Director of Learning Diversity Shares Memorable Insights into Memorization

January 11, 2022 / Perspectives in Education/All News
Beth Murray, Director of Learning Diversity

In this blog post, Director of Learning Diversity Beth Murray delves into strategies to maximize your ability to remember what matters.

Memory is likely one of the most important but misunderstood functions of the brain. To understand memory and its strengths and weaknesses, you need to understand the variety of types and the influence the brain’s natural processes have on learning.  

You may have a child who remembers everything about a vacation you took years ago, from the smell of the perfume Aunt Betty wore to all the food consumed over a week, but this same child may not be able to remember spelling words or math facts. This doesn’t mean they have a poor memory. Instead, it indicates that they are likely not maximizing their memory by using the system which works best for them. 

Brain Basics 

  • The brain is wired for 7 – anything over 7, and the brain gets muddled
  • The brain loves color- attaches easily
  • The brain loves movement through spaces – including touch
  • The brain is mostly water – it needs hydration and doesn’t learn well dehydrated
  • The brain needs protein to function optimally – what are you having for breakfast? 
  • The brain needs consolidation – time to rest and remember, then retrieve

Types of Memory

Short term:  This is located in the front of your brain, used for temporary storage. This is the kind you use for a Friday spelling test and will likely wipe away unless your brain feels it is important enough to transfer to long-term memory.

Long-term: This is located in the back of your brain and is stored for a long time. It needs to be organized for easy retrieval. This is the memory used for an exam, or previous math skills learned to move forward in more complex problems. 

Semantic: This is “school memory,” composed of facts to be learned. It is the type you learn in class to take a test comprised of new information.  

Episodic: This is one of the most robust memory systems. It can be compared to a brain field trip. Episodic memory pulls information from your senses and creates a personal connection that retains information. 

Active Working Memory: This is the multi-tasking memory. It is the ability to hold parts of a task together in your mind while doing another job. You can compare it to a computer with many windows open at one time. This memory is needed for many things in school, from writing an essay (keeping the information organized, punctuated, and spelled correctly) to working on a complex math problem holding math facts in memory while sequencing the problem through the steps. 

Learning techniques to help maximize your child’s memory will enable the memory systems to unite and help your child learn faster and retain information longer.  

Creative Strategies for Memorization

Pegs of the Body

This strategy can be used to learn a list of items in an order or a group:  

State an adjective and create a physical motion that directs attention to the “peg” for easy retrieval. For example, touch the first peg and say the first item in the list you are memorizing, then touch the second peg and say the second item you are working on remembering, etc.

DIY Interactive Flashcards 

Remember that 7 is the best number of items to memorize! Anything over that will become muddled, so try to divide information into small groups close to that number when studying in one sitting. Interactive flashcards are great for vocabulary, people, places, events, dates, scientific formulas, etc.

Supplies Needed: white paper (cut into 1/4s and folded in half to make a tent), colored pencils, and pens

  1. On one side of the flashcard, write a word in large letters using a dark color
  2. Using pictures and acronyms, depict the definition of the word using different colors
  3. On back of the card, make a list of definitions using only one or two words
  4. Set up your tents on a tabletop and quiz yourself or a partner using either side of the cards

For example, to learn the parts of speech, color code each word to refer to a different part of speech:

  • Nouns = Yellow
  • Verb = Orange
  • Adjective = Blue
  • Adverb = Purple

Map it Out: Visualize the Information

Some children need a flow chart or a visual map to remember information. This is great for reading comprehension, science, or history. Students learn how to connect events or information and turn it into a picture. Divide a poster into quadrants and draw out data into a diagram. They can go back and look at the sign and call questions out while they use the visual. Once you think they have it, take the poster away and ask questions. They will remember the pictures. Be sure and use different colors in each quadrant of the poster.  

Create & Take Practice Tests

Practice the way your child is going to be tested. Create or have your child create a practice test from notes. Have them answer it and share it with a friend. Break it down, so they only do one section at a time. Take tests over and over until it is in memory. REMEMBER: Just because you know it doesn’t mean they do!! Patience!

Study in Different Spaces

Study for each subject in a different room or part of a room. Your brain connects to space. For example, when studying for science, go to a place that has anchors on the wall. If your child is trying to remember a sequence – use a picture on the wall to visualize the sequence. Brains need placement.

If you are studying for several tests in a day, move around the room or space in the house to learn that particular subject. Doing all studying in one place does not maximize the brain’s retrieval. MOVE to a new spot for each subject. 

Take Breaks to Consolidate Information

After 20 minutes of sitting, blood pools in your seat and feet. Take a short break, and make sure you have plenty of snacks and water available. Walk around for a few minutes, or do anything that gets the oxygen going again!  

Go to bed on an empty stomach of visual input!! Do not allow your child to watch TV or play video games after studying. Studying should be the last thing they do before you sleep (other than saying prayers!). In the morning, help your children look at the information they studied again on the way to school. This will move the stored data back to the front of the brain for easy retrieval during the school day.  

Learn from your child’s test scores. If one method works, stick to it. If it doesn’t, try a new one. Try, try again until you find the method that works the fastest and helps your child learn the information. Remember this: You will never be held as accountable for being good at everything as you are when you are in high school. We all choose careers in our areas of strength. While your child is in school, they are developing the ability to learn – and that ability will be essential no matter what career they choose!