Is Spaced Practice the key to good ELT? Dellar ‘s 2018 IATEFL presentation

In this post I examine Dellar’s 2018 IATEFL presentation and suggest that it:

  • mounts a straw man argument against grammar-based coursebooks using a series of false assertions
  • misrepresents research findings and draws unwarranted conclusions from them
  • fails to appreciate the implications of SLA research findings for ELT practice.

Dellar accuses the ELT profession of being in thrall to mass practice, which results in “hampering learners”,  “limiting potential”, “slowing learning”, and “robbing students of their time.” To remedy this situation Dellar insists that teachers stop using coursebooks which impose the “invalid construct” of massed practice on them, and adopt instead the proven pedagogical procedure of spaced practice.  A model of a viable alternative – a coursebook series which exemplifies not just spaced practice, but also interleaving and the complete grammaticalisation of lexis – is the Outcomes series, written by H. Dellar and A. Walkley, which is advertised on a large billboard on the left of the stage.

First I’ll go through the talk commenting on specific points. Then I’ll look at the general argument.

Massed Practice

Focused repetitive practice or massed practice is “practicing something over and over again until we’ve perfected it or nailed it.” Dellar asserts that

massed practice is so deeply rooted  in our mental construct of how competence develops that we rarely stop to consider how effective it is, or if there might be more effective ways of developing competence.

Comments:

  1. By definition of the terms, nobody has a mental construct of how competence develops.
  2. Massed practice is not a construct.
  3. As we’ll see, Dellar offers no empirical evidence to support his assertion that using massed practice as a teaching procedure in ELT is deeply rooted in the way teachers approach their work. If teachers rarely stop to consider more effective ways of developing competence than massed practice, it’s probably because they’ve never heard of it, and because it plays a minor, if any, role in their teaching.

Spaced practice 

Next, Dellar says that in baseball mass practice of a free throw is less effective than spaced practice, and that when learning how to park a car, massed practice of the parking manoeuvre is less effective than spaced practice. He then says:

As it is with basketball and as it with parking, so it also is for teaching and learning foreign languages.

Dellar says that even though the spacing effect has been verified in vocabulary learning, “there’s not been (sic) as many studies into how we learn grammar and whether this also applies to grammar”. Nevertheless, Dellar goes on to say:

time and time again what’s been shown is that spaced distribution instruction on the development of particular grammatical structures versus massed practice or massed exposure is very conclusive. The immediate post test show very very little difference in terms of the way that learners perform but the delayed post tests show time and time again that spaced distribution and spaced exposure to the new items always helps you outperform people who study under mass practice conditions.

Comments:

  1. The spacing effect has not been verified in vocabulary learning. Pedagogical procedures don’t get verfied; hypotheses and theories about certain procedures are supported or challenged by empirical evidence from well-conducted studies.
  2. Dellar cites no studies to support his assertions about the comparative merits of massed practice versus distributed practice, and his assertions are, in fact, false: no study has shown the results that Dellar claims. As I said in my previous post, when Dellar was asked on Twitter to provide the sources for his assertions, he came up with an article from a web site called “Ask a Cognitive Scientist”. The article is “Allocating Student Study Time: “Massed” versus “Distributed” Practice”. It was written in 2002 and is not specifically about SLA. A more reliable source is John Rogers’s bibliography of articles on massed versus distributed practice published in applied linguistics academic journals.  I’ve read eight of the articles on the list, enough to confirm that, in fact, very few empirical studies have been done. One of the most recent articles is by Rogers himself (Rogers, 2015) which begins by saying that very little data have so far been collected. It gives a brief report of a not very well-designed study, and while Rogers concludes that the results are promising, he recognises the need for far more evidence before any firm conclusions can be drawn. There is evidence that spaced learning gets better results in some specific types of studying, but first, the evidence is not conclusive, and second, the studies of the comparative effects of 2 different ways of studying factual information can’t be used to make general statements about developing communicative competence in an L2. Dellar treats the tentative conclusions reached by fledgling studies as convincing proof that massed practice is having a crippling effect on learners and that spaced practice is the best way to teach both vocabulary and grammar. Such claims are unwarranted.

