on what needs to be learned and remembered.
  2. The most effective methods involve making some errors. Practice provides an opportunity to forget and remember again, strengthening memory.

Even if the right type of practice is provided, there must be enough of it. Whether preparing for a piano recital or a soccer match, a player would need to not only choose the right type of practice but also spend enough time with it. Could it be the difference in practice opportunities that makes one-on-one intervention so much more effective than group instruction? (Bloom, 1984)

What is enough practice and how can that be measured? We can use time to measure the amount of practice (for example 30 minutes of piano practice orYoung_boy_reading_manga soccer drills). But what if the player sits on the piano bench daydreaming and only plays a few notes? What if the soccer player hangs back during drills and rarely touches the ball? What if in a 30-minute reading intervention group a student daydreams, hangs back, and gets only a few practice opportunities?

A practice opportunity is really a chain of three elements:

  • the challenge (or question)
  • the response (or answer)
  • the feedback (right, wrong, or an invitation to think more about the challenge and response)

Reading intervention is typically set up based on seat time, not practice opportunities. While we know from research that the number of practice opportunities matters a lot for learning and memory, we don’t have good data regarding how many practice opportunities individual students typically get during reading intervention.

So here’s a challenge: Count your students’ practice opportunities. How many independent response challenges does he or she get per day (or per week) as part of their reading intervention? We’d love to hear what you find, please comment below!

Learning and Memory- What Works?: Forgetting Helps

not for facebookWe tend to think of forgetting as the enemy of learning, but the science of learning tells a different story. Forgetting is actually one of the best tools we have for remembering.

How can forgetting help us remember?

The act of learning something, forgetting it and then remembering it again improves memory strength in that given subject. (Nunes & Karpicke, 2015).  

Practice helps us transfer information into long term memory. So, forgetting is an important part of what makes practice work. It is only when we forget something during practice that we have an opportunity to figure out how to remember it the next time.   

When given a “forgetting opportunity,” there are a few things research tells us we can do to improve the chances of remembering the next time:

  • More practice.98%
  • Use task-specific memory strategies or memory hooks.
  • Use mindfulness methods to manage the emotional and/or physical factors known to degrade memory.

Previous research has indicated that the average student who is taught using one-on-one, mastery learning techniques perform better than 98 percent of students taught in group settings (Bloom, 1984).  Lexercise is proven effective by providing one-on-one therapy with an expert therapist who customizes daily practice and utilizes these “forgetting opportunities.”

If you enjoyed this article, make sure you read Part One and Part Two of this series. 


If you suspect your child has a learning disability, you can take one of our free tests here.


Bloom, B.S. (1984). The two sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational Researcher, 13 (6), 4–16.

Nunes, L. D., & Karpicke, J. D. (2015). Retrieval-based learning: Research at the interface between cognitive science and education. In R. A. Scott & S. M. Kosslyn (Eds.), Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (pp. 1-16). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [PDF]

Live Broadcast 34: How CogMed Trains Working Memory

Picture of Peter Entwistle, PhDIn this broadcast, Peter Entwistle, PhD will join us to discuss how CogMed improves working memory for better focus and attention.

Dr. Entwistle is a CogMed Consultant for Pearson. He is a psychologist and has worked for a number of entities including The Psychological Corporation, University of Massachusetts-Boston Department of Counseling & School Psychology, Braintree Hospital, and Scituate Public Schools.

Dr. Entwistle has been a practicing psychologist for 23 years.


Watch the video below for the broadcast and if you prefer to download the presentation in PDF format you can do so here

Learning Language by Testing Memory

As a specialist in speech and language, I am constantly examining the question, “How does one learn and remember language?”

An article by John Jensen, Ph.D., in the 24 January 2011 edition of Education News suggests that testing is perhaps the most critical element in learning. By testing, Dr. Jensen doesn’t mean just written exams, but the constant test of simple recall. As he says, “…the act of retrieving information sinks it into memory.”

Jensen’s discussion does not address the specialized learning needs of dyslexic children, but we know that their needs are not being addressed in the typical public school classroom. Children in any group have vastly different learning levels. A child with dyslexia may rank among the most intelligent in his or her class group, but also among the least effective readers because of the “wiring” of the brain’s language center.

Classroom teachers undertake projects that will benefit the most children. Without professional intervention, the exceptions—the children with language-literacy disorders—fall further and further behind. The encouragement that a skilled teacher provides, what Jensen calls “helps, hints, or hand-holding,” may benefit some children, but not the dyslexic learner.

The answer for such children seems to be a practice that is intensive, brief, and customized with words and sounds structured for the child’s processing level. It is precisely that kind of short, frequent, highly structured, accurate, and intense practice that is provided by Lexercise’s in-clinic and online practice tools.

If you suspect that your child might be dyslexic, you may wish to try the free online Lexercise Screener. To find a qualified professional in your area or if you have questions about dyslexia or language-learning disorders contact us at 1-919-747-4557 or email