Memory

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This page originally authored by Julie Whitehead (2007).
This page has been revised by Carolann Fraenkel (2008), Eveline Yu (2008) and Amber Van Der Mark (2008).


Memory is the retention of, and ability to recall, information, personal experiences, and procedures (skills and habits). Remembering involves at least three important factors:

  • 1. Memories are constructions made in accordance with present needs, desires, influences, etc.
  • 2. Memories are often accompanied by feelings and emotions.
  • 3. Memory usually involves awareness of the memory.

Two models of thinking which are popular with materialists are the behaviourist model (thinking is a set of behaviours) and that of cognitive psychology (the brain is like a computer). Neither can account for the subjective and present-need basis memory [Schacter 1996[1]]

Human memory plays a key role learning. Learning is an active mental process of acquiring, remembering, and using knowledge. It is a result of mental operations/processing with in memory which Atkinson and Shriffin (1968) termed "stage theory". The focus of their model is on how informationis stored in memory. It proposes that information is processed and stored in three stages of memory:

cognitive learning process
  1. Input -Sensory Memory
  2. Working Memory - Short Term Memory
  3. Long Term Memory


Input - Sensory Memory

The learning process begins when an external stimulus activates a sensory memory through:

senses
  • sight
  • sound
  • taste
  • touch
  • smell

Each sense has it’s own register that holds information briefly in the same form in which it is received.
All input received does not necessarily reach the working memory as it only stays in the sensory register for a fraction of a second (less than 1/2 second for vision; about 3 seconds for hearing) and much is quickly replaced with new input.
Because there are many senses that are all working simultaneously it is possible for the registers to be receiving various stimulus from a variety of senses all at the same time.

In Education, the first step in learning is to pay attention as students are unable to process something they do not recognize or perceive. It is absolutely critical that the learner initially process (attend) to the information at this beginning stage in order to transfer it to the next one. Otherwise the information is immediately forgotten. Students can easily be distracted by eye-catching or startling displays in lessons (ex: blowing up a balloon until it pops to conduct a lesson on air pressure in a science class may distract students).

Application in the Classroom

Here are some tips that can be used in the classrooms to get students' attention.

Use Signals
  • Develop a signal to tell students to stop what they are doing such as turning the lights on and off and clapping/raising your hand.
  • Give short but clear instructions BEFORE transitions in lessons.
Make sure the Purpose of the lesson or assignment is clear:
  • Write the agenda, the goal, or the objectives on the board before starting. Ask students to summarize or restate the goals.
Emphasize variety, curiosity, and surprise:
  • Ask "what if" questions to engage students' curiosity about the topic.
  • Move around the classroom, change the volume of voice, include use of senses into the lesson, rearrange the classroom setting.
Ask questions and provide frames for answering:
  • Give students self-editing guides that focus on common mistakes or have them work in pairs to improve each other's work as it is sometimes difficult to pay attention to one's own errors.

If the stimulus that activates a sensory receptor cell is attended to, it is combined with information stored in long-term memory, and brought into working memory. As per the diagram, it is called attention and perception In its broadest sense, neural understanding is at a point that it potentially can empower teachers who utilize what it offers as they attempt to improve learning in the classroom. It is not necessary for teachers to know what areas of the brain are targeted when learning, or even to understand neural pathways (Zamarian, L.et al). What is more beneficial to teachers is an understanding of how the brain works in its entirety.

It is well documented that the brain needs to be well fed (poor nutrition impairs cognitive function) (Levitan p 46). Exercise is important as it increases blood flow to the brain improving executive control, memory and critical thinking (Levitan p 211). The brain needs quality sleep to assimilate new information (Levitan pp 184-185); naps improve memory and concentration (Levitan p 193). Multitasking is very inefficient and has a large metabolic cost (Levitan p 170). Switching tasks is neurally exhausting, causing fatigue and lack of focus (Levitan p 41). Lack of structure and organization is taxing on the brain. Finally, the brain needs time to be allowed to flow creatively to function optimally (Levitan p 204).

Educators know that students are often tired, switch activities frequently, or are bombarded with stimuli in the classroom. As well, many do not exercise enough or eat properly. Students are often multitasking (for example: paying attention to the lesson, deciding what snack to eat at the nutrition break, and attempting to figure out why the girls across the room are giggling). Finally, their new video game is way more interesting than the lesson and they just can't help thinking about it* (Levitan p 186).

Teachers can use basic brain science to structure their physical classrooms, lessons and work periods. They can incorporate activity breaks and down time--to allow thoughts to flow.  Knowing which part of the brain is being activated in a lesson is not important, assisting the brain in functioning optimally is!  


  • One of the most important principles of memory is that we tend to remember best those things we care about most. (Levitan p186)


Resources:

Coch, D. & Ansari, D. (2009). Thinking about mechanisms is crucial to connecting neuroscience and education. Cortex, 45(4), 546-7.

Levitan, Daniel, (2014) The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. Allen Lane, a Penguin Random House Company. Toronto, ON.