Coursebooks in thrall to mass practice

Having demonstrated to his own satisfaction that spaced practice leads to “better uptake in both vocabulary and grammar”, Dellar asks why these convincing findings  are not guiding practice. His answer is that ELT is “in thrall to mass practice”.  Here’s what Dellar says happens when teachers use coursebooks.

  1. In “coursebook after coursebook after coursebook” you get “the presentation of a discrete piece of grammar usually scripted and crafted in such a way so as to not include any other kind of particular grammar structure in the initial presentation because of the fear that it might somehow obscure the view of the structure you’re currently looking at.”
  2. Then you get laughable dialogues designed to maximise exposure to every possible variation on that particular grammar structure.
  3. Then you get exercises which massify the practice of every possible variant: negatives, questions positives, “irrespective of whether they come to be useful in the kind of communicative tasks that you come to ask your students to perform.”
  4. Then you get freer practice which resembles not a real conversation, but rather “a cunning trap designed by coursebook writers to elicit common errors of the new structure all of which can then be corrected en masse.”
  5. That structure then immediately vanishes from sight for the rest of the book and thus from the rest of the course, unless the teacher realises that despite the massed practice students aren’t able to utilise the structure, in which case they try more massed practice , maybe written practice, maybe a communication game that forces students into massed practice.

Comments

  1. To say that coursebook writers present discrete pieces of grammar “in such a way so as to not include” (sic) “any other kind of particular grammar structure” (sic), “for fear that it might somehow obscure the view of the structure you’re currently looking at” is pure assertion and almost certainly false.
  2. The presentation of a grammar point is not always, or even usually, followed by a dialogue and Dellar’s example of a dialogue using “should” is not “perhaps a slight exaggeration”, it is ridiculous.
  3. Whatever oral or written text follows the presentation of a grammar item, the assertion that the text is designed to maximise exposure to every possible variation on that particular grammar structure is evidently false: no coursebook attempts to present and practice any of the dozens of complicated grammatical structures of English by dealing with every possible variation of them in one unit.
  4. It’s likewise false to say that the exercises that follow massify the practice of every possible variant.
  5. To characterise the freer practice offered in coursebooks as “a cunning trap designed by coursebook writers to elicit common errors of the new structure all of which can then be corrected en masse” is an interpretation that has nothing to do with the facts and has very little to recommend it.
  6. The structural items that are presented in coursebooks don’t immediately vanish from sight for the rest of the book. How could they? How could the present or the past tense, or the simple, progressive and perfect aspects of verbs, or mass and count nouns, or the articles, or pronouns, or modals, for example, be excluded from the coursebook once they’ve been presented and practiced?
  7. The suggestion that when teachers see that their students “aren’t able to utilise the structure” they “try more massed practice, maybe a communication game that forces them into massed practice” is false, and also rather insulting.
  8. In general, coursebooks don’t present grammar the way Dellar describes. Below are the grammar points dealt with in some of the units of Headway Intermediate. Note that more than one discrete grammar point is dealt with in the same unit and that modal verbs are dealt with in Unit 4 and then again in Unit 11. A 30 minute examination of this coursebook shows that it bears little resemblance to Dellar’s description of coursebooks in general.

Unit 1: Auxiliary verbs; Questions; Short answers

Unit 3: Past Simple or Continuous; Past Simple or Past Perfect; Past tenses

Unit 4: have to / be allowed to; Modal verbs

Unit 8: Reduced infinitive; Verb patterns

Unit 11: Modal verbs of probability: Past; Modal verbs of probability: Present

Before we leave coursebooks, I should mention a tweet from Dellar. He says:

The grand irony of course is that Geoff has spent his time railing about coursebooks but now somehow feels compelled to insist they’re alright at heart to avoid the cognitive dissonance of agreeing with me. Ha ha.

