Thursday, August 18, 2016

Working with Memory Deficits

I have worked hard to improve my understanding of teaching reading. I have learned about developing phonics and phonemic awareness, fluency and comprehension. Vocabulary development has interspersed my work for years. There has always been a piece missing; not all reading weaknesses are due to issues with any one of these five aspects of reading. Some people have working memory deficits that interfere with their ability to carry out these skills. Jenny Nordman's article, "Working with Memory Deficits," in the July/August edition of Literacy Today tackles this concern.

Below is a table summarizing her suggestions:

Play memory games
·         I’m going on a picnic,...
·         Animal sounds
·         Disappearing pictures
Practice makes perfect
·         Timed repeated readings
Do two things at once
·         Clap and chant
·         Reading, marching and questioning

This makes me think of the kindergarten and preschool classes I have experienced and taught in. I used memory games extensively in the car with my kids growing up. We played a version to appeal to my son- A my name is ____, I come from ______, and I drive a _______. Each blank was filled in with a word starting with the letter of the alphabet named and you had to remember the whole rhyme. We played concentration with an assortment of various decks of cards. We engaged in nursery rhyme contests where the object was just to repeat a rhyme that had not yet been recited. I am afraid kids are playing fewer and fewer of these games as cell phones, tablets, and lap tops with videos and games proliferate through our society. This is a lost opportunity for our kids who lose the chance to play these games. As teachers this might mean our students need these kinds of games more than ever- even if our curriculum is more full than ever.

Timothy Rasinski has written extensively about the value of repeated reading: dramatic reading recorded online, reader's theater for the class, poetry teas, etc. I have blogged extensively about Dr. Raskinski's work; see here, here and here for some samples. The biggest concerns with repeated readings are in two areas: kids reading for speed, not comprehension and kids memorizing it and not reading it. Various techniques can be used to address these issues such as focusing on comprehension after the first or second reading and not rereading endlessly.

Nordman's third suggestion is another primary school favorite. Kids sing the months and do the motions of the Macarena, they sing and accompany the song with hand motions. We count and show fingers. Finger rhymes and stories like "Five little pumpkins sitting on the fence" are preschool favorites. We know that adding gestures to math work helps students to learn the processes faster and better. It stimulates more regions of the brain. In music classes, teachers often find the songs with hand motions are the favorites of the kids. They can read the words and do the motions. It makes them practice keeping two things in their heads at once and helps them improve their memory skills. I worked with a librarian who had kids listen to audiobooks while walking around a track. (Yes, audio books develop reading skills.) At the end of each session they recorded how far they walked, how much they "read" and summarized their listening. Kids loved the activity. Wouldn't that be popular with our ADHD populations or kids who are struggling readers? This is easy enough to do with our older kids, not just the little ones.  I even read a piece of research where a young lady could not learn the material when she was not jumping on a mini-trampoline. She even brought one with her to college so she could chant and jump to practice material.

We can help develop our students memory by having them do these multitasking activities and thus help them read. We probably need to brdge between the games and the reading. Nordman does not address this. Just building some memory skills is not enough. Kids need to see how memory is involved in reading. We need to decode the words, recall what the sentence and paragraph said Graphic organizers can help focus this work, but we need to teach kids to do it independently, not just under our guidance. This means providing individually rigorous material with which to practice. Not rigorous for the grade level or age of the student, but rigorous for the ability of the student.

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