Download PDF I dont know how long my short term memory is...: Strategies for People With Brains

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There is no one correct way. This article presents a variety of strategy suggestions. We need to pay attention to our student's reactions to the strategies and help each child select and use strategies that are comfortable and most closely match his or her preferred learning style.

This toolbox contains the three key strategies to help memory: repetition , imagery , and patterns RIP. Many students believe that just reading something is enough. Often, that is not sufficient. We remember something best when it is organized and rehearsed. Imagine if we as teachers, therapists, and parents reinforced students for their use of concrete strategies in organizing their information. Pediatrician, Dr.

Mel Levine suggests: I thought that before a test, kids ought to be asked to hand in a memory plan. The same way a pilot would hand in a flight plan. In other words, how are you going to go about getting stuff into and out of your memory? And students ought to be graded on the plan as much as they are on their test Levine and Meltzer, The following two strategies are general reminders to encourage students to use a process when working to remember information. Each strategy is represented by a word or phrase wherein each letter represents one of the steps.

Select the strategy you feel is appropriate for your students. Teach each step, one at a time. Be sure they understand each step and its meaning before moving on to the next. Then show the steps in sequence and explain how to use the mnemonic or keyword to help recall the steps. An important criterion to keep in mind is, "don't pack and stack.

Provide each student with time to process and consolidate one thing before moving on. Several years ago, a FarSide cartoon was published showing a classroom situation. The student raised his hand and asked to be excused because his "brain was full. Too many strategies at once may confuse the student rather than help. In figure 2, a child is jumping on a small trampoline, reviewing associations. He is also tossing the ball with each item. Repetition and rehearsal of information enhance a process called consolidation, the process by which memories are moved from temporary storage in the hippocampus a small structure within the brain to more permanent storage in the cortex the outer layer of the brain Richards, , p.

Multiple repetitions of the information provides rehearsal, but doing so may bore students. When bored, the brain can go into a pattern similar to the "screen saver" mode on your computer monitor. The student may not pay attention to what he is repeating. Therefore, using strategies with humor, movement, songs, and other forms of novelty are critical in enhancing the value of the repetition.

As an example, consider the task of learning five state capitals. Following are several different activities to use in memorizing the associations. Richards, , p. There are many kinds of imagery, and all forms are valuable to the memory process. When thinking about imagery, most people think of the visual image.

However, images can also be a motor image, sometimes called "muscle memory," or an auditory image. A visual picture can cue a strategy or represent a concept. For example, suppose your student needs to remember that our First Amendment rights are free speech, religion, the press, and the right of assembly.

Since it is the First Amendment and one rhymes with sun , use a sun as a visual cue. Draw a happy sun with legs and arms, singing. Place the word RAPS in a talk bubble, as shown in figure 3. Because brains remember information that forms a memorable pattern, visual organizers are extremely useful.

There are many different types of visual organizers. Some are descriptive: the main idea of a chapter section is placed in the center. Lines extend, with each representing a major concept. The representations may use pictures, icons, or keywords. The example organizer below was developed in preplanning a paragraph on dogs Richards, , p.

There are many uses for visual organizers. They can emphasize cause-and-effect, the sequence of an event or episode, or create a summary of what was read. Visual organizers are also useful in planning for a paragraph or report and in studying for a test. Categorization is a critical skill for students because it forms the basis for critical thinking and inferential comprehension when reading. A Venn diagram is a valuable organizer that visually emphasizes comparisons and contrasts.

A Venn diagram comparing characteristics of mammals and reptiles was presented in the article The Writing Road. Other uses for Venn diagrams include comparing two characters in a story or two different events in history. Two overlapping circles are drawn and characteristics of one item or event are listed in the left side of the circle if they differ from the other item. The characteristics of the second item are listed in the right side of the circle if they differ from the first item. Characteristics that are common to both items are placed in the middle.

Figure five shows an example of a Venn diagram that comparing and contrasting volcanoes to revolutions. This information was assembled by having students brainstorm what they knew about each item. Initially, it may appear that the concepts of a volcano and a revolution are different. Actually, there are many similarities. Suppose your student has studied volcanoes and understands the characteristics. She may then compare this knowledge to characteristics of a revolution. Doing so forms a pattern comparing new ideas to ideas already learned. Thus, your student elaborates her understanding of each concept as she connects knowledge about volcanoes to another eruption, a revolution Richards, , p.

To understand a motor image, think about struggling to remember a phone number. You may move your fingers in the pattern of the phone number as if dialing it and find that this helps you recall the number. Repetition and practice trigger neurons brain cells. When a set of neurons fire together, they develop a "habit" of firing together again. Habits as well as academic learning occur this way. Use multisensory strategies so your child simultaneously sees, hears, and touches or moves with the information.

