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I went to a seminar once, and as usual, I forgot almost everything that was said on the day, except for one snippet: “As teachers, we work with making memories every day.  Yet, very few teachers would be able to tell you how memories are made or retained, and how memory works.  Doesn’t that seem odd to you as an educator?” 

It is ironic that the one bit I remember word for word, is about remembering!  Come to think of it, I also recall that the food was really nice, that the room was stuffy and noisy, and that I was torn between attending the lecture and buying a new pair of winter boots, which all link to the fact that memories are also made when they are tied with emotions and feelings

Although I remember that I work with trying to make memories every day, I have not made an in depth study of it (yet).  I have found out a few things though, and since we also work with meta-cognition in our classrooms, I started putting these things up on posters in the classroom, and I refer to these things often when I teach.  One such poster has to do with “Why do we forget?”  There are a few major reasons for forgetting, which are mentioned in most articles:

  1. We did not pay enough attention in the first place.  This is important for students to know:  If you want to be able to recall something later, you need to pay close attention the first time it is explained to you.
  2. We did not encode the information either in the short term memory, or the long term memory.  Students need to know that they have to at least have the facts stored in their short term memory when they leave the classroom, and that it can more easily be placed into their long term memory if they spend a few minutes later in the day to revise those facts again.  It implies that students need to use the time they have in class, to do the tasks and endeavour to store some of that information in their short term memory, at least.
  3. We also forget due to a lack of a retrieval cue. This is important for teachers as well: We need to ensure we use some trigger words or actions or cues, that kids will associate with the memory they formed previously.  For Mathematics, I interpret this as students knowing the Mathematical language and concepts, so that they would associate certain actions with certain symbols.  If they read “factorise”, this is the cue for retrieving the whole process (recipe) of factorising.  If they read “multiply” (or see the symbol for multiplication), this is the retrieval cue for applying a certain process and way of thinking…etc.  If we can link this cue to something kids feel strongly about (emotional connection) or some kind of action or song, it creates a much stronger link between the cue and the actual memory associated with it.  We need to be aware that we need to give kids the cues we will use to retrieve that specific memory, while we are trying to set the memory.  Kids and teachers need to be aware that there will be cues used the next day to retrieve the memory.  It may not go astray to even mention to the students: “Tomorrow, when I say pi, I would like you to remember 3.14” (or something along those lines where the memory and the cue is linked explicitly.)
  4. Repetition forms stronger memories.  This means that students need to practice new skills and concepts regularly, and that TIME ON TASK is vital for forming stronger memories and links.
  5. Unless the memory is very strongly linked to an emotional experience, or if memories are not retrieved and used regularly, they may be replaced by new memoriesRevision is important to place memories in the long term memory bank, and to keep them there.

After all, it is a great honour to be working with making memories…we need to ensure the memories kids make in the classrooms, are worth retrieving (and available for retrieval) in situations outside of the classroom.

Double click on the image below, and then zoom in, to see a snapshot of the different aspects of memory… (the mindmap below was created using the Web tool http://www.bubbl.us/