I was at my CrossFit gym the other day when the song “Shoop” came on and everyone started singing along with it. Who can resist rapping alongside Salt N’ Pepa for some 90’s nostalgia? Even though this song is probably about 30 years old, and most of us probably haven’t been rapping it on a daily basis, the lyrics just came straight to our lips without even having to think. How come, I’m able to remember the lyrics of a 90’s rap song, but struggle to remember all the capitals in the United States?
There are 3 main types of memory that we need to be aware of:
1. Working memory 2. Short-term memory 3. Long-term memory
When working with students or kids, the majority of the struggles come from working memory challenges (especially if the kid has been diagnosed with ADHD or other executive functioning deficits). Working memory is sometimes referred to as the “sticky note of the brain”. It is an executive function and is the ability to hold onto information while attending to another task. It organizes information to make its way into long-term memory. It comes up a lot in writing and math. An example in math might be solving a long-division problem. The student must retrieve a multiplication math fact and while digging in their memory bank, they also need to remain focused on the division problem so they don’t lose their way. An example where it might come up for an adult is at the grocery store. If you made a mental list of the items you need to get, you need to hold onto this information while shopping, running into someone you know, picking out the best produce, and so forth. In this way, working memory is running its wheels.
However, the trouble with working memory is that capacity is limited. In people with ADHD, the lack of attention and inability to organize the information is a common struggle that inhibits learning. How can we aid working memory when it’s suffering?
1. Write everything down. Relying on our memory to hold onto information that we can easily write down is a waste. A. Even if you forget your shopping list, use your phone to quickly generate a new list so you don’t have to keep trying to remember and ultimately forget a few things which we all know is very frustrating. 2. In writing, use graphic organizers to organize thoughts before attempting to write. 3. Always provide a sheet of notes for the students ahead of time so that they can follow along during the lesson 4. Using visualization techniques to help visualize what they need to be doing or need to remember 5. Chunking information – sort of how we learn phone numbers by heart (or used to!) – chunking groups of numbers together in a rhythmic pattern… 555…..5615. A. (You can even close your eyes and visualize where they fall on the typing pad as added support) 6. Providing students with a multi-sensory approach to learning – engaging as many senses as possible for the lesson 7. Make things as interesting and engaging as possible. If the student can find meaning and value in the information, this will help transfer the information to long-term memory.
Short-term memory is just that. It’s responsible for storing things for accessibility in the short term (from seconds to minutes). It has a limited capacity and a limited duration. An example of short-term memory might be someone who introduced themselves to you and a few seconds later, their name has completely escaped you.
The head honcho is long-term memory. Long-term memory is obviously the ultimate goal of where we hope useful and important information will land. For whatever reason, the song “Shoop” made its way into my long-term memory bank (along with the others in the class!) and it was accessible and required little thought to bring it out. Once the information has made its way into long-term memory, it is stable and lasts a long time, even years. Often the problems that arise with long-term memory are with accessibility (retrieval) rather than availability.
Here are some ways to help aid information moving into long-term memory (parallels a lot of the ideas that support working memory):
• Making the information meaningful and interesting. ◦ Even if it’s not meaningful at the surface level, trying to find a way that gives inherent value to the information will help guide it toward long-term memory. ◦ Multiplication facts in and of themselves aren’t meaningful, but if you attach it to the concept that it is fast adding and makes life a lot easier instead of having to add the same digits over and over, it might make it more meaningful to the student.
• Lots of practice and repetition. ◦ As we form new connections in our brain, the myelin builds up around it the more and more we tell our brain we need that information. As the myelin builds up it becomes a stronger connection in our brain.
• Forming connections ◦ Emotional connections have a strong value for long-term memory ◦ Using scenarios is a great way to develop connections
• Multisensory approach to teaching ◦ Using as many senses as possible to get the information into the brain can have a long-lasting effect on memory
• Chunking ◦ As previously mentioned, sorting information into groups helps aid memory.
• Using mnemonics ◦ “Big elephants can always understand smaller elephants” spells BECAUSE. Using mnemonics is a fantastic way to remember something that doesn’t hold much value or meaning.
The next time you find yourself singing along to a song from your childhood, you can thank your long-term memory bank for storing this information for you so you are able to retrieve it when you need to. If you need more specific tips or information, please reach out through my website or email.