Saturday, June 27, 2009

Do you recall...

Several years ago a concerned mother and I talked for almost two hours about the learning difficulties of her daughter. We concluded that her daughter knew much more than she could recall for tests. Her learning problems stemmed from a memory recall problem.

I checked the psychologist's report, and sure enough, the girl had memory deficits.

I told the mom, "I know your daughter can remember things in tough situations. I've seen her memorize and perform two lengthy dramatic dance pieces in front of the whole school. She has good recall of physical movement. But if I understand you correctly, what you want me to do is to improve your daughter's ability to recall language-based information under pressure?"

She smiled as if I finally got it, "Yes. That's what I want."

I was glad that we had at least narrowed down the problem, even if it took two hours. I now understood what the mom wanted for her daughter. (And the mom now knew what her daughter needed.) "Well, I'm not sure if that is even possible, but I'll look into it."

Memory is one of the two key components of traditional intelligence tests: processing speed being the other. What this mom was asking me to do was to make her daughter "smarter." She was asking for a miracle.

Lucky for that mom that I have a tendency to be delusionally optimistic. I think I can do things that others can't. As I result, I sometimes do.

I began a personal research project on memory improvement. I began to read what the experts have written. I found web-sites that aim to improve memory and processing speed, such as (Brain Training Games). (They also have games for attention!)

I found awesome web-sites such as neuroMod: Memory psychology for a general audience.

What I learned, I passed on to my students, and they improved. The got "smarter."
(And so did I.) You teach best what you know best, so I began my own quest to improve my memory.

I memorized the United States (and their capitals) from west to east with no visual aides. I memorized the countries of central and south America. I used a combination of mnemonics, visualization, and practice.

I developed a process called "SOS squared." It's an acronym for 1) Sift and Sift, 2) Organize and Orchestrate, and 3) Study and Showcase.

I used the methods I learned on neuroMod including memory tag systems to memorize the US Presidents and their number: Chester A. Arthur... #21.

These are more advanced techniques. (I also found simpler techniques such as on-line puzzles for world geography at Owl & Mouse Educational Software.)

I've had fun and I've learned a lot. I've gotten smarter!

So what am I doing on my summer vacation? I'm learning names. Faces and names have always been a challenge for me. (If I can overcome my memory shortcomings, I can teach my students to overcome theirs!)

Last year I found some simple on-line flash card generators such as FlashCardDB When I created these on-line flash cards, my students logged on at home, for no credit, just for the fun of it. (They did the same with the map puzzles.) They learned stuff! Wow.

This summer I've found a free flash card program called the Mnemosyne Project that enables me to create flash cards with visual and audio. I've created "decks" of flash cards containing pictures of people with their names!

Plus, the system uses an advanced algorithm called the Leitner System, which helps me study only the cards I don't know, as often as I need to, in order to keep them in my memory.

This program alone may change a hard working "C" student into a hard working "A" student. Work smart and become smarter!

I'm better at recalling things. I've learned that I can find things and information that I put away carefully.

How smart are you? Who wants to get "smarter"? Perhaps this post will provide a trail head from which you can explore the world of memory improvement. (You may want to bookmark this post so you can find it later!)

Those of you who are involved in working with struggling students, may find some tools to address core deficits such as memory, that will enable your students to overcome obstacles, blossom academically, and take charge of their own learning and life.

Do you recall one of my personal tendencies?


  1. What a fantastic post!

    There are some great ideas and tools here that I'll try out in the next academic year.

    Insightful, entertaining, and informative, as always.


  2. Sasha,

    I'm glad you liked the post. Learning is far from a linear journey, but sharing what you've learned enables those who follow to by-pass some of the ugly dead-ends and learning curves. This post is a map of one of my journeys. I hope it is helpful to those of like interest.


  3. Great post, Don. My son has Asperger's and his education was such a roller coaster ride. He has a 145 I.Q., but barely made it through senior year in high school and then dropped out of college after one semester. There are just so many different kinds of "smart". Many thanks for the tips and the great website recommendatons.

  4. DeeDee,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. "Smart" is such a relative term, but knowing how it is usually defined helps us see the short-comings in the definition.

    I've not seen much written on adults with Asperger's. One fellow I know in his 30's, has adjusted to many of the challenges. Since much of Asperger's relates to being socially developmentally delayed, as one gets older and 'wiser', some of those gaps can be closed. Especially, with strong core intelligences, individuals with Asperger's can find ways and places to flourish. It's not easy, but it's not impossible either.

    Perhaps you can give your son a voice via a post recounting some of the things you've learned as a family. It's always a group effort.


  5. Even though I'm no longer in a traditional classroom, your posts keep my 'education mind' fresh and working, and I enjoy that.

    It's funny how some kinesthetic learners truly need movement in order to process and recall. Unfortunately the way we run our classes (still likely the best way) doesn't allow for that kind of constant movement. I wonder how we will one day accomodate those physical learners, if ever.

  6. @Saphron: I've seen some things as simple as giving a kid a half deflated ball to sit on in his seat. I teach kids how to "bounce a leg." Mostly, I help them examine how they learn, so when the have the choice (like at home) they'll know how to set up their own learning environment to suit themselves. (My mom had a piece of elastic that served as a book mark, and something to rub while she read. Sometimes, it takes only some small movement -- that doesn't annoy others.)