What is the benefit of interleaved practice over focusing on one type of question in Primary English tuition?

When considering a child’s growth from Primary 1 to Primary 6 in English as part of Singapore’s MOE SEAB curriculum, one fundamental question that arises is about the optimal strategy for learning. Parents often ponder over the effectiveness of focusing on one type of question until mastery is achieved versus adopting a more varied approach such as interleaved practice in English tuition. So, let’s delve into the benefits of interleaved practice over focusing on one type of question.

Interleaved practice is an evidence-based learning strategy that involves practicing multiple skills or topics in parallel, rather than focusing solely on one type of question or skill at a time, the latter being a method known as ‘blocked practice’. This approach is especially pertinent to the context of Primary English tuition, where skills such as comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and grammar are closely interlinked.

The first key advantage of interleaved practice lies in its role in boosting long-term retention. Research indicates that while blocked practice can lead to a quicker short-term acquisition of skills, interleaved practice improves long-term memory retention. The constant switching between different topics or types of questions requires learners to recall and reinforce their understanding of previously learnt concepts, thereby strengthening memory pathways and facilitating deeper learning. This can be especially valuable when preparing for the PSLE English examinations, where pupils need to draw upon a wide array of knowledge and skills acquired over the primary school years.

Another important benefit is the enhancement of problem-solving skills. Unlike blocked practice, which can lead to an over-reliance on rote memorisation, interleaved practice encourages learners to identify and apply the correct method or approach for different types of questions. This ‘discriminative contrast’ bolsters the learner’s ability to discern the subtle differences between different question types, thereby fostering a more strategic and adaptable mindset. This is particularly beneficial in English comprehension tasks, where the ability to navigate and respond appropriately to a variety of question types is key.

Additionally, interleaved practice prepares students for the unpredictable nature of examinations and real-life situations. PSLE English examinations often encompass a range of question types within a single paper, and real-life language use involves the application of various English language skills concurrently. Interleaved practice mimics these conditions, allowing students to become more comfortable and adept in handling diverse tasks simultaneously.

While the benefits of interleaved practice are substantial, it’s worth noting that it can initially feel more challenging and less productive than blocked practice. This is because interleaved practice pushes learners out of their comfort zones and demands more mental effort. However, these challenges are part of what makes interleaved practice effective in the long run. As learners grapple with different question types, they develop resilience, adaptability, and a deeper understanding of the material – skills that are crucial not just for PSLE English examinations, but for lifelong learning.

While both interleaved and blocked practices have their merits, interleaved practice holds a distinct edge when it comes to long-term retention, problem-solving skills, and preparing for the unpredictability of exams and real-life situations. As parents supporting your child’s learning journey, understanding and leveraging the benefits of interleaved practice can be a game-changer in their progression from Primary 1 to Primary 6 English.