Lutz, S., & Huitt, W. (2003). Information processing and memory: Theory and applications. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective. Sixth Edition (Ch. 2 – Neuroscience of Learning). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Zamarian, L., Ischebeck, A., & Delazer, M. (2009). Neuroscience of learning arithmetic: Evidence from brain imaging studies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 33, 909-925.

Working Memory - Short Term Memory

Working memory.gif
Working Memory Also referred to as short term memory. This is the immediate memory of sensory input or the recalling of long term memory

Working memory is created by our paying attention to an external stimulus, an internal thought, or both.
This memory is limited in size to 7 +/- two units of information (Miller, 1956), however more recent research suggests 5+/- 2 at a time.
It is lost within 15-45 seconds. Working memory can be extended in both size and time by rehearsing of input and/or clumping of input into meaningful parts. The brain can also pull information from long term memory to integrate into and build on the current working memory. Referred to as schema, it is when the old memory is compared to, added to, or worked into a fresh memory forming new information.

Getting information into Working Memory

Student will pay attention to/perceive a stimulus if it has an interesting feature or if the stimulus activates a known pattern. Have students call to mind relevant prior learning before they begin working with the new knowledge. Use Advance Organizers.


Retaining Information in Working Memory

Information in working memory can be easily lost, therefore it must be kept activated to be retained. This is possible as long as you focus on the information, but information will be quickly lost as soon as you shift your attention away. When activation fades, forgetting will follow. To keep information activated for longer than 20 seconds, most people must mentally rehearse the information. There are 2 major concepts of rehearsal, maintenance rehearsal (repetition) and elaborative rehearsal (organization).
Maintenance rehearsal requires constant repetition of the information in your mind. As long as the information is repeating, it can be maintained in the working memory indefinitely. This is useful for retaining something you plan to use and then forget (ex. phone numbers).
Elaborative rehearsal requires information to transferred into long-term memory. The information you are trying to remember is connected with information you already know (ex. learning that the colour "orange" has the same name as the fruit - you don't have to repeat the word to keep it in memory, you can just associate it with the name of the fruit "orange").

Short-Term Memory Loss in Children - Causes and Effects

Short-term memory loss in children can be attributed to a variety of causes. Memory loss may be the result a head injury, or it may be the result of a nuerological or developmental disorder. Any of these causes may result in a diagnosed learning disabilty in memory. Quite often, a child's problems with memory can be linked to a descrepancy in their intellectual ability and their language comprehension. If a child cannot understand what is being said, they are highly unlikely to be able to remember it [2].

Another common, and often undiagnosed, cause of memory loss is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is the direct result of a mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy, especially during the early developmental stages. This syndrome can cause severe memory deficits, which in turn affects the child's ability to learn. Since most women do not want to admit to drinking during pregancy, this disorder often goes undiagnosed.

Strategies for Teaching Students with Memory Loss - Edited Fraenkel (2008) - Edited Roach (2009)

There are several strategies teachers can use to improve learning for students with short term memory loss in the classroom. Mary Lee Anderson [3] has some great suggestions on this topic, a few of which are mentioned below.

Chunking

Chunking or the grouping into pieces of data into units. Chunking is a technique that is easy to use and implement in the classroom. Presenting new information in small chunks makes it easier to retain by students.

  • For example when trying to remember a phone number, it is easier to remember the area code, then the first 3 numbers and then the last 4 instead of remembering the number as a whole. Having a correlation between the chunks also improves retention
Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonicsare often acronyms or rhymes that help students to remember abstract facts.

  • For example, in music using FACE to remember the names of the spaces on the staff. Or rhymes such as "Thirty days has September, April, June and November" to remember how many days are in a month.
Repetition or
Rote Learning

Repetition or rote learningis the technique used when we repeat information orally or in written form to help us remember it.

  • For example repeating a phone number several times while we wait to use the phone, or writing spelling words several times.



Long Term Memory

Storage.gif
Long term memory is the collection of memories that have been stored permanently. Elaboration and coding are the two processes that move information into long-term memory. Theoretically there is no limit to the capacity of long term memory. Long term memory is the result of rehearsing and/or clumping of working memory. The more you are exposed to a particular stimulus the easier it will be to recall and remember.

A long term memory may be retrieved just after it has been stored, or many years later. Storage of long term memory is very speculative. Accessing memories is triggered by many different mechanisms. Long term memory is considered to be partitioned into:

  • episodic- information associated with particular events, times and places,
  • semantic- information involving general knowledge and concepts,
  • declarative- remembering new events and experiences and
  • procedural - for skill, procedural and language learning have been explored.



Applications in the Classroom

To encourage student engagement and to lead them to a higher level of initial learning (such as frequent reviews and tests, elaborated feedback, high standards, mastery learning, and active involvement in learning projects), some teaching strategies may be useful to associate the initial learning with longer retention (Woolfolk, et al. 2000).

