Many students with learning challenges struggle with working memory, the ability to retain and retrieve information that has been previously learned or reviewed. Strategies can be developed at school and at home to develop a more efficient and effective memory.
1. Give Directions in Multiple Formats.
Whether you are asking your child to clean his room or a teacher asking a student to follow a multi-step worksheet, it is important to give directions in both visual and verbal formats. For example, at home, keep a whiteboard where directions and photos can be used as reminders. In the classroom, use overheads, PowerPoint presentations, white boards, etc. to display directions.
Additionally, have the student repeat the directions and explain why each step is important. My favorite question to ask students after giving directions? “Tell me what you understood you are suppose to be doing next.”
2. Teach Overlearning of Material.
Overlearning new information can help the memory retain new facts, new vocabulary, etc. Have your child or student practice new material until he or she is able to perform one error-free repetition of the material. Usually several error-free repetitions are needed to solidify the new information.
3. Teach Active Reading Strategies.
To enhance short-term memory retention when reading, there are several strategies that help children and teens. Have them underline, highlight, or jot key words in the margin when reading chapters. Buy a personal copy of the book so it is easy to write in the book as it is being read. To move the information to long term memory, make an outline or use a graphic organizer to consolidate the information.
4. Provide Retrieval Practice.
Research shows that long-term memory is enhanced when students engage in retrieval practice. For example, taking a test is retrieval practice since information has to be recalled from long term memory. For students who struggle with memory issues, practice tests are very helpful.
One helpful method is to have the student create the questions for the practice test and then answer the questions. This method provides about whether the most important information is being retained or if non-important details are being focused on.
5. Review Material Before Going to Sleep. Yep, a quick review of material before going to sleep at night is really helpful. Research has shown that information studied this way is better remembered. Finish all tasks before reviewing the material as these tasks will interfere with the consolidation of new material.
For additional strategies on Working Memory, Island Educational Services has various materials for parents and educators to review. One of our favorite books is Helping Students Remember by Milton Denn; it has various memory exercises to practice.