This is an obvious non sequitur. Pointing out the mistakes in Dellar’s description of coursebooks doesn’t compel me to insist that coursebooks are “alright”.

So, Dellar asks, What is to be done?

First, stop using coursebooks which implement a massed practice approach. As an alternative, use spaced practice and interleaving. And here’s some more advice:

Comments 

Dellar loses track of the argument here. Rather than show precisely how spaced practice of a new grammar structure should be implemented, he gives a series of general pieces of advice that mix the uncontroversial (ensure vocabulary is recycled ; ensure that students have plenty of opportunities to talk; don’t always expect students to use language correctly; etc.) with the highly questionable (present new structures alongside old; ensure that vocabulary is fully grammaticalised) and turns the presentation into a demonstration of the virtues of using Outcomes. 

General Criticism of the argument  

Dellar’s main argument is stated at the bottom of Slide 1

It’s not massed practice that makes learning stick, it’s spaced practice.

To support this argument Dellar mounts a straw man argument against grammar-based coursebooks and makes sweeping, unwarranted  assertions about the damage done by massed practice. He provides no evidence from research findings in SLA to support his exaggerated claims for the effects of spaced practice, and in fact, while there are certainly signs that spaced practice can help learners with specific types of studying, there is no evidence to support the claim that spaced learning provides the best pedagogical procedure for helping learners to achieve communicative competence in an L2.

At one point in his talk, Dellar says

If we’re really going to act like professionals and we’re going to acknowledge the impact of research on our practice, sooner or later we have to acknowledge that coursebooks that are based on massed practice are not theoretically valid.

The first part of the sentence chides teachers who do not take account of SLA research and suggests that Dellar himself is familiar with it. But the second half of the sentence suggests otherwise, since no SLA research has ever stated or implied that coursebooks are based on mass practice, or that mass practice has no theoretical validity.  Indeed, Dellar’s use of the terms ‘construct’ and ‘theoretical validity’ suggest that he has yet to fully grasp what they mean.

In more general terms, to suggest that substituting spaced practice for massed practice will lead to a transformation in ELT is, by Dellar’s light, to act unprofessionally and to refuse to apply research findings to our teaching practice. Dellar wants to substitute one type of coursebook for another, thus flying in the face of robust SLA findings which show that any coursebook which implements a synthetic syllabus (and that includes Outcomes), imposes an impossible task on learners, whose own interlanguage development makes it impossible for them to synthesise the information they’re presented with in the way they’re expected to.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Dellar’s preoccupation with explicit instruction, his narrow  focus on the presentation and practice of bits of language, be they large or small, runs counter to the view held by most SLA researchers.  As I said in a reply to Andrew Walkley some tme ago, probably the most important issue in the various accounts of language learning concerns the roles of implicit and explicit learning. With regard to this fundamental question, there’s widespread agreement among SLA scholars that, as Long (2017) puts it “the relevant goal for instruction is implicit learning, resulting in implicit L2 knowledge”. Implicit learning is regarded by SLA scholars as more basic, more important than explicit learning, and superior. Access to implicit knowledge is automatic and fast, and is what underlies listening comprehension, spontaneous speech, and fluency. It is the result of deeper processing and is thus more durable, and it obviates the need for explicit knowledge, freeing up attentional resources for a speaker to focus on message content.

All the research indicates that learning an L2 is not best facilitated by presenting and practicing bits of grammar and “fully grammaticalised lexis”, no matter how big or small the bits are. Rather, ELT should aim to develop learners’ ability to make meaning in the L2, through engagement in relevant tasks involving exposure to comprehensible input, participation in discourse, and implicit or explicit feedback.

References

Long, M. (2017) Instructed second language acquisition (ISLA): geopolitics, methodological issues, and some major research questions. Instructed Second Language Acquisition, 1,1.