Help students make connections between new and old information
  • Review: help students think about information that will be needed to learn the new material.
    • example: Who can tell us the characteristics of a mammal? Now, what is a tiger? Does it have fur? Is a lion a mammal? What kind of characteristics did we talk about yesterday? Today, we are going to learn about the characteristics of reptiles.
  • Outline or Diagram: show students how new information fit with the framework they have been developing.
  • Give assignments that specifically asks students to recall previous information learned to assist the use of new information.
Provide for repetition and review of information
  • Begin class with a quick review of previous lessons, homework, or assignments.
  • Give students frequent short tests and quizzes.
  • Incorporate games with lots of repetition of the previously learned information so students can practice and even test each other.
Present material in a clear, organized way
  • Have an agenda on the board or on an overhead so students can follow easily to how the class/lesson will be organized (and the teacher can use it as a guide as well when teaching).
  • Summarize the lesson, or have students summarize the lesson, during class and at the end of class.
Focus on meaning, not memorization


  • When teaching new vocabulary, help students associate the new word to a related word they already understand.
    • Discuss the stems or origins of the word (from Latin, French, etc.)
    • In math, have students see meaning of the equations by using building blocks or similar objects to represent the equations.


In its broadest sense, neural understanding is at a point that it potentially can empower teachers who utilize what it offers as they attempt to improve learning in the classroom. It is not necessary for teachers to know what areas of the brain are targeted when learning, or even to understand neural pathways (Zamarian, L.et al). What is more beneficial to teachers is an understanding of how the brain works in its entirety.

It is well documented that the brain needs to be well fed (poor nutrition impairs cognitive function) (Levitan p 46). Exercise is important as it increases blood flow to the brain improving executive control, memory and critical thinking (Levitan p 211). The brain needs quality sleep to assimilate new information (Levitan pp 184-185); naps improve memory and concentration (Levitan p 193). Multitasking is very inefficient and has a large metabolic cost (Levitan p 170). Switching tasks is neurally exhausting, causing fatigue and lack of focus (Levitan p 41). Lack of structure and organization is taxing on the brain. Finally, the brain needs time to be allowed to flow creatively to function optimally (Levitan p 204).

Educators know that students are often tired, switch activities frequently, or are bombarded with stimuli in the classroom. As well, many do not exercise enough or eat properly. Students are often multitasking (for example: paying attention to the lesson, deciding what snack to eat at the nutrition break, and attempting to figure out why the girls across the room are giggling). Finally, their new video game is way more interesting than the lesson and they just can't help thinking about it* (Levitan p 186).

Teachers can use basic brain science to structure their physical classrooms, lessons and work periods. They can incorporate activity breaks and down time--to allow thoughts to flow.  Knowing which part of the brain is being activated in a lesson is not important, assisting the brain in functioning optimally is!  


  • One of the most important principles of memory is that we tend to remember best those things we care about most. (Levitan p186)


Resources:

Coch, D. & Ansari, D. (2009). Thinking about mechanisms is crucial to connecting neuroscience and education. Cortex, 45(4), 546-7.

Levitan, Daniel, (2014) The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. Allen Lane, a Penguin Random House Company. Toronto, ON.

Lutz, S., & Huitt, W. (2003). Information processing and memory: Theory and applications. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective. Sixth Edition (Ch. 2 – Neuroscience of Learning). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Zamarian, L., Ischebeck, A., & Delazer, M. (2009). Neuroscience of learning arithmetic: Evidence from brain imaging studies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 33, 909-925.

Links

Related sites on instruction: Robert Gagne's Nine Learning Events: Instructional Design for Dummies


Stop Motion

A short introduction of Sensory and Short-Term memory explained through Mr. Potato Head in a Stop Motion format

Memory and Distraction in the Classroom in Stop Motion

Information Processing - Memory

Further Reading

  • Instant Replay - Building Long-term Memory
  • Review of Daniel Schacter's Searching for Memory
  • Streetmap of the Mind
  • Hidden Memories: Fact or Fantasy? by Barry L. Beyerstein and James R.P. Ogloff
  • Changing History: Doctored Photographs Affect Memory for Past Public Events. (2007). Dario L.M. Sacchi et al. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 21: 1005-1022.

References

  • Atkinson, R. C. & Shiffrin, R.M. (1968): Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes - In K.W. Spence & J.T. Spence (Eds.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Vol 2. London: Academic Press.
  • Spence & J Spence (Eds.). The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 2). New York: Academic Press.
  • Schunk, D. H (2004). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective (pp. 136-189; ch 4-information Processing). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.
  • Huitt, 1999., The stage approach pp. http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/coless.html; downloaded Sept. 29th 2006.
  • Tulving, E. (1972). Episodic and semantic memory. In E. Tulving & W. Donaldson (Eds.), Organization of memory, (pp. 381-403). New York: Academic Press.
  • Tulving, E. (1983). Elements of Episodic Memory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • http://www.helium.com/items/91971-helping-children-with-memory-related-learning-disabilities
  • http://www.helium.com/items/1179482-helping-children-with-memory-related-learning-disabilities
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_memory
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetal_alcohol_syndrome
  • Woolfolk, Anita E., Winne, Philip H., Perry, Nancy E. (2000). Educational psychology, The information processing model of memory (pp. 228-255). Scarborough, Ontario: Allyn and Bacon Canada.