The SMART Spaces: Spaced Learning Revision Programme, developed by Hallam Teaching School Alliance and Queen’s University Belfast, aims to improve GCSE Chemistry performance by using “spaced learning,” which applies the principle that material is more easily learnt when broken apart by intervals of time.
The programme trains teachers to deliver six structured revision lessons for the AQA Combined Science GCSE in Chemistry, to Year 11 pupils, just before exams. Each lesson is split into three 12-minute episodes of content with two 10-minute ‘spaces’ which involve an activity such as juggling or origami.
The EEF review of Cognitive Science Approaches in the Classroom shows that spacing teaching and learning over time and between unrelated content can improve pupil learning. Studies mostly focus on spacing content across days and lessons, which has a small positive impact. There is limited evidence on spacing within lessons, but it suggests promise. An EEF pilot of the SMART Spaces program used a small RCT to test different spacing schedules and found that combining 24-hour and 10-minute spacing was the most promising. This version was used to evaluate the impact of SMART Spaces: Spaced Learning Revision Programme.
The evaluation provides no evidence that pupils’ GCSE Chemistry outcomes improved in the participating schools, compared with a group of similar schools. This result had a high security rating. There was some weak evidence to suggest there may have been some small gains in knowledge recall for pupils in the intervention group, but this contrasts with a small negative effect on progress in application and analysis. The program was delivered well, and teachers showed a high level of support based on teacher surveys and interviews.
The evaluation highlights the challenge of translating broad research findings about spaced learning into effective teaching strategies and interventions. The EEF continue to be interested in exploring programmes integrating cognitive science approaches.
- Pupils in the SMART Spaces Revision schools, on average, made no additional months’ progress in chemistry attainment in AQA Combined Science GCSE compared to pupils in the control schools. This result had a high security rating.
- Pupils in the SMART Spaces Revision schools, on average, made no additional months’ progress in overall GCSE Combined Award Science compared to pupils in the control schools.
- Pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) in the SMART Spaces Revision schools, on average, made no additional months’ progress in chemistry attainment at AQA Combined Science GCSE compared to FSM-eligible pupils in the control schools.
- The SMART Spaces Revision theory of change predicts that spaced learning primarily improves recall of knowledge. There was weak evidence that intervention pupils had improved chemistry knowledge attainment compared to the control pupils. However, the effect was small and did not meet the threshold set by the evaluator that it was non-zero. Also, it may be at the expense of negative impact on chemistry application and analysis attainment.
- The SMART Spaces Revision intervention was delivered as intended in schools, indicated through observations, pupil and teacher surveys, and interviews. Teachers showed a high level of support for the intervention based on teacher surveys and interviews, with 70% reporting that they would be happy to deliver SMART Spaces Revision in the future.