Rogers, J. (2015). Learning L2 syntax under massed and distributed conditions. TESOL Quarterly, 49, 857-866

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25 thoughts on “Is Spaced Practice the key to good ELT? Dellar ‘s 2018 IATEFL presentation

  1. hi Geoff
    thanks for this good analysis; it speaks to the issues Rogers points out when using cog sci findings in SLA;

    another example of this is the diverging results between spacing effects in cog sci which tends to look at “simple cognitive tasks such as verbal recall” and program-level studies which look at timing instructional hours that finds no evidence for spacing effect – they “primarily focus on the acquisition of more global English skills such as listening and reading performance”
    [http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1362168815617334?journalCode=ltra]

    what is more interesting is how other things such as individual differences can affect massed and distributed practice [https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics/article/exploratory-research-on-second-language-practice-distribution-an-aptitude-treatment-interaction/DF7C6BFBE812322B31AC990E784FE2CE] i.e. it is not a zero sum game as Hugh implies

    ta
    mura

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  2. I wasn’t at the talk, but I *assume* that the mass practice he was talking about referred to that which takes place within a single classroom lesson. That being the case, I think you are unfair on two counts. Firstly, a single unit in a typical coursebook is not taught in just one lesson. Many coursebook series have units made up of ‘double page spreads’, meant to be taught as a single lesson. There wouldn’t be more than one discreet grammar point in each of those. Those coursebooks (it also depends on level within a series) that don’t take the ‘double page spread’ approach will have a single unit which ‘runs on’ and therefore covers more than one grammar point, but again the expectation would be that the teacher would plan a series of lessons from this one unit and would be unlikely to cover more than one grammar point in each lesson. So looking at whole coursebook units is misleading. Secondly, the modal verbs in Unit 4 of Headway Intermediate are not the same ones – or at least the uses are not the same – as the ones covered in Unit 11. No coursebooks would simply repeat a grammar point in two units in a single level in this way, as there are already enough grammar points to cram in as it is.

    So I think his characterisation of the predominance of mass practice in coursebooks is broadly correct. You are right to say of course that the language doesn’t disappear, and coursebook designers do try recycle where possible. Once a grammar point has been covered, that means you are finally ‘allowed’ to use it in future texts/exercises (where previously you would have had to avoid it because it hadn’t ‘been covered’ yet – different series differ on just how strictly this applies) and so it will certainly come up again. But what you don’t tend to get are exercises focussing specifically on that grammar again. Once it’s done, it’s done, and you’ve got new grammar points to focus on and practise.

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    • Hi George,

      Thanks for this. Let me say at once that there is a good case to be made for spaced practice and an even better case to be made against the way that coursebooks deal with grammar. As I say at the start, my criticism of Dellar’s presentation is that he presents an absurdly distorted picture of coursebooks, grossly misrepresents research findings, shows a lamentable lack of respect for the facts, and an equally lamentable ignorance of SLA research.

      In specific reference to your comments, the mass practice Dellar was talking about referred to that which takes place within a course. Dellar asserts that each grammar point is dealt with by a process consisting of
      1. presention: in such a way that no other “particular grammar structure” is used (“for fear that it might somehow obscure the view of the structure you’re currently looking at”),
      2. practice: in laughable dialogues designed to maximise exposure to every possible variation on that particular grammar structure
      3. massed practice
      4, banishment: the grammar point is never dealt with again in the entire course.

      This description is quite clearly ridiculous, and is, in my opinion, a typical example of Dellar’s style.

      Like

  3. Dear Geoff,

    whilst I do agree with some – not all – of the points you have made in your post, I think the main point made by Hugh that books do not recycle and that spaced practice is pivotal to effective long-term retention is very important and one that curriculum designers, course-book authors and teachers must heed much more than they currently do and that I have been championing for years in my blog posts, book and workshops. In fact, the feedback from the schools that have implemented my recycling strategies (e.g. Universals, Implicit Learning Routines, etc.) has been consistently excellent over the years.

