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.
It appears to be generally accepted that as infants, we absorb vast amounts of stimuli and information, with our brains far more active than they are as adults. Furthermore, it is a common belief that as we grow up our brains begin to edit our perceptual experiences. This appears to be associated with the development of individual identity and the need to concentrate on prioritized tasks. Without this eliminative ability, we would all be overwhelmed by our daily experiences.
Let us assume that the ability to absorb all personal experience and remember it remains with us, but that the brain’s task of editing continues as well. How could a belief in such juxtaposed and fantastic theories help us as lifelong learners?
If we believe that people can absorb all experience and remember it, then we may form a stronger belief in our personal ability to grow in this direction. If we also believe that our brains have worked most of our lives to narrow our awareness and memory – largely for our own sanity – then we may develop an even stronger inspiration for personal growth.
Essentially, instead of asking ourselves, “what mental workout must I do to improve my ability to take in and remember more information?” we now ask, “how do I get my brain editor to relax, so that I may take in more information and remember it?” This question may be much more inviting than one which requires a belief in mental weight-lifting in order to achieve the same goal.
Let me know what you think. Share your own theories.