Guest post by Howard Margolis, Ed.D.
The term short-term memory is shorthand for a variety of thought processes that capture, for a few seconds or moments, information. Unless a child with reading disabilities quickly makes an active, focused, and concentrated attempt to remember the information, he will quickly lose most, if not all of it.
So, how can you, as a teacher (or parent), help a child with reading disabilities remember the fragile, fleeting information in short-term memory? If it’s important, he’ll need to remember it for quite some time. So, how can you help him do this?
At the start, encourage the child to attend to what he wants to remember. Encourage him to keep concentrating on it. This means he needs to think about it. He needs to think about why it’s important to him. He needs to think about its meaning He needs to relate it to what he already knows. He needs to put it in his own words. He needs to picture it. He needs to frequently repeat it and think about it at the moment he’s exposed to it and periodically, throughout the next few weeks, and perhaps beyond. He needs to apply it, and while doing so, think about its meaning and use. He needs to think about how it’s similar and different from what he already knows and how it changes as he thinks about it and uses it.
Notice how the previous paragraph repeated the phrase, he needs. The paragraph repeated he needs for three reasons. First, to make clear that remembering requires ongoing work, work that the child with reading disabilities needs to do. Second, to show that remembering is a complex process. Like memory, it’s a multidimensional process that the child with reading disabilities needs to frequently activate over time. And third, to encourage you, the teacher, to create lots of opportunities for the child to engage in this kind of thinking.
When working to remember something, the child with reading disabilities can use several strategies. Here’s how Margo Mastropieri and Thomas Scruggs, two outstanding scholars on memory and learning disabilities, described how teachers can use the Keyword Method to help students remember that a barrister is a lawyer:
To help students remember that barrister is another word for lawyer, first create a keyword for the unfamiliar word, barrister. Remember, a keyword is a word that sounds like the new word and is easily pictured. A good keyword for barrister, then, is bear. Then, you create a picture of the keyword and the definition doing something together. It is important that these two things actually interact and are not simply presented in the same picture. Therefore, a picture of a bear and a lawyer in one picture is not a good mnemonic [memory strategy], because the elements are not interacting. A better picture would be a bear who is acting as a lawyer in a courtroom, for example, pleading his client’s innocence.
The good news is that the Keyword Method, like many memory methods, can be effective. But like all memory methods, child with reading disabilities needs to work at remembering what he wants to remember, needs to keep thinking about it, and needs to repeat it many times, over a long time.
When developing IEPs for children with memory problems in special education, teachers need to make sure their IEPs have goals (and in some states, objectives) for memory instruction. Here’s a sample objective:
Memory Objective 1: Ryan will explain and will demonstrate how to successfully apply the Keyword Strategy to remembering 5 new social studies concepts. He will do this with new concepts on three successive occasions by the end of the first marking period.
For more information about how to strengthen children’s memories, here are three practical resources that you may want to study:
- Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (1998). Enhancing school success with mnemonic strategies. Intervention in School & Clinic, 33(4), 201-208. Available for download at: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/5912.
- Medina, J. (2008). Brain Rules. Seattle Washington: Pear Press.
- The Access Center (2005). Using Mnemonic Instruction to Facilitate Access to the General Education Curriculum. Available at http://www.readingrockets.org/article/4184.
- Howard Margolis, Ed.D. (c) Reading2008 & Beyond
A version of this column was originally published by Howard Margolis, Ed.D. on www.reading2008.com/blog. Howard is the co-author of Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds, available at www.reading2008.com and at www.Amazon.com.