    Where I disagree with Hugh is that he seems to massed and distributed practice as a dichotomy; I see them as a synergy whereby students receive masses of controlled input flooded with the target patterns (the lexicalised grammar he mentions) in the short term and extensive distributed practice in the long term until routinization is attained.

    With all due respect, Geoff, I am afraid your example, the Headway textbook, is a not a good one: the whole Headway recycles insufficiently both in the short, medium and long term and less experienced or committed teachers who rely heavily on textbooks need to heed.

    In conclusion, whilst I do agree that Hugh’s assertion constitutes a massive overgeneralization – no bigger than many other overgeneralisations made in other IATEFL talks – his advocacy of spaced practice has to be commended and I think it is the main message that those attended his presentation would have taken home. I do appreciate – honestly – the rigour of your analysis and your Kant-esque aversion for inconsistencies and contradictions. However, Hugh’s target audience, I presume, is teachers not academics; yes, there are inaccuracies and overgeneralisations in his arguments and I do not agree entirely with of the solutions he envisages, but, after all he is acting as a ‘mediator’ endeavouring to translate a pivotal tenet of cognitive science in simple terms that can be accessed by most classroom practitioners. A noble intent, even though this does not justify the misrepresentations you pointed.

    Glad to finally find you and Hugh agree on something: the notion that we should do away with textbooks.

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    • Hi Gianfranco,

      Thanks for your comments and I’m glad that you and I are now sharing our ideas about ELT –sorry, MLT – more amicably. For all my objections to your reliance on a skills-based approach to language learning, there’s much we agree on.

      I repeat, one more time, that there are good arguments to be made about both the merits of spaced practice and the shortcomings of coursebooks / texbooks.

      Your suggestion that massed and distributed practice are better seen as a synergy whereby students receive masses of controlled input .. etc., rest on a skills-based view of language learning which I reject. We can discuss this more any time you like.

      My example from the Headway textbook was only given to show that Dellar’s daft assertion about how coursebooks handle grammar was false. That Headway recycles
      insufficiently is a separate argument; Dellar claims that there is no recycling.

      It’s precisely Dellar’s role as a mediator between those doing research into SLA and teachers that I criticise. It’s not that his public pronouncements on ELT in books, blogs and presentations contain “inaccuracies and overgeneralisations”, it’s that they systematically misrepresent research findings and misinform teachers about them. His work demonstrates a deplorable ignorance of the matters he so stridently opines on, and the only way to demonstrate this is to deal with the details. Dellar’s work belches baloney and it needs to be seriously criticised. It runs rough shod over the nuances of research in order to promote a hopelessly unbalanced view of ELT.

      And I’m afraid you’re wrong to say that Dellar and I agree on the notion that we should do away with textbooks; Dellar thinks coursebooks are fine, just so long as they obey his dictates, as exemplified in the Outcomes series.

      Have a good day, Gianfranco. There’s a chance that I’ll be able to attend one of your sessions in the UK; if I do, maybe we can go and shoot the breeze afterwards.

      Like

    • Hi Katya,

      Thanks for your comment. I was the DoS of a school where some teachers used English File, so I have some knowledge of it, but I don’t get the point you’re making.

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      • My point is you obviously don’t really know how the books Hugh Dellar seems to be arguing against work. Don’t believe me? Here’s a comment from another teacher in an online response to his talk last week.

        “Thanks for sharing, Hugh! I can see how spaced practice could help with my ESP students, and how I could apply it, however for courses which revolve around a course book such as the lovely English File, it seems that this would be really difficult to implement, unless the teacher puts in a lot more work before the lessons.”

        I’m surprised, given how much you seem to hate most coursebooks, that you’re not more supportive of someone trying to bring about a change to the system.

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      • Hi Katya,

        Your quote from a teacher says nothing that challenges my criticisms of Dellar’s presentation.

        I support all those who critically evaluate coursebook-driven ELT. I oppose all those who try to hoodwink teachers with baloney.

