How Do We Help Our Students Recall Information?|
by Kim Tracy
"How many times do I have to teach this? Why aren't they getting it when I have repeated the same information a dozen times?" How many times as a teacher have we said this or heard a colleague say this? There is no magical powder that we can sprinkle over our students to help them recall information that we have imparted to them. However, we can utilize fun and simple memory recalling techniques that will help store that knowledge in long-term memory as opposed to short-term memory.
Why can we remember things such as our social security numbers, driver's license numbers, or tag numbers? Those items are meaningful bits of information whereas to a child's brain, much of what we are trying to teach them are random bits of information. Ask a child what he or she learned over the last year and in the top ten items, the child will list a field trip, guest speaker, something extraordinary that happened in the class, to name a few. As an adult when I am driving down the road, I can hear a song that reminds me of a specific event in high school, or of a party I might have attended. Those memories are context memories, or episodic memories. Episodic memories center on something that happens and can be triggered by hearing a certain song, or driving by a certain place. On the other hand, we have memory that is content memory, or semantic memory. Semantic memory is rote memorization and list-oriented material. This memory requires constant rehearsing over and over, such as multiplication tables, and is quite unnatural for the brain. The brain wants to rely on connection and searches for that motivator to trigger memories.
As an educator, how can I reduce the amount of semantic memory and increase episodic memory? Have you ever heard the sentence, My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas? There are several variations, but if that sentence rings a bell in your context memory, then you know the first letter of each of those words are the first letters of the nine planets, in order from the sun. One I recall from countless hours of piano practice was, Every Good Boy Does Fine. The piano keys in order are EGBDF. Those are mnemonic devices used as a memory tool. For fun, let students develop their own mnemonic device with your guidance. Students can come up with great sentence to remember the periodic table, 13 original colonies, state capitals, Greek gods; the possibilities are endless. How do we remember our social security number as mentioned earlier? Those numbers are chunked together. Recalling greater amounts of data by chunking allows the brain to work at a more productive rate. Teaching our students to chunk together information will not only allow the brain to work in a meaningful manner, but will allow the information to be stored in long-term memory.
Another strategy to use with students in embedding knowledge in long-term memory is to make a connection with the students' senses. Tie the knowledge in with something they can hear, see, smell, taste, or feel. Make the information come to life. Your students might not be able to travel to exotic resorts, but you can bring the exotic lands to them in the classroom. Activate their emotions by getting the students involved. Can you remember a time when someone scared you? Or made you cry? Or made you laugh? Invoke those emotions in your students while teaching your lessons. Humor is a great tool to use to spark interest and embed the information in long-term memory.
Other techniques to use for natural memory recall are to use students names in problems, show students how they will benefit from this information, provide choices in the students learning process, make natural connections for the students with the knowledge, role play the information or make up a song, change your location in the room when teaching, and repeat the information in ten minutes, the next day, then the next week. Showing students their ability to store their information in a more productive way will allow for less frustrations when it is time to recall the information. Educators should provide ample time for students to reflect with others then with themselves on the information that was given.
Are the trashcans calling for our textbooks? No, textbooks are a valuable educational tool, but tool is the key word. They should be used to enhance the classroom, not mandate the classroom. Teaching your students natural memory recall techniques will provide less frustration in the classroom for both the student and the teacher. Furthermore, these techniques will leave lasting impressions on our students and give them a valuable tool to use for a lifetime. As an educator you will no longer question if they were sleeping during the Social Studies lesson when you were teaching your heart out. Understanding how the brain stores memories and showing our students how to enhance those memories, educators will begin to explore and venture into more exciting lessons that tuck that knowledge into a lasting cove in the students' brains.
Just what is "Brain Compatible Learning" anyway...?
Brain Compatible Learning is taking the latest research from neuroscientists and developing strategies for learning based upon those findings. Brain Compatible Learning is not a program; it will not guarantee anything for anyone. Brain Compatible Learning is strategies to make the students more productive and the teacher less frustrated. Often educators strive for programs that fit the mold of every student. If it were that easy, educators would have the easiest profession. Everyone has a different body, a unique fingerprint, and different hair follicles. Everyone also has a different brain. Because of the uniqueness of each individual's brain, educators have to decide what is best for each student. Brain Compatible Learning is not a "one size fits all." It is, however, an approach to learning that will change the way educators view their students and will change teaching styles for the better.