Friday, September 4, 2015

Learning and Memory strategies

I found The Source for Learning & Memory Strategies by Regina G. Richards in a free pile and picked it up. Although it is more than a decade old and the fields of neuroscience and learning are a rapidly blossoming field, the book proved to be valuable. The first part of the book is three chapters about the brain and learning. Ms. Richards goes over major brain parts that impact learning, how memories are made, memory problems and memory facilitators. Although the current state of science has a much more nuanced understanding, this information is accurate and accessible for the lay person. The second part of the book is a series of chapters arranged by subject area including a rich variety of strategies for learning. Many of these are hashed out in other sources but the compilation is useful.

Her description of memory is as follows:
  • sensory memory- fleeting (less than 20 seconds), heavily filtered by attention, meaning and patterns and emotion. The vast majority of our sensory input is filtered out without recognition. People with ADHD have issues with this filtering function.
  • short-term memory/ working memory- this is where we manipulate information and includes the following roles:
    • holding an idea in mind while developing, elaborating, clarifying or using it
    • recalling from long term memory while holding some information in short-term memory
    • holding together in memory the components of a task while completing that task
    • keeping together a series of new pieces of information so that they remain meaningful
    • holding a long-term plan while thinking about a short-range need. p. 23
She does not mention the Halstead length which refers to the amount of information that you can put into those Miller defined plus or minus seven chunks. (Halstead was a computer program studying programmer success who discovered that people with greater Halstead lengths could tackle greater problems.)
  • Long term memory- contains several formats- episodic, sematic (fact), procedural, classical and priming. Different types of memories are stored differently- your trip to Disneyland is in a different format than the multiplication tables which is different from the wince you make before someone scrapes their fingernails on a chalkboard or the how to hit a baseball or how to anticipate what will happen in a Cinderella archetype story.
  • Retrieval- how to get things out.
This format explains how breakdowns in memory and learning occur. A student can have an excellent memory for mathematical processes but a terrible memory for people's names or even English vocabulary. Figuring out specifically where the breakdown occurs is critical to teaching students to manage their memory system effectively.

Throughout this section she models how to use techniques to enhance memory. A sweet device to illustrate her point.

One technique that I really appreciated was her use of kinesthetic activities. In college I heard a lot about using kinesthetic approaches but very few examples of them. She repeated refers to using a mini-tramp to help encode memories. This involves jumping on the tramp while chanting, singing, or repeating information to be recalled. It brought to mind latitude and longitude jumping jacks that I have had students do: Latitude= arms to side and legs spread, longitude= arms above head and feet together while chanting the appropriate term to reinforce what direction the lines go. It really works. She also emphasized singing or chanting information to encode it in more places in the brain and to cue recall. Teaching the Wilson reading system, I have had kids stuck on what sound t makes and merely putting my thumb in the air is enough of a cue to get them unstuck.

 Another key idea is that we put things into memory based on their similarities to what we know but retrieve them based on differences. That is why we have easily confused words, terms and concepts. Students understand they are related but do not get how they are different. If a trapezoid and a rhombus both have a set of parallel sides and sides that slope- how do I know which one I am talking about? A teacher needs to demonstrate how new material is similar to what is known to get it into memory. Then they need to examine how it is different from other related concepts so that the proper ideas are recalled when needed.

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