The effect of spacing versus massing on orthographic learning

Reading Research Quarterly, 58(3), 361–372.


Distributing study opportunities over time typically improves the retention of verbal material compared to consecutive study trials, yet little is known about the influence of temporal spacing on the learning of orthographic form specifically. This experiment sought to obtain and compare estimates of the magnitude of the spacing effect on written word form learning across three different outcome measures, administered between-participants. Skilled adult readers (N=120) read aloud 16 sentences containing an embedded pseudoword a total of four times. Half of the items were temporally distributed (appearing once in each of four blocks), while half were massed (read on four consecutive trials within a block). After a short delay, learning was assessed using tests of recognition (orthographic choice) or recall (spelling to dictation or letter cue spelling). There was a significant effect of spacing across all outcome measures (all p < .001). When the magnitude of the spacing effect was compared across these three measures, letter cue spelling showed a significantly larger spacing effect than spelling to dictation (p = .039)while orthographic choice did not significantly differ from either (both p > .05). These findings indicate that temporal spacing influences the learning of orthographic form, regardless of the outcome measure used.

Reading Research Quarterly, 58(3), 361–372