Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Qualitative Study - Memory Improvement

Memory degradation is normal. However, many vehicles exist to enhance memory. Lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating, stress reduction, and physical fitness are suggested as contributing factors.
Memory, quantity and quality, is not constant amongst humans. A great chasm exists between the extremes of memory. David A. Sousa (2006) states, "Memories are formed when a group of neurons fires together when activated." Some memory is short. This is not a statement of value or preference. Not all memory is permanent. Useless data, or bits of knowledge, should be allowed to decay. This is beneficial.

The mind remains uncluttered with useless information. More engrams, or memory traces, (Sousa, 2006) are allowed to form providing more and better quality memory and easily retrievable memory. Even testing can be a tool for enhancing memory (Pashler, 2007). Memory volume and quality, consider to be a characteristic of intelligence, can be enhanced. A good memory is a desired personality trait.

Woolfolk (2010) provides a list of a suggested top ten list for improving memory. The list includes: 1) paying attention, 2) creating associations, 3) viewing pictures, 4) practicing, 5) listening, 6) use tools such as Post-It notes, Microsoft Outlook or electronic organizers, 7) when and where a fact was presented, 8) getting more sleep, 9) consider using a rhyme or jingle, and 10) relaxing.

The use of classroom tools - computers, calculators, visual aids, models, whiteboard illustrations, videos, some audio presentations, and the use of the Internet should benefit students in most age categories and grade levels. The teacher can administer all of these factors. One of the factors, getting more sleep, can only be suggested.

Sousa (2006), suggests factors which affect leaning (memory) retention. These factors include: firstly, rehearsal - the repetition and processing of information and secondly, hierarchical retention of new knowledge, during learning episodes indicating that what comes first is remembered the best, that which comes last is the 2nd best memory, and that which is in the middle is the least memorized. During learning episodes, other factors are present. The teaching of new material should precede any other teaching material. Length of the teaching episode is important. The longer the learning, the shorter the memory. Teaching methods are crucial to the retention of memory. Sousa (2006) has constructed a pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid suggests the most effect retention - doing. Verbal processing is at the top of the pyramid, suggesting that this is the least effective. Verbal/visual is in the middle of the pyramid.

Craik (1972) wrote that three factors exist to increase memory retention and recall. These factors are depth (depth of meaningfulness), elaboration (amount of processing or thinking harder), and distinctiveness (difference or uniqueness). Note that the concept of thinking harder is contrary to Sousa's belief that thinking harder is detrimental to the cause of memory. These suggestions are most applicable at the higher levels of public school education and the college level. Meaningful, in-depth, varied, and elaborate use of facts and new knowledge accompanied with demonstration and examples will promote memory retention and subsequent recall of facts, data, concepts, and ideas. Much of this will be easily transferable into the student's changing educational exposure and should provide a good basis for the utilization of these mental skills once the formal educational process is completed.

An additional tips and techniques list, provide by Jafee-Gill (2010), collaborate with the Woolfolk and Sousa lists, but includes new factors. The memory enhancing list includes: 1) paying attention, 2) Taylor's information to individual learning style, 3) involve as many senses as possible, 4) relate to previous knowledge, 5) organize information, 6) understand and interpret difficult material, 7) rehearse information, 8) be motivated and stay positive, and mnemonic clues ( visual images, first-letter-of-sentence structure, use acronyms, rhymes, jokes, information chunking, and landmark association). Jafee-Gills tips considerations can provide a better understanding into the workings of the memory. This list would be most useful at the high school level and college level. Involving as many senses as possible and raising the voice and the use of inflection of the voice would be helpful in keeping students awake and attentive. Frequent use of videos and Internet movies and vu-graphs will affect a higher level of memory.

The University of Alberta (2006) in providing their list supports many of the same findings. The University version of the list tips includes: 1) pay attention in class, 2) take effective notes, 3) remember the three R's - repeat, relevant, recent, 4) use mnemonics, 5) generate examples, 6) use visual imagery, 7) make associations, and 8) rehearsal. This list also has similarities with the Woolfolk, Sousa, and Jafee-Gill lists. This list would indicate that, at the lower grade level, especially, since young minds tend to wander, classroom teachers should make sure that students are paying attention and that many pictures and models are used. At the higher levels, the teacher might be well-versed in insuring that note taking, examples, and associations are utilized.

Many suggestions to helping memory become more permanent and more recallable are available. The tips and techniques offered are varied and; at the same time, they are similar in many respects. Which of the tips and techniques will work most efficiently in the teacher's classroom will depend on the age, personality, topic(s) presented, time allowed, financial resources, abilities of the teacher and teacher experience, and the generalized educational environment of the school. The teacher does not work alone. She/he performs teaching activities, which, to some extent, are controlled by school administrators and governmental policy makers. Nonetheless, the teacher has the greatest control of teaching styles and techniques. The teacher is influential in the effectiveness of student memory retention. Many of the techniques in this study can well apply to the teacher. The teacher is a student as well. Some of her education is formal (continuation credits at the university level, decision for working towards an advanced degree) and some is informal (school attendance at informative meetings of peers, off-site conventions, travel, and self-directed educational prowess).

An efficient memory is a good thing to possess. Whether it is the memory of students, teachers, and mature individuals enhancements are available at the entire spectrum of society. Memory, and its characteristics, is especially important for the young, fertile, impressionable mind.
By Andrew Kosicki