        Liked by 1 person

    • This response seems analogous to:

      “All buildings have pointed roofs”
      “Actually, I can give you many examples of buildings with flat roofs”
      “You’ve clearly never seen a pyramid!”

      Possibly, there are coursebooks that do not recycle, but that doesn’t defeat the motion that coursebooks are not defined by their tendency towards massed practice and away from recycling.

      (And, for the record, EF does recycle. The Elementary book, at least, involves constant recycling and building up from the 2 tenses, amongst other grammar points).

      I think Hugh and Geoff would agree that there needs to be more interleaving in coursebooks, but not on what this would imply, nor on how it should be done.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Robert,

        Thanks for this. But I have to say that I don’t agree that there needs to be more interleaving in coursebooks. I think coursebooks need to be replaced with materials that don’t implement a synthetic syllabus, i.e. materials that don’t force teachers to present and then practice bits of grammar and lexis in a pre-determined order.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve been looking through your work here Geoff and I can’t find a single example of the kind of material you’re actually advocating. What exactly IS this “material that doesn’t force teachers to present and then practice bits of grammar and lexis in a pre-determined order”? Does any exist? if so, it’d be nice to see some so teachers can see if it’s the kind of thing we might want. Have you ever actually posted any? Or do you just find it easier to knock other people?

    Like

    • Hi Katya,

      I’ve done several posts suggesting alternatives to syllabuses that force teachers to present and then practice bits of grammar and lexis in a pre-determined order. Look on the left under syllabus types or use the search function to look for TBLT. .

      Like

  5. On Twitter today I tried engaging with Hugh Dellar a) to understand which CBs he meant and b) to figure out why he thinks we still need to train Ts to use CBs that are as fundamentally flawed as he himself claims. On the second I’d hardly really said much and got caught in the crossfire of Robert Taylor’s comment to him, after having to defend the existence of a real (yes, real) materials bank that is NOT, I insist, a repository of pirated CB scans. Go read the whole sorry thread for yourselves if you can be bothered, but you get the drift. Twitter is a poor place for a serious discussion and I’m sorry to say Hugh, who seems to have some of us down as Jordanian Front militia sniping at him from the bushes, can be a poor interlocutor.

    As for the rest, isn’t it just him trying to sell books by rubbishing the competition? Although without specifically mentioning which competition – until I got him to suggest English File. I thought this was interesting, not just because EF does (of course) repeat structures introduced earlier (although not explicitly, granted), but also because it stuffs its massed practice into the appendices, leaving you relatively free to ignore it. When I’ve had to teach with EF I’ve tended towards letting Ls do all that for h/w if they wanted, while pointing out that it’s probably a waste of time and offering some livelier alternative.

    And EF, like almost every other CB, teaches “new” structures with old, as when they do the classic past simple vs present perfect, or present perfect vs present perfect continuous, etc.

    Btw this does not constitute an endorsement of EF, it’s just an observation.

    Whatever the evidence behind spaced rep, one thing maybe worth considering is it seems to be about more and more space between each repetition. I use the Anki app to help me memorise tricky Spanish and Catalan vocab – it allows you to decide how long you need until the next look, so the more familiar it is, the longer the space you choose. I think the idea is that if you see something again when you’re on the point of forgetting it, it’s more likely to stick.

    If this is indeed how spaced rep should work, CBs that employ it need to somehow emulate this, and instruct Ts that the CB be followed in sequence, perhaps over a certain time period, so that lexical item X reappears when it should, then reappears a bit later next time, etc., in order to be effective. Forget individual Ls’ differences and rates of uptake, of course. CBs based on spaced rep need to assume when Ls need to look at something again, and discourage Ts from breaking the sequence, or going too fast through unit 4, or “cor blimey” will come up again too fast … In other words, such a CB would be even more restrictive than trad CBs, which is really saying something.

    So for me, if spaced rep has any validity, then CBs are not the proper vehicle for it anyway. With apps like Anki it can be put into the hands of learners themselves, who can be encouraged to focus on relevant vocab and structures from whatever receptive and productive tasks they have done, both in the classroom and outside, and also decide how much space they need in between.

