When students have trouble understanding something they have read, we may quickly identify the problem as a comprehension issue. However, it can be difficult to tell whether comprehension or memory or retrieval is really at the root of this problem. Comprehension means understanding the message of the text, memory refers to our ability to hold on to information in our mind – both the literal words and the message they convey; and retrieval means our ability to recall information from memory. All three are interconnected.
Working on retrieval skills may help students with reading comprehension challenges. Recall games encourage a student to concentrate on listening and identifying specific text. While this is not the same as comprehension, it is vital because it helps them improve underlying skills of attentiveness needed for comprehension.
Here is a fun example of a word recall game. Tell your child that you are going to tell him a story and that you want him to identify 3 items in the story that you can hold in your hand. Then proceed to tell a short story. For example,
“I rode my bike to the store to buy groceries for a special meal. On the way I ran over a nail and got a flat-tire. I was so close to the store, I decided to walk the rest of the way on foot. Unfortunately, I stepped in some melted gum. It was so sticky that I couldn’t lift my foot. So, I took off my sneaker and kept walking. In the store I bought an apple and some walnuts. On the way home it started raining. Can you believe that? My left foot was soaked.”
Now remind the listener to name 3 things they heard which can be held in their hands. Too easy? Make them remember more items, change the criteria, complicate the story with a long diversion. Of course, you have to play too!
This is a great game for car rides, doctor offices, and rainy days. Try it out and let me know how it goes.
Several weeks ago I led a workshop for homeschool parents of students with learning challenges. I focused on creative approaches to memory, including the use of stories to cement facts to long-term memory. I shared an example from Josh Foer’s book, Moonwalking with Einstein, in which he uses a story to remember a name – Edward Bedford. Here’s the story.
Edward is standing on a mattress, paddling like crazy with a paddle in order to ford across the river. He’s motivated to paddle quickly because, well, he’s on a mattress, which is not such a great floatation device. To make matters worse Edward Scissorhand is standing beside him slashing away at the mattress. Cotton ticking flies into the air then falls like snow into the water.
Why it works: The story is unique, and extraordinary. Important story elements are logically linked to the first and last name. Not everything about the story need be logical, just the links to the subject.
I had assigned each workshop participant to bring in a name they wanted to remember. After hearing the story of Edward Bedford, they proceeded to create their own stories. It worked quickly and very effectively.
This is a great memory strategy for anyone who is trying to add tools to their study skills tool kit.
Try it out with your family as a family game. With practice you will find that you can create quick stories for all sorts of information.
As promised, although a bit late, here is my follow up blog on cool ways to stimulate brain growth. A week ago I shared information about lumosity.com . This week’s blog offers a similar site to explore with a free demo.
The site is www.soakyourhead.com and the game to try out is called Dual n-Back. Here is what one graduate student from the University of Michigan’s Psychology Department had to say related to the game.
“ It involves keeping track of auditorally presented letters and spatial locations simultaneously, and has been shown to increase fluid intelligence.”
The game is designed to help improve working memory and attention while decreasing impulsive behavior.
It is a very challenging game at first, but according to researchers who evaluated it, most people improve over time. Try it out and write back with a comment about the game.
How do we improve memory? Here is a strategy I use with students. It is fun and also serves as a great writing activity. Tell a story in which treasure items must be stored safely and secretly for the future. In order to remember the location of the treasure items, create a word out of the first letter of each hiding place. Make sure the word – called an acronym – is an important part of this excellent adventure story. For example, your acronym might be CLIFF, while the hiding places may include a cave, a lighthouse, an island, a fort and a fish – yes, a fish. Most of the hiding places can easily be grouped together as, “things you might find near a cliff on a coast”. Maintaining a consistent theme with your hiding places and logical associations with the acronym will definitely improve recall.
Now that you have modeled this strategy, ask your student to tell the story. Later, ask them to create a story of their own which uses the same memory strategy to find their hidden treasure items. Finally, have them write or type the story.
One of the nifty advantages of a favored story is that it itches to be told and retold. Kind of makes it hard to forget.
Below is a link to a chapter from a book on memory by Mel Levine. I highly recommend it as readable and thorough. Check it out and let me know if it is helpful.