it's almost time to go home. Please write down your homework
assignments, put your books away, and line up at the door.”
forward – no doubt what students are supposed to do.
So why is Charlie already
lined up at the door when his books are all over his desk? And
where are the materials he needs to take home to do his homework?
You see, all
Charlie remembers is to line up at the door. In our work
with learning disabilities, we are finding that there is a very
strong connection between learning challenges and short-term memory
skills. Adults and children with learning disabilities often
have difficulty recalling information that they have seen, or heard,
While there are three
primary “modalities” or “channels” through which we learn, most
school learning takes place through two of them:
- Auditory – what is
- Visual – what is seen
involves not only how well people see or hear, but also how they
process information that comes through those channels.)
In the classroom, teachers
usually present information by telling and/or
showing something, and the students need to respond in some way
to show that they learned what is being taught.
The short term memory
process involves two parts:
- Taking-in information
quickly and accurately enough to be able to think about it and
hold on to it and
- Being able to respond
Breakdowns in the process
can occur in either part: the taking-in stage or the response
Because student learning
has traditionally been measured based on the kinds of responses
they make, the focus in learning and learning problems has been
on the response part of the process.
For many students, however,
it is the receptive piece, or the taking-in stage,
that is not working efficiently.
The ear and the eye are
critical to efficient school learning. If either
the visual or auditory channel is not working efficiently, the child's
ability to take-in, or receive, information will be hindered. These
individuals will have to work very hard to gain information and
may not always be successful.
Auditory Memory Problems has difficulty following orally
given directions. They tend to get information out of sequence,
or get only part of the information given.
For example, if the teachers
says to “Turn to page thirty-five and do row four,” Jennie, who
has weak auditory memory, may do row five on page thirty-four. Ben,
who also has memory weaknesses, may turn to page thirty-five, but
not know what row or problems to do.
In some classrooms, the
rule is that you “listen the first time and you'll get it; and no
talking to your neighbor.” Perfectly reasonable for most students. Unfortunately,
in a situation like this, Ben is stuck. He won't have a chance
of keeping up with the class.
Most people speak in
phrases of about seven words (Primary teachers often speak in shorter
phrases to match the developmental needs of their young students).
An individual with auditory
memory inefficiencies may be able to take-in and think about only
three or four words at a time. As they listen, they hear three
or four words, instantaneously (and subconsciously) stop listening
so that they can process the information, then begin listening again.
As a result, the listener
is losing a word or two from every phrase. The information
no longer makes sense and becomes confusing, boring, and hard to
pay attention to.
Visual Memory Weaknesses may have great difficulty copying
from the board.
Ted, who is in junior
high school, is trying to be organized and use an assignment sheet. Unfortunately,
he can't get the assignments copied down fast enough
to be finished when the bell rings and get on to his next class. What
he does get written down, doesn't make very much sense when he goes
back to read it at then end of the day.
When Ted copies from
the board, he has to copy one letter at a time. If
it is really quiet in the room, he might
be able to copy up to three symbols (letters) at a time. Other
students in the class can copy the whole sentence or maybe the whole
assignment at one time. It takes Ted much
longer to copy than other students, and he frequently loses his
place and copies the wrong letters.
And, since he is not
taking-in and remembering the total sequence of
letters and words, he will not be able to recognize when he has
made a mistake.
Adults with visual memory
deficits often experience the frustration of making numerous mistakes
if their jobs require them to record numbers or codes of some kind. They
often make mistakes in copying because they shift or leave out symbols
(letters or numbers). They frequently do not recognize their
errors and find that under time pressure, the symptoms usually
Current research clearly
indicates that there is a strong connection between
short term memory and learning.
Because there are most
likely some children in every classroom
who have some inefficiencies in either the auditory or visual memory
channels, it is important for teachers to be aware of.
– Part I
Ways To Make Information Easier To Take-In
as possible, lessons should be taught and instructions should be
given in a multimodality way . When
students are learning by seeing, hearing and doing,
those students who are weak in one modality will have a chance of
picking up the information in their stronger modality.
Students who are missing
some of the information that is being presented orally because they
cannot take-in and process the information fast enough, will be
able to focus, comprehend, and remember better if the oral information
is connected to something that they are seeing and/or doing . For
example, when learning new vocabulary words, have the students act
out the meaning of words. Make detailed mental pictures of
the word meanings and describe the images. Read and write the
words in sentences.
Be aware of those students
that are struggling to copy from the board or a book. The need
to be allowed more time to copy math problems
or assignments and may need to have them checked for accuracy before
proceeding to do the work. Be aware of the purpose
for the task and provide the problems on a paper that these students
can write on when appropriate. For students who simply cannot
write down assignments quickly or accurately enough, provide them
with an already completed list of assignments.
Work with students on
organizational skills. Organization and memory
seem to be strongly related.
- Teach students how
to use an assignment sheet (both for recording assignments and
checking them off when they are completed).
- Give assignments orally
as well as in written form
- Help students develop
routines for collecting the materials they will need for homework,
where to put completed homework, and getting assignments turned
- Make sure that organizational
skills are monitored until they become a habit.
– Part II
"Stretching the Memory" Strategies
is a critical factor in both visual memory and comprehension. Teachers
and parents can help students increase their visual memory
by incorporating visualization into teaching and homework.
Individuals need to learn how to visualize symbols (such as numbers
for math problems) and pictures (for understanding and remembering
stories, history, concepts, etc.).
To stretch the memory
for copying, reading sight words,a nd spelling, put the
"stimulus" (what they are copying from) above the students'
eye level so they have to look up at it.
- Have the student look
at the stimulus and "make a picture of it in their mind."
- Remove the stimulus
and have the students "see" the image in the air.
- Trace it with two
fingers and say what they see.
- Point to the letters
or numbers (in the air) and say them.
- Play with the image.
Make the difficult parts bigger or brighter. Separate the image
and see part of it on one wall and part of it on another. Put
the image back together and say it; or reduce it in size and have
the students picture it on their paper.
- Trace the image.
If the student can only
retain three digits of information (for example three letters or
numbers), begin this process with just three symbols. When he can
easily manipulate the visual image for three digits, try having
him see, remember, and respond to the same information with distractions.
Continue to increase the amount of information the student can retain.
An efficient strategy
for remembering things that are heard is to use your inner
language to hear it again, visualize it, and repeat, write or do
it . For example, when someone gives you directions to
go somewhere, you may find that you repeat the directions to yourself,
picture the streets and the right and left turns, and then say the
directions aloud, write them down, or follow them. These steps can
be applied to almost any task supported by the auditory memory.
Individuals with auditory
or visual memory weaknesses may find it difficult to visualize or
use their inner language (hear something in their mind). Development
of these two critical factors in memory
takes time and patience, but can be practiced as a part of
almost any task. Have fun with this! See
how many ways it can be applied and how it will enhance learning!
For more information about memory assessment and development, try
reading You Don't Have to be Dyslexic by Dr. Joan Smith.
- Parents can have their
children repeat instructions to themselves and picture what they
are going to do before they start following the directions.
- If the child forgets
what he is supposed to do, have him try to hear the instructions
in his head again or look up to remember the pictures he made
(remember holding the "stimulus" above eye level?).
- "Play" with the auditory
image (what the child is hearing in his mind). If he always mixes
the order of the second and third direction, have him "hear" the
second direction very loudly or in a sing-song voice when he repeats
the directions in his mind.
- If the child can follow
two directions but forgets or gets distracted before he gets to
the third, have him imagine a drum roll coming just before the
third command as he repeats the instructions to himself.