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An essential tool for all life stages
Prepared by: Zeenat Osman
Registered Counsellor and Psychometrist
Memory plays a crucial role in the learning process and life in general.
Everything learnt must be memorized to some degree for some activity such
as tests, assessment of sorts or for an important task that needs completion.
In essence, MEMORY SKILLS assists the ability to memorize information
required in order to be successful within the education environment or the
working world.
The following sections will focus on specific areas of memory and
memorizing by drawing on simple memory aids to get one started in the
process of enhancing one’s current memory abilities.
Your Memory and Learning
Learning is memory, and thus memory is important to learners and
professionals alike, since it is a vital part of the learning process as well as the
working world. The truth is most people, when they put their minds to it, can
significantly increase what they remember.
Through enhanced memory skills, one could have a powerful study tool at your
disposal. However, to gain this one must develop a new approach to ‘thinking
about what you are memorizing’. Remembering is a complex process therefore
breaking material down into smaller sections can simplify the process of
According to Spanos (1986), ‘Scientist are almost certain that new human
memories produce chemical changes in the brain’s nerve cells and changes in
their physical structure. But the changes are subtle. No one knows the location
of our memories, and it seems we can’t retrieve them all. Some human memory
is lost with time, but we are capable of storing an indefinite amount of
Memory in relation
Memory abilities are linked to various aspects of an individuals development.
These aspects are sub-divided into language development, ego and mental
Memory and Language Development:
Memory development commences around the age of 4-5, and it appears to be
linked to one’s language development. Language is required to label and stock
up one’s experiences in such a manner that one can easily remember them.
Some of the language memory abilities are:
Words and their meanings,
Grammatical constructions, and
Mathematical relationships.
Memory in relation continued…
Memory and Ego:
It is important to note that some memories changes through time and ultimately
one’s memory is self-serving and self-centred.
Through our memories, we often tend to remember some events in a brighter
light, this depends on the importance we place on the memory thus we
remember what we want to.
When developing memory for study purposes, it
is vital to remember information accurately and
resist one’s innate tendency to transform the
memory. Therefore, one needs to review the
information as there is no room to alter this when
the memory centres on hard facts.
Memory in relation continued…
Mental Landmarks:
A mental landmark can be perceived as, something (a name, event, situation or
detail) that has wedged itself into your mind for some specific reason.
Landmarks are established through keen interest and to some degree
Think about why you remember a friend’s birthday or the lyrics to a song?
Surely you will find a landmark attached to it such as the emotion attached to
the friendship or the memories a song brings to the fore. In developing your
memory skills, remember that, one is most likely to remember something that
one has rehearsed and has a genuine interest in.
Memory concepts
The key to a better developed memory, is to create a system for one’s
memory tasks.
At times we can remember events in great detail without understanding why,
therefore we need to gain insight into the stages of memory.
There are three stages namely:
 Sensory Register,
 Short-Term Memory, and
 Long-Term Memory.
The three stages of memory:
The three stages of memory forms part of the memory process as follows:
(1) Memory starts with information from the environment also known as the
stimulus. The stimulus enters into the sensory memory.
(2) A portion of the information in the sensory memory travels to one’s shortterm memory.
(3) After which, a fraction enters into long-term memory. Lastly, how far the
stimulus travels depends on how you handle the information/stimulus.
Information that is not transferred from
one stage to the next, is consider to be
forgotten information, therefore
rehearsal of information is vital.
Diagram for the three stages of memory
Stage 1: Sensory Memory
Images that stays in your mind for an instant is known as Sensory Memory.
In order for the image to be transferred into the short-term memory, it must be
shifted quickly through the process of concentration. If this process is not
initiated the information will be lost or forgotten!
Regarding the school environment, how learners engages the sensory memory
is important. For example, when a teacher shows a visual image (map) of
South Africa, it may not be remembered at the first glance and the information
will be lost.
To avoid permanent loss of information, rehearsal and concentration should be
given within the classroom setting so that the information provided is
transferred from the sensory memory to the following stage, Short-term
Stage 2: Short-term Memory
Short-Term memory involves concentration and distraction. The former allows
information to gain access to the short-term memory whereas the latter
sidetracks this process.
Data only remains in the short-term memory for approximately 20 seconds
unless however we remain to concentrate on the given information. Distraction,
on the other hand, deletes the information and is therefore forgotten.
An individual’s short term memory has the ability to embrace a few pieces of
information at the same time. The longer you concentrate on an item, the
greater the probability is for the transformation from short to long-term memory.
So how does the data gain access to the long term memory? This is done
through repetition. While repeating information such as a loved one’s phone
number, the data fosters itself permanently into the long term memory and can
be retrieved on demand.
Stage 3: Long- term Memory
The biggest aspect of your memory is the Long-Term Memory, and the amount of
information that can be stored in this part of your memory is infinite.
Long-Term memory has the ability to hold information that is either a few minutes
old or many years.
Mental Landmarks are stored in the individual’s long term memory.
Within the school environment, most of the information entered into the long term
memory are those that the learner deliberately memorized through rehearsal and
According to Spanos (1986), “The way and enthusiasm with which you respond to
a memorization task determines what you will remember and the extent to which
you will remember it. You can probably improve your long-term memory if you
respond to it in an effective way”.
Storing and Retrieving Information
The main tasks of an individual’s memory are storing and retrieving
information which can be done systematically.
Retrieving information is more anxiety provoking than storing, as retrieving
information involves your performance. For example, within the classroom
setting retrieving involves bring information to the fore and the information is
displayed through your performance in tests or class activities.
