Friday, June 22, 2012

Memory and Reading

Long-Term Memory
Before I begin the next series on 'Visualising and Comprehending'  we will need to consider the function of long-term memory.

In the last series on working memory I discussed issues related to reading performance. Obviously success in reading depends on using working memory efficiently. It also depends very much on long -term memory. Long-term memory is where information is stored permanently. However, we do not store everything that enters consciousness. We have an efficient screening function in working memory that sifts and moves relevant information into long-term memory storage. 

I have reviewed two articles from Scientific America to explore the functioning this very important permanent store (some highlights have been captured below - go to the link to see the full articles).

Why Is Memory So Good and So Bad?

Explaining the memory paradox  | May 29, 2012  Scientific America

Do you remember what you ate for dinner last Friday evening? Chances are, this will be quite difficult, but not impossible. "But for at least a short while after your meal, you knew exactly what you ate, and could easily remember what was on your plate in great detail. What happened to your memory between then and now? Did it slowly fade away? Or did it vanish, all at once?"

"For many reasons, then, it would be very useful to understand how visual memory facilitates these mental operations, as well as constrains our ability to perform them. Yet although these big questions have long been debated, we are only now beginning to answer them."
"Memories like what you had for dinner are stored in visual short-term memory—particularly, in a kind of short-term memory often called “visual working memory.” Visual working memory is where visual images are temporarily stored while your mind works away at other tasks—like a whiteboard on which things are briefly written and then wiped away. We rely on visual working memory when remembering things over brief intervals, such as when copying lecture notes to a notebook. Without visual memory, we wouldn’t be able to store—and later retrieve—anything we see."
"Researchers at MIT and Harvard found that, if a memory can survive long enough to make it into what is called “visual long-term memory,” then it doesn’t have to be wiped out at all. 
In a recent review, researchers at Harvard and MIT argue that the critical factor is how meaningful the remembered images are—whether the content of the images you see connects to pre-existing knowledge about them. "

If we remember more, can we read deeper–and create better? Part I. June 1, 2012  Scientific America

This article considers the role of meaning, long-term memory and context.

If you visualize elements as vividly as possible in a familiar space that you picture in your mind you should be able to recall them by walking through that space and looking at the images of objects that you have placed there. The objects are  physical embodiments of ideas we were to memorise. This is the loci mnemonic memory technique that encapsulates the powerful effect that visualising has on the encoding and retrieval of information (follow the link to read more about this important took and the relationship to reading).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Downtime and Memory

People learn significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued. 

The brain takes advantage of the times that we shovel things into it and when we’re paying attention to the outside world. It also takes advantage of downtime. This could  be an important consideration in education, by allowing learners to have downtime to allow them to consolidate their learning in a reflective head space.

Modern technology tends to make windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive but is it entirely helpful? Researchers, however, highlight an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are neglecting downtime that should enable them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas. Researchers have also found that when rats have a new experience, such as exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. However, when these rats take a break from their exploration  they  seem to process those patterns in a way that creates a persistent memory of the experience.  It would be surprising if a lack of downtime didn't affect learning in people in a similar way.

To find out more go to an interesting article on downtime.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Working Memory - Part 11 - Reflection

Reflecting is the act of thinking about what has been learned. It also involves  forming an opinion, making judgements, and predicting outcomes. 

In a reading activity it takes place in the after reading phase and at the metacognitive thinking level. At this level the reader is concerned about what and how he/she is learning. It is essentially concerned with the thinking and learning process. It follows on from goal setting in the before reading phase and monitoring thinking and comprehension strategies used in the during reading phase. 

While reflecting the learner will make judgements about how well he/she has been reading. It assesses whether or not the reading goals have been achieved. It considers how those goals were/were not achieved and how it could be improved in the future. This is an executive function of working memory and it enables the learner to make the necessary adjustments to reading skills that lead to self-regulation and reading independence.

How  children can be encouraged to reflect:

  1. Encourage them to think about what they have learned about the content.
  2. Encourage children to think about how they read and what they can do to improve comprehension.
  3. Encourage discussion by focusing on making an opinion, making judgements about character roles, and predicting future story scenarios.
  4. Model the types of questions that the children should ask.
  5. Encourage children to generate their own questions. 
  6. Provide question cues such as, "What did I think what ......?"
  7. Encourage self-praise by making statements such as, "I did well when I......"
  8. Encourage children to think about how their new knowledge can be shared or put to use. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Working Memory-Part-10 Reorganising

Reorganising happens during the after reading phase. It  involves reframing the recalled information in a way that is more meaningful and connected to one's life experience.

It may involve summarising a story or article or visualising the content. This process happens at a conceptual level whereby the reader integrates the new knowledge with the old knowledge. In other words the reader creates new meanings and these meanings are reorganised and restored into long-term memory.

What should you do to assist?

  1. Ask the reader to visualise the important scenes in the story.
  2. Ask the reader to describe the scenes and to retell the story.
  3. Retell the story from the main character's (or another character's) perspective.
  4. Have the child say what he/she would have done in the same situation.
  5. Have the child form an opinion about the actions of the characters.
  6. Ask, "What do you think is a moral for the story?"
  7. What are the lessions that can be learned from the story?"
  8. Ask, "Why do you think that ..... did.......?"
  9. Ask the reader to make up a question about the story.
  10. Ask, "Have you ever been in a similar situation?"

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Working Memory - Part 9 - Reviewing

The first process in the 'after the reading phase' is  reviewing at the factual level of thinking.  This is an important function in the thinking process as it requires the learner to reorganise and revisit the information in some logical way. It  is like a bird's eye view of the events of a story or article. It reflects the overall structure of the text.

How can we help students in the reviewing process?

  1. Ask, what were the facts, events, or important parts of the passage?
  2. Draw a cartoon of the events of the story.
  3. Order the scenes in their correct order.
  4. Draw a diagram or make an info graphic of the ideas from the article.
  5. Make a timeline of events or a flow chart of the ideas in the article.