Did you ride a bicycle when younger? Did you learn to ride your bicycle by reading a book about it? No, you needed to actually practice riding. With enough repetition, you retained a motor image of the procedure. Would you be able to now get on a bicycle and ride with relative ease? Most people will answer yes to this question.

Why is that? Our muscles remember information or procedures that were practiced many times. Muscle memory is a powerful learning tool! As an example, students may use motor images of the direction of the letters b and d by using a hand pattern or "Fonzie fists" named after the character Fonzie in "Happy Days". Have your child hold his hands facing his body and make a fist with each thumb sticking straight up figure 6. The left-hand is similar to a b and the right hand is similar to d. Your child can recall the sequence by saying the alphabet " a , b , c , d " Richards, , p.

Practicing letter form or spelling words is enhanced by using air writing, another technique to create a motor image for the student Richards, , p. Air writing figure 7 involves writing the letters in the air creating a motor image while also imagining seeing the letters creating a visual image. The student should simultaneously say the letter as she writes it in the air creating an auditory image. Other motor image examples for spelling words are also easy to incorporate into a homework session: fist tapping and arm tapping. In fisting, the student taps each syllable of the word to be spelled using the side of her fists.

She then spells the word syllable by syllable, this time tapping their fist to each sound within the syllable as she spells it. In arm tapping, the student follows the same procedure of first identifying each syllable and then identifying every sound within each syllable. This time the student uses two fingers of one hand to tap on the forearm of the other hand.

These simple strategies involve muscle memory while also helping the student proceed systematically. These two aspects create a very powerful memory enhancer. Many math strategies for finger calculation, especially multiplication, take advantage of motor images or muscle memory. The brain seeks meaning through patterns. As we receive information from our senses, we need prior knowledge and a system for organizing the information so we may assign meaning to it.

When information comes in, our brain searches around for existing knowledge. If the new information is something that activates a previously used neural network, then there's a match. This is referred to as pattern recognition and is of tremendous value in enhancing memory. The strategies discussed above all help create patterns. Additionally, the use of music and rhyming creates a pattern or organization for the information. Using music to review concepts can be very powerful.

Music also supports relaxation, creativity, and motivation. Students can create their own songs or raps, or they may use existing songs to review concepts and facts. It is also fun to change the words to a common song. In the example below, the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is used to sing about the importance of paying attention to a period at the end of a sentence Richards, , p. Songs that reinforce academic concepts are also available commercially, such as Best of Schoolhouse Rock.

Humor and silliness are valuable to use along with other strategies because our brains prefer to remember unusual information. A short sentence or a sequence of letters can be used to aid in the memory, with or without pictures or actual items. Remember, it is critical that your student understands and knows the information prior to using these mnemonics, the purpose of which is to serve as a trigger to bring up information. Following are examples of useful mnemonics.

The main steps in long division: d ivide, m ultiply, s ubtract, b ring down. The main steps in long division: d ivide, m ultiply, s ubtract, c ompare, b ring down. The colors of the rainbow in order: r ed, o range, y ellow, g reen, b lue, i ndigo, v iolet. The sequence of directions, going clockwise: N orth, E ast, S outh, W est. Henry Winkler has written several books describing his experiences as a student. The books are available on audio tape, and students who struggle gain much by listening to the tapes.

9 weird ways you can improve your short-term memory

Hearing someone else, especially a famous person, describe frustrations with learning helps to validate students' own experiences. The books also describe lead character Hank Zipzer's many strengths and gifts. Students who struggle with reading benefit much more from listening to books such as this than from reading them. Hank is in the process of trying to write an essay for class. He complains,. Hank doesn't need to hit his head. For example, a nurse in the hospital asked a head-injured patient to get up and take a shower and get breakfast.

The patient said that he would, but the nurse came back 30 minutes later and the patient was still sitting in bed. When the nurse asked him why he didn't get up and take a shower, he said that the nurse never told him.

So immediate memory is something you quickly "spit back", but the problem rests more with short-term memory. For example, someone may tell you to go to the store and get some milk, some eggs, a newspaper, and some dish soap. By the time you get to the store, all that you remember is the milk. In head injury, impaired short-term memory is a very significant problem. Long-term memory is information that we recall after a day, two weeks, or ten years. For most head-injured people, their long-term memory tends to be good. One patient told me " I can tell you what happened 10 years ago with great detail; I just can't tell you what happened 10 minutes ago.

For example, head-injured people may double or triple their usual study time in preparing for a test the next day. By the time they get to the exam, they are completely blank on the material. People with head injuries have also told me " you know, time just seems to fly by. Before we go on with memory, let's talk about two common things that happen with people with head injuries: retrograde and anterior grade amnesia.