An individual can easily store information through concentration, rehearsing
and subsequently memorising the information but retrieving it involves
searching the mind for where it was stored.
Memory aids
Memory aids assists the retrieval of information and can be acquired
automatically. It helps you to nudge your memory.
There are two types of memory aids namely; Inside- and Outside- Memory
 Inside Memory Aids: these aids go everywhere with you. However they
take time and work. They demand creativity and attention. Inside aids
includes; rhymes, acronyms, mental pictures and a combination thereof.
 Outside Memory Aids includes: outlines, flashcards, notes and other
props with written cues. These are excellent for memorizing and assist
inside memory aids.
Memorizing methods
Over-learning involves memorizing information over and over again, even after you
can recall it perfectly. Time plays an important role, as over-learning allows the
individual to assess whether the information can be recalled 2 hours, 2 days or
even 2 weeks after it was memorized.
Memorizing on location:
It is known that individuals tends to recall information better within locations where
the information was originally memorized or stored. Therefore, within the schooling
environment it is essential that learners take time to memorize information within the
classroom setting.
Building memory on memory:
Make sense of what you are trying to memorize. The more familiar the information
is, the easier it is to memorize. Therefore, one needs to create associations
between what you already know and what you need to memorize.
Customizing your Memory methods
As was mentioned previously,
individuals need to take in information
accurately in order to remember it effectively. It is essential to incorporate your
own originality, interests, and techniques to any memory assignment.
 Originality: This alludes to the fact that an individual is prone to remember
items that he/she reacts to in a novel manner and that the individual is
comfortable with. Therefore, we should strive towards creating original
solutions to the memory task at hand. However, the memory aid should
never be more complex than the task itself.
 Interest: These are aids that appeal to our interests and in turn grasps the
individuals attention. Within the school environment, an individual often has
to create their own interest within a subject matter as we have a natural
tendency to gravitate towards some subjects and away from others. Interest
indicators can be anything from bright coloured flash cards to anime.
Whatever works to spark an interest within the subject matter.
Customizing your memory methods Continued…
Expand or Contract:
There are two basic ways to develop memory aids namely; expanding or
contracting information that’s required for memorization. Expanding and
contracting has to do with the mental pictures we create to aid us in
remembering certain items. Therefore, mental pictures can be expanded or
contracted by either expanding a certain element of the picture that provides
important details that needs to be remembered or contracting the elements of
the picture that holds less valuable information.
Matching Aid to Task
The right memory task for an individual depends on the manner in which
he/she reasons or thinks and the given task at hand.
If we take the example of writing an essay; one individual might summarize
all the headings relevant to the task at hand and thus formulate the essay
on this basis, someone else might group similar ideas of the essay
together and then formulate their essay on these groups of information.
However, the individual decides how to formulize their response to the
essay and this depends on the subject matter and the way the individual
understands and thinks about the information provided on the said topic.
Understanding - the Key memory aid
The essential component of learning is understanding. The best memory aid
one can acquire is understanding, therefore when one attempts to memorize
one should never leave out the understanding.
Rote Learning and Memory
Rote learning occurs when one memorizes word for word or number by
number. Rehearsing by repetition is an important part of rote learning.
Rote learning is essential for instances where information has to be recited,
however avoid studying large amounts of material by rote unless you are
expected to recite the information.
Always bear in mind that once you understand the material, rote learning
becomes easier.
Memory Tricks
Memory tricks make an individual less dependent on rote learning. It
furthermore, increases the individuals recall and recognition abilities and aids
their confidence and motivation.
Generating tricks includes planning, as you will have to organise the material,
provide them with memory aids and then add a trick that will jog your memory
to remember the aids put in place.
When formulating the memory tricks and through using them, you are paying
attention which is another vital aspect of good memorization. Also, the more
interesting the trick, the willingness to memorize increases.
Memory tricks includes, but are not limited to, word association and mental
Memory Measures: the 3 R’s
There are 3 ways to measure how much an individual can remember:
1. Recall: the ability to remember information ‘off the top of your head’. For
example when you are writing a written test and the answers are not
supplied, the learner has to make use of their recall ability to complete the
2. Recognition: the ability to identify through recognizing information in an
assortment of ways. For example, within multiple choice questions, a
learner has the ability to identify and link the correct response to the item
through recognition.
3. Relearning: simply means to learn again after one has forgotten, as our
memories at times tend to drop details, however it is easier to relearn
information that has been memorized before. For example, if you have been
actively involved in your studies but feel like some details are fuzzy –
relearning should occur through the process of reviewing the information.
Motivation and Memory
Motivation is an important memory aid, if motivation is not instilled by the
subject matter itself, the individual has to find personal motivation that
feeds into the need for oneself to succeed.
Setting Goals:
 Goals depends on one’s motivation.
 Lasting memory involves interest.
 Therefore, if one fails to view the memory task as an important
part of the overall learning goals, the information might not sink
deeply into the mind.
Motivation and Memory Continued
Having a Plan:
According to Spanos (1986), “when you face any task, the first and perhaps most
important step is to draw up a plan to achieve it. Here is a basic plan for all memory
1) Understand what you are to memorize, even if you have to do extra research.
2) Make up a schedule. Give yourself plenty of time.
3) For each memory session, get in the right frame of mind. Think only of the
memory task at hand.
4) Select your memory aids. Don’t try to memorize while you do so. Figure out the
best strategies first, memorize later.
5) When you begin to memorize, concentrate.
6) Don’t rush. Memory takes time.
7) Over-learn, review the information and the aids again and again, never
assuming your memory is perfect.
 Spanos, S (1986). Learning Library: Memory Skills. Chicago: World Book