Weekly Digest #3: How Teachers Implement Interleaving In Their Curriculum

Weekly Digest #3: How Teachers Implement Interleaving In Their Curriculum

Since starting this outreach project, we’ve come out of our ivory towers and discovered that there are teachers out there already doing incredible implementation of cognitive principles into their curricula. This week, we have chosen to focus on implementation of interleaving throughout a semester, year, or even longer period of study. 

Most of these blog posts come from teachers in the UK. Part of the reason for this could be that the UK secondary school system requires students to retain information for 2-3 years for a set of final exams (known as GCSEs) across all the subjects that they have been studying. Typically – and certainly when I took GCSEs back in the 1990s – the information would be taught sequentially, with little to no interleaving; and then a serious multi-week “revision” (= studying; or, less generously – cramming) period would precede the exams. 

Here we’ve collected 5 blog posts by teachers across a variety of disciplines. (Actually, that’s not true. Three of them are about teaching English – but I interleaved those with the other two on physical and religious education – see what I did there?). In these blog posts, the teachers explore models that challenge the status quo by introducing opportunities for restudy and/or practice quizzing of previous weeks’ topics. In each case, the blog post provides a mocked-up schedule for interleaving.

1) One scientific insight for curriculum design by Joe Kirby, @joe__kirby

Joe Kirby is Deputy Headteacher at the rather incredible Michaela School where students take quizzes every day for 2 years (if you think I’m exaggerating, I’m really not), so it’s no surprise that he is thinking about interleaving so carefully. Aside from providing the clear model below, this blog post also very convincingly and appealingly presents the evidence behind frequent quizzing – not that we need any more convincing!

Here is his before and after model for a Year 7 (6th grade) curriculum, using English topics as an example:


2) Can I be that little bit better at.....designing a better GCSE curriculum? Part 1 by David Fawcett, @davidfawcett27

This blog post focuses on Year 9 and 10 (8th and 9th grade) theory of Physical Education course (what a cool course, by the way – I never got to study this at school!). What’s great about this post is that David discusses a lot of the practical concerns involved in truly implementing an interleaved curriculum. As he admits, “[…]this system became very confusing and meant that we would run out of curriculum time very quickly”.

In the example presented below, David highlights interleaving just for one topic in Year 10 (9th grade), demonstrating how the previous topic is woven in together with multiple testing opportunities on both topics.


3) The Spy Who Loved Us - Part 1: "The name's Beyond....." by Dan Brinton, @dan_brinton

Again using English as an example, this time Year 9 (8th Grade), Dan describes the interleaved curriculum presented by a colleague at his school. In this curriculum, they interleaved “organizing concepts” within interleaved blocks of reading and writing. This model is nice and simple, and the use of color in the figure also helps to make it very clear.


4) The new GCSE & planning for learning; a practical guide by Dawn Cox, @missdcox

What's fantastic about this blog post by Religious Education teacher Dawn is that she provides a step-by-step guide for teachers would like to implement their own interleaved curriculum. She also provides suggestions for how to actually achieve the interleaving – not just “revisit” the topic, but much more specific ideas regarding how to use testing to achieve the re-activation of prior knowledge:


5) Using Threshold Concepts to design a KS4 English curriculum by David Didau, @LearningSpy

In this more complex model, David describes a model for teaching English across the 2 years up until the final exams. You can see that in the second year (Year 11 = 10th grade), David includes interleaving of both the content (e.g., poetry vs. lit. non-fiction) AND the “threshold concepts” such as structure and grammar.