By Glenda Thorne, Ph.D.
The first step toward increasing memory is for the student to understand his/her own individual memory profile of strengths and weaknesses. The self-test below may provide a beginning place for getting an overview of that memory profile.
Directions: Read the items below and place a check in the box that best describes how true this statement is for you.
Never = 0, Sometimes = 1, Often = 2, Always = 3
|1. I am able to easily remember what has been said or done in the past 24 hours.|
|2. I can easily remember information for a short period of time (e.g., a phone number).|
|3. I am able to easily hold information in my head while working with it (e.g., perform mental arithmetic, take notes while listening to a lecture).|
|4. I can easily recall information that I learned in school.|
|5. When I read, I remember the important facts.|
|6. I am easily able to recall events, things I have done or places I have been, in detail.|
|7. I can easily recognize someone’s face that I have seen before.|
|8. It is easy for me to remember movies I have seen.|
|9. I use specific memory strategies, such as saying things over and over or making mental pictures.|
|10. It is easy for me to remember where I put things.|
20-30 You have a memory like an elephant.
10-19 Your memory may need some work.
0-9 You may need to keep a string tied around your finger!
* NOTE: This self-test has no diagnostic value. It is not intended that this score be used as part of any school record or evaluation.
What Strategies Can Be Used To Increase Memory?
General Principles for Enhancing Memory and Learning
- Understanding and Remembering – Students need to be taught the relationship and differences between understanding and remembering. That is, they need to know that simply sitting in class and understanding the information their teachers present in discussions and/or lectures or understanding what they read in their textbooks is usually not enough to enable them to perform well on traditional tests. They must also engage in some activity for the purpose of enabling them to remember what they understand.
- Activation of Prior Knowledge – When students are learning new information, teachers should activate their prior knowledge about the subject being taught. This may be accomplished by asking students two questions. The first is, “What do you know about . . .?” The second is, “What do you want to know about . . .?” Activating prior knowledge about a topic provides students with a “hook” to hang the new information on in their mental memory network.
- Maintenance Rehearsal Versus Elaborative Rehearsal – Maintenance rehearsal, as the term implies, consists of using some memory strategy that keeps or maintains information in short-term memory, but does little to facilitate the transfer of the information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Repeating a telephone number over and over again until it is dialed is an example of maintenance rehearsal. Elaborative rehearsal is a more active process that involves elaborating on the new incoming information in some way. Elaboration may consist of making associations between the new information and what one already knows, creating a mental image of the new information, recoding information in some way such as taking notes on a chapter while reading it, or creating some mnemonic device that helps memory of the information.Elaborative rehearsal is more effective both for transferring information from short-term memory to long-term memory and for storing information in long-term memory. Many students unknowingly use maintenance rehearsal strategies as their primary strategies for learning. For example, when learning vocabulary words, they write the words on one side of index cards and the definitions of the words on the other side of the cards. They then repeat both over and over again. While the act of writing the words and their definitions on index cards is not in itself useless, study should consist of more than reading the two over and over.
- Multiple Sensory and Multiple Format Instruction – For a number of years, teachers have heard the term multisensory instructional methods – using multiple senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting) – when teaching material to students. The use of multisensory instruction continues to be important for enhancing memory and learning for all children. In addition to multisensory teaching methods, information should also be presented in multiple formats, such as in spatial and linear formats. The computer program Inspiration is useful for this purpose. Inspiration enables students to create and modify concept map webs and other graphic organizers. It also enables students to convert the concept maps they have created into traditional linear outlines. Additionally, it helps students prioritize and rearrange ideas to create essays and reports, as well as to organize information from their class notes or textbook chapters. Thus, it provides students with a number of ways to recode information, and this recoding facilitates long-term memory storage and retrieval.
- Interference – When storage or consolidation of newly learned material is disrupted by prior learning, the phenomenon is referred to as proactive interference. When subsequent learning disrupts the consolidation of information in memory, the phenomenon is called retroactive interference. During the traditional school day, students are presented with new or partially new information approximately every 45 to 60 minutes. This situation produces fertile ground for proactive and retroactive interference to disrupt the storage of knowledge in long-term memory. If proactive interference occurs, the learning of information presented in the first class will interfere with the learning of information presented in the second class. If retroactive interference occurs, the opposite situation will exist – the learning of information in the second class will interfere with the learning of information in the first class.To reduce interference, block scheduling is a good alternative to traditional scheduling. With block scheduling, students have approximately four 90-minute classes each day. If teachers use the 90 minutes wisely (i.e., they do not simply lecture for 90 minutes instead of 45 minutes), they can provide students with opportunities to engage in activities that will actually enhance the consolidation of the new to-be-learned information in long-term memory. Proactive and retroactive interference also provide rationale for curricula that crosses different disciplines.
- Episodic and Semantic Memory Systems – Episodic memory is the memory system that stores information about the events or episodes in our lives. Semantic memory is the memory of knowledge and concepts. Because individual differences exist in the effectiveness of both of these memory systems, teachers should use multiple, varied activities, such as projects, group work and field trips. Parents should also reinforce learning by exposing children to active learning experiences such as trips and tours.
- Perceptual and Conceptual Priming – Perceptual priming refers to the phenomenon that prior perception of an object leads to easier subsequent perception of the same object. Priming occurs on a conceptual dimension as well. Thus, exposing students to concepts via advance organizers such as introducing vocabulary, objectives and/or questions prior to reading or presentation of new information can facilitate the memory and learning of this information.