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    • Hi Neil,

      Thanks very much for your comments. I completely agree with the points you make, now you’ve made them! Of course, one needs to ask Dellar “Well how would this spaced practice work?” All he did in his talk was to go on about “Well this is what we do in Outcomes” . As you say, aps make a lot more sense.

      Like

      • This is from Chas Holmes. It arrived in my email but I can’t find it in on this, the Word Press blog site. Sorry Chas, and thanks very much for taking the time to make these points.

        Spaced repetition and recycling are not the same thing. Massed practice and the Grammar Bank in New English File are not the same thing. Spaced repetition is a very systematic step by step approach based on the forgetting curve and massed practice is often seen as intensive back to back learning sessions designed to achieve mastery. There’s a much better explanation than mine here : http://www.eltresearchbites.com/201703-buyer-beware-sla-and-the-spacing-effect/
        Here Godwin -Jones looks at spaced repetition and technology: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.472.6575&rep=rep1&type=pdf

        But in my view there’s a problem with using technology SRS for vocabulary: What do you put on the card? A whole word family? Do you only include an example of the head word in use? A picture? A mnemonic? A personal word link? (That’s a very full card!) How do you group them? Research says thematically not semantically is probably best- how do you choose your themes?? Does adding to your receptive vocabulary like this mean you can a) automatically and easily recall a word and b) then use it correctly in all the forms of the word family in relation to verbs pronouns etc? I doubt it.
        But the even bigger problem is that Hugh Dellar is not suggesting using SRS for vocabulary, he is suggesting it for grammar. I haven’t seen repetitive massed practice aimed at achieving “mastery” of grammar and don’t think any of the coursebooks I’ve used (face2face, NEF, New Headway, Solutions, Project to name a few) do it either.
        So it’s not a case of “sticking it to the man” by rejecting those evil massed practice coursebooks. Let’s have some details on why and how SRS can be applied to the acquisition of grammar. Does it work for all areas of grammar or is it a universal panacea? How does it address sequences of acquisition?
        Here’s some research which supports the spaced versus massed issue. Miles, S. W. (2014). Spaced vs. massed distribution instruction for. L2 grammar learning. System, 42, 412-428 (sorry can’t find a open access version).

        Interestingly he says “Research in second language vocabulary acquisition is fairly well developed, generally showing learning and retention rates under spacing effect methodology at 2–3 times that of massed distribution”
        It would be interesting to see how it compares to other vocabulary acquisition approaches such as extensive reading.

        My reservations are how “gains” are defined. If it’s only a written test then we’re back in to looking at the differences between explicit/implicit knowledge, declarative/procedural etc. Can the learners recognise a grammar form and it identify on a test but can they produce it accurately over an extended period in speech and writing? I think most teachers will have experienced students who can tell you the rules for the past perfect and spot it and apply it in a test, but can they use it spontaneously in speaking and writing? Not on your nelly!

        I’m also not sure how much massed and distributed instruction in SLA is the same phenomenon as massed practice and SRS in psychology studies of memory. Long post, sorry.

        Like

  6. Interesting to read Mura’s post on Research Bites. I agree that on this basis, the Grammar Bank in EF and massed practice are not the same thing at all, although a T could choose to focus on this and other practice activities over two sessions in an effort to get the Ls to “master” the structure.

    Yes and a good point about exactly what you put on cards. When using Anki and Quizlet I encourage a variety of methos – translation, sentence in context, definition, picture, or a combination thereof – as I’ve really no idea which, if any, is more efficacious.

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  7. When I get round to doing my Quizlet cards for my Turkish GCSE (or GCE… Can’t remember the new name) I’ll have Turkish with picture and short sentence on one side and English on the other I think. My basis for the picture is Mayer’s multimedia and also dual coding. The short sentence is to avoid it being totally isolated.

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