2. Move your eyes from side to side.

Amnesia means you lost a memory that you once had. It's as if someone has erased part of your past. For some people, retrograde amnesia can cover just a minute or even a few seconds. In other words, they'll recall the car coming right at them but are unable to recall the moment of impact. For other people, retrograde amnesia may affect longer periods of time. The last three or four hours prior to the accident are gone. I had one individual who had lost the last year of his life.

As people get better from their head injuries, long-term memories tend to return. However, memories tend to return like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle; these bits and pieces return in random order. In general, the smaller the degree of retrograde amnesia, the less significant the head injury. Another form of memory loss is called anterior grade amnesia. A good part of that is due to the brain injury itself. Complex systems in the brain are injured.

The chemical balance in the brain is upset. As brain chemistry normalizes and brain systems begin working, memory also starts to work.


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I've had patients who have spent several months in the hospital but are only able to recall the last to two to three weeks of their stay. Why doesn't my short-term memory work? Well, let's quickly review how the brain works. We know the information flows in through the middle of our brain and branches out like a tree. It's almost like a mail room--this information goes into this box, and that letter goes into that box. When the brain is injured, these middle areas get pressed upon because of swelling pressure pushes down on the brain.

The middle sections of the brain are also resting on the bone of the skull. Because of forward and backward movement of the brain in an accident, they get sheered or torn. A problem develops when there is a large flow of information coming in which the brain can't process, or when information is not being sent to the right place. So the mail room of the brain is not doing its job. There is also a second type of memory problem. Once information is stored in the brain, the brain has a hard time finding it.

For example, you saw a movie but you can't recall the name of the actor in the movie. You can visualize who the actor is, but can't come up with his name. People typically describe a " tip of the tongue " type of thing--" I know what I want to say but I just can't get it out ". Its almost as if the brain is saying, "searching, searching" and not finding.

Several minutes later, it just comes to you. So think of it as a library in some sense. If I take a book on history and I just put it anywhere in the library, I'm going to have to search that whole library to get that one book. So there are basically two kinds of memory problems: storage problems and retrieval problems.

Work with a Specialist in Memory --One of the most important things is to get help from people who specialize in head injury. Every head injury program has a specialist who teaches memory strategies. In most cases, this is a Speech Therapist they don't just help people who have slurred speech. In the Neuro-Recovery program, our Speech Therapist teaches 15 different memory strategies and helps you to pick the 2 or 3 that work best for you. There is often a fair amount of testing in order to figure out the best memory strategy for each head-injured person. For some people, one type of memory may be impaired verbal recall but another type be intact remembering visual information.

If I know that my verbal memory is not very good, I write things down and encourage visual memory systems to work. Specialists can help you pick out the best memory strategies to help you. Once you find an effective strategy, keep working on it. Think of memory like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Get Organized --We learn better if we are organized. Many people have told me that, prior to their head injury, they had incredibly messy desks with papers all over.

But if someone came in and said, " I need this particular paper ", they could pull it out of a big pile and say " here it is. One symptom of not being organized is when someone says, " I've started 50 projects and haven't finished one of them. For example, if you are constantly losing your car keys or constantly forgetting where you put your wallet, there's one simple technique to use. Put things in the same place. Always put your car keys in one spot on the dresser. Always put your purse in one spot in the house and nowhere else. Being organized helps your memory and you will be less likely to lose things.

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Break It Down --Another thing that we can do to help memory is to break it into small bits. If you have something really tough to learn, try to break it down into small bits and then learn each one little bit at a time. Some people call this "chunking;" you are memorizing little "chunks" of information. For example, your brand new VCR has a remote control with 50 buttons on it.

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Reading the entire manual in one sitting to learn what all of the 50 buttons do is very hard. So, learn one function and then play with that feature for awhile. Once you've learned that, go on to the next button. We've been using this technique for years to learn simple information like a phone number. The wonderful folks at Bell Labs they invented the phone figured out that people will learn a 7 digit phone number if you group 3 digits together and then group 4 digits together a "chunk" of 3 numbers and a "chunk" of 4 numbers.

Using Association -- Association is really important for retrieving important information. For example, you are taking a literature course and you need to remember a famous essayist--Francis Bacon. You might associate the image of a piece of bacon with the name of this person.

So if you're trying to think of this explorer, an image of a piece of bacon will come to you. This approach is particularly helpful with learning names. Remembering names is a difficult task for most people in the world; it is especially hard for most people with a head injury. Get a Daily Planner --Probably one of the best things you can do to help your memory is to use a daily planner. This brings up two important points:. For example, you go to your doctor's office and you are asked to return for another appointment.