- Encoding and Retrieval Practice – Encoding practice for school students generally consists of various ways of inputting to-be-learned information. Specific strategies might include reading and re-reading textbook chapters or lecture notes or more effective strategies such as outlining or mind mapping information presented in the book or during class lectures and/or using some mnemonic strategy such as the method of loci or word substitution method to encode information in long-term memory. Retrieval practice consists of engaging in activities that call for the recall or access of stored information in long-term memory. In some cases retrieval practice may actually be more effective for retention of information than encoding practice. Thus, research supports the notion that activities such as reviews of previously presented information (asking students questions in class, practice tests, studying with other students, parents asking questions about the new information, constructing and completing self-tests, etc.) should enhance memory and learning.
- Retrieval Cues and the Encoding Specificity Hypothesis – A retrieval cue is a stimulus that is stored with the new information. Retrieval cues facilitate the recall or access of the stored information. Retrieval cues must be present when learning takes place in order to be effective in facilitating the recall of information. Retrieval cues may take various forms. They may consist of conceptual categories in which the new information is placed. They may also be visual images or other words that the new information is associated with at the time it is stored in long-term memory. Retrieval cues may consist of prior knowledge that has been activated and used as the “hook” on which to hang new knowledge, or it may be experiential in nature, such as completing a project or going on a field trip. When students are provided with the retrieval cues (e.g., multiple choice tests or tests with word banks), it is easier for them to access information that has been stored in long-term memory.
- Mnemonic Methods – Memorization of facts and knowledge through the use of mnemonic methods may provide the scaffolding for higher order thinking. Mnemonic learning might be especially helpful for storage and retrieval of information in long-term memory when students lack a relevant knowledge base about the topic they are studying. Mnemonics may provide visual imagery or verbal elaborations that serve as cues for recalling information that is low in imagery or in meaningfulness. Students can generate their own mnemonic devices or their teachers can provide them with mnemonic materials.
- Metamemory – Students often need help with identifying their specific individual profiles of memory strengths and weaknesses. For example, children who have problems in the school setting often have a relative weakness in auditory short-term memory and a relative strength in visual short-term memory. This knowledge will help enable them to develop and/or understand the need for strategies to deal with situations that place considerable demands on auditory short-term memory.
More Specific Strategies for Enhancing Memory and Reducing Memory Problems
- All students need to understand how their memory works and identify their particular profiles of memory strengths and weaknesses (metamemory).
- Information on any topic should be presented to students in a variety of formats including spatial, linguistic and sequential. For example, if students are presented with an outline, it may be given in the traditional sequential way as well as with using a strategy called “mind mapping”. Mind mapping is a spatial/configurational format while the traditional way in which students are instructed is a linear/sequential format.
- Students who have difficulty with short-term memory registration and/or working memory may need directions repeated to them. As they get older, they will need to write directions down to help them remember them.
- When students have difficulty remembering what they have read, they should be taught to paraphrase (recode information) as they read and to take notes in the margins, underline, highlight and/or make notes on a Post-It. If they made notes on a Post-It, they can place the Post-It on paper and have a summary of what they have read.
- Note taking is an activity that may help students register information in memory as well as to consolidate it. Note taking is a skill that should be taught to all students. Students with handwriting problems may have a difficult time with this task, however, and may need alternative strategies.
- Students who have working memory problems may need to use a calculator to solve multiple step math problems. Also when completing a writing assignment, they should use a “staging” procedure that allows them to focus on one aspect of writing at a time. With this procedure, they would first generate ideas, then organize them, and finally attend to spelling and mechanical and grammatical rules. Students should also write the topic and any key ideas they have down and refer to these when writing their assignment.
- It may be helpful for students to review material right before going to sleep at night. Research has shown that information studied this way is better remembered. Any task that is performed after reviewing and prior to sleeping interferes with consolidation of information in memory.
- All students would benefit from self-testing. They should identify the important information, formulate test questions and then answer them. This is also a useful exercise to perform with a study buddy.
- When students need to remember a series of steps or events, it may be helpful for them to draw diagrams or flow charts of the steps/events.
- Paired associations as well as most other information is remembered better when it is rehearsed using multiple sensory modalities. For example, a student who is trying to remember basic math facts would walk a number line as they were saying the math facts.
- Many students are very adept with computers and there are a number of software programs such as “Reading Blaster” and “Math Blaster” that can help a student retain basic skills.
- Students who have difficulty accessing specific pieces of information should not be required to answer questions “on the spot” during class discussions. They should be given the question at an earlier time and forewarned about when they will be called on. These students should also be given extended time to take tests. They may perform better with open-ended questions and take home an open book test.
- Students with memory problems may perform better when tested on relatively small amounts of material. They may also perform better when test questions require recognition memory rather than recall (e.g., multiple choice and/or matching). Projects are also a good way for some students to demonstrate their knowledge without such demands on memory.
- In order to enhance the likelihood that all students will elaborate on new incoming information, teachers should activate their prior knowledge and make the new information meaningful to them.
- In order to avoid interference of other tasks, tests should be given at the beginning of the class period.
- Students should be taught the necessity of “overlearning” new information. Often they practice only until they are able to perform one error-free repetition of the material.
- Students should be required to identify the particular memory strategies that they will use for specific situations. For example, they should be asked how they plan on remembering all of the states and their capitals in the United States.
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