Interleaving

The teacher of the writing course I am taking likes to peruse all the literature about what helps students learn better and occasionally, if it seems helpful, pass it on to students. Interleaving is something he is passing on with the hope it will help someone. Robert Bork, a psychologist, applied the word to learning and memory.

I’m earnest about marking up books with a yellow marker and taking prodigious notes. Bork would probably consider that a wasteful use of time. Better to wait after class, or at home after closing the book, and write down notes about what you remember, and after doing that, quizzing yourself.

A lot of people I know just do one form of exercise instead of cross-training. Friends get injured at work; when you think as active as they are, it could never happen. Bork is a believer in intellectual cross-training. Patrick Barry, my MOOC teacher, expresses it like this:

”The cognitive work it takes to switch subjects has been shown to produce much deeper and longer-lasting comprehension. You can think of this process as a form of intellectual cross-training, in which your mental muscles become stronger and more flexible, because they are regularly stretched in different ways.”

Applying this to writing means write more than one thing at a time, regularly switching back and forth, giving the mind a chance to rest or space itself. My brother-in-law goes to bed with a difficult problem in mind, having wrestled with it for hours, having the answer shortly after waking up.

The caveat, though, is the thing you switch to should be related to what your switching from in some way. It should be similar.

I get my wife to quiz me on subjects I am studying, subjects I think I gained a bit of proficiency. What I find is maybe I don’t know as much as I thought I knew. Same with writing these blogs. Until I write out, trying to explain what I’ve learned to others, it becomes apparent I don’t know as much as I thought I knew. Sometimes just piling the information in the brain works no mental muscles. Does nothing to help you recall it.

Looking at the photo above might generate some questions like: what is blocking in relation to interleaving. At the bottom of the page are footnotes on the subject of interleaving 1, if you want to know more about the subject.

  1. Pan, Steven C. “The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning.” Scientific American, 4 Aug. 2015, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-interleaving-effect-mixing-it-up-boosts-learning/. Accessed 26 Dec. 2020.

    InnerDrive. “Interleaving Your Teaching.” Blog.Innerdrive.co.uk, blog.innerdrive.co.uk/interleaving-your-teaching. Accessed 26 Dec. 2020.

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