I bet you’re a bit like me. You’re excited by all the new fun and challenging directions in which education has been heading in the 21st century, but you’re not ready to completely throw out the old model. There are technologies and opportunities, like virtual field trips, that simply weren’t available when we were going to school, and every year this statement becomes even more true. The way I see it, you have three options—you can adopt and adhere to a strictly new-age model of teaching, you can do nothing and keep your program exactly as it is for as long as you can, or you can strive to find balance between what has been shown to work for decades while taking advantage of the tools of tomorrow’s classroom. But there is a problem—the problem is that memory is failing.
Spelling tests have been largely abandoned with the advent of spellcheck, and in many schools, memorization of math facts has given way to more inquiry-based learning. While that makes total sense, it seems we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s face it, memory is still important. If your students forgot every single thing you taught the day before, then progress would be impossible.
Here is an example of a student who benefitted from a conscious effort to improve her memory. A student in my class, Sabrina, was struggling with math. More specifically, she had a very difficult time with the application of concepts. No matter how hard she tried (and she worked extremely hard), little progress was ever made. This led to frustration, insecurity, and a growing dislike for math in general.
In my quest to help her, I had a conversation with a teacher-colleague who was far more experienced than myself. This colleague opened my eyes to the power of memory!
It’s not just for basic facts. While developing her memory, Sabrina began to recognize when a line of thinking led to an unreasonable solution. She had better retention of class examples and previous questions that were similar to and helpful with solving new problems. Her flexibility with numbers reasoning even improved.
Thanks to three incredible fundamental memory boosting tricks, Sabrina grew as a learner, her confidence sky-rocketed inside and out of the classroom, and she even intends to apply to university for math and science programs later this year. I could not be more proud!
Three Steps to Memorize Anything
It really works! Using these three steps, my three-year-old has memorized the names of all the polygons from three sides to twenty-three, can recite the alphabet backwards, and can name a dinosaur beginning with every letter of the alphabet.
1. Purposeful Repetition
Repetition is the backbone of learning. Like brushing your teeth, learning something new needs to occur daily for it to be effective, but does not require a large time commitment. Kindergarten teachers use these techniques daily, and as an adult I know that if I wanted to take up the guitar, I would have to practise almost daily. Still, this theory of learning seems to get lost in the older grades, perhaps due to the sheer volume of curriculum that teachers need to cover in a year.
2. Add One
When trying to learn something new, you should start with what you can easily handle, and slowly add one new item. For example, if you wanted to recite the alphabet backwards from memory, you would simply start with the first three letters: Z, Y, X. You would repeat these over and over in your mind until it became easy, at which point you would add the next letter—Z, Y, X, W. Rinse and repeat, adding one new letter each time.
3. Go On A Brain Diet
Focus on a single goal. Choose one thing you want to learn and give it all of your attention. It would be very difficult to try to learn guitar, drums, piano, flute, soccer, French, watercolour, and five-pin bowling all while trying to get your pilot’s licence. Similarly, it is difficult to retain new information if you are caught up with the drama unfolding between Sarah and Brad on Snapchat. Imagine your brain as a computer that only has 100 units of function available each day. Spend those units on the things that will be most meaningful to you and your progress.
If you decide to give this a try then I promise you won’t be disappointed. I assign a new memory challenge to my students each week. As teachers, we must recognize that the benefits of a well-trained memory go far beyond the simple reciting of facts. And so, it is our duty to find creative and authentic ways to incorporate direct memory development into our learning programs. Just imagine the benefits of a class full of smiling children with increased ability to retain the information shared throughout the day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Butter, OCT; Apple Teacher is a middle school teacher in Cambridge, ON.
This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s 2021 issue.