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  • Barb Drummond

Memory and the Brain...


Memory. Without it, we live infinitely in the now. A perpetual ground hog day so to speak and never know the difference. Perhaps some may argue there would be positives to living in a never ending now. However, I cherish those memories of childhood, grandparents, family times, births of our children and times had with dear friends who are no longer with us..many of my memories have a strong draw to what once was or who I once was.

Memory is everything.

Since the neural circuits for memory seem to be helter - skelter around brain, scientists are finding it difficult to navigate for research purposes. However, they do know that the brain receives information from the senses and integrates them into a single experience.

Memory in schools does not seem to be as vogue as it once was. Working memory is crucial in a learning (and working) environment. Working memory is a type of short term memory , holds the sensation or information for a few seconds, you use the information immediately, the working memory then clears and you move on.

The idea of working memory is significant in a classroom... copying from the board, listening to lessons, following instructions and then manipulating the concepts in your brain and you then applying the information at that moment..it is the more fleeting of the memories but one that is incredibly important none-the-less.

Memory is the ability to retrieve information that has been previously understood. Now if we were like Marilu Henner and had an autobiographical memory (hyperthymesia) like hers, we could retrieve the vast majority of personal experiences and events in our lives. It would make studying and remembering things a whole lot more interesting.

With formal testing, memory often shows up as the lowest overall ability – both visual and auditory.

If you think of memory as the "art of paying attention," then you begin to understand

why this is a growing concern in education - especially in elementary schools.

Comprehension is lessened by lower memory ability and problem-solving becomes frustrating when memory ability fails to recall correct information. For a student who comprehends well, yet has a weakened memory - this can be very frustrating!

A lack of memory abilities can be inhibiting or disabling in acquiring basic learning skills.

How can we apply this to the classroom and assist our children with their learning?

Many children learn better and remember better with a multi-sensory approach. Dr. Richard Mayer a professor of psychology states: “that it is far more effective to explain concepts using multi-sensory methods….sensory inputs, auditory, visual and kinesthetic…than using only one sense" …I don’t think we have to be of professor of psychology to know this …you know this…I know this …we have known for years.

Mayer is convinced that the most important area of study in cognitive psychology is the understanding of how multimedia can foster student learning.

He found students who were exposed to multi-sensory environments (texts, pictures, animation, video) ALWAYS…not sometimes... ALWAYS... had more accurate recall of the information.

VISUAL & VERBAL information are stored separately in our memory; they can be stored as images or words or BOTH.

Concepts that are learned in picture form are encoded as both visual and verbal. WORDS are encoded only VERBALLY. In other words, pictures are more richly stamped on our brains and easier to recall.

When the brain is allowed to build two mental representations of an explanation – a VERBAL model and a VISUAL model…the mental connections are NOT just a little stronger – they are MUCH ...MUCH... MUCH stronger.

If there are strong emotions connected to your working memory, the memories are more likely to transition from working memory to short term and on to long term memory.

Long term memory is like having an expanding file folder in your brain. Memories or information that transitions to long term memory is stored in your expanding file folder.

What happens if your expanding file folder gets filled? Is that even possible? CAN it fill up?

The answer is simple yet complex. The simple answer is that scientists have discovered that the brain promotes or encourages "forgetting" (Just don't tell my husband that!) The brain promotes forgetting and that's okay with the small stuff...where you left your car keys last week, what you ate three months ago..not REALLY important. No strong emotional attachment so it is easily cleared from the mind. Thinking of my husband's recently lost wallet..one would argue.. The memory of WHERE he put it at that time WAS important because he can't find it today. NOW there is an emotional response to losing it...the loss will now be remembered!

The concept is like a re-writable CD...when new neurons grow - they overwrite the old ones. The more important memories grow stronger, while the unimportant ones are weakened. You really don't need to remember what you had for dinner last Wednesday but remembering classroom concepts, preparing for final exams or remembering your wedding anniversary is another matter.....


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Barb Drummond

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