Memory Problems and Solutions




Difficulties retrieving information from your brain:

Memory difficulties often involve retrieving information stored by the brain. Usually, there are more problems with short term memory (things learned recently) than with long term memory–though working memory deficits can cause difficulties in organising information into long term memory … and then retrieving information from long term memory.

Short term memory is the ability to temporarily retain information by performing some operation or manipulation with it, to produce a result. Working memory involves attention, concentration, mental control, and reasoning.

Ability to pay attention:

The ability to pay attention is an important aspect of memory. This includes such things as being able to sit and read (or write, or do math or other assigned activities) for a given duration of time without straying off-track, and the the ability to focus on assigned work. Here are some tips for helping children who have difficulty paying attention:
– Provide a quiet place with minimal distractions (including minimising things to see, hear, smell, etc.)
– Provide a support helper who can assist the child in staying on track
– Observe the child to monitor when his or her attention is straying–and what triggers are causing it; then remove those distractors, if possible, and/or work individually with the child to learn to ignore them
– Provide reminders to stay on track. This can include gentle spoken reminders, written signs, or signals (such as raising 3 fingers, or other signals). These are more effective if the child helps to figure out what signals to use. It is also helpful to let the child choose a signal to let you know when he or she is starting to feel distracted.

Working memory and active memory strategies:

Here are some active memory strategies to enhance a child’s memory when learning:
– Present new material in small chunks, step by small step
– Put new information in meaningful contexts. For example, when learning to spell new words, present them in sentences, rhymes, stories or acronyms. If the child can help come up with these “tricks,” all the better.
– If the child enjoys drawing, allow her to come up with little sketches that she can connect with new information.
– Be prepared to repeat information more often than usual to help the child retain it.
– Be creative; while there is a place for saying or writing something over and over, it is often more effective if you can explain the new information in different ways, or present it in a variety of contexts, so the child can understand how it fits in “real world” situations. Go beyond just “theory” to practical applications.
– Check for understanding. Have the child explain to you what he is doing; have him “teach” the information to another child or even to a “stuffy.”
– Check the child’s progress more frequently to make sure he is on track. Provide frequent feedback.
– When teaching or giving an assignment, break it down into small steps rather than giving multiple directions all at once.
– Decide what things are truly important to remember, and what things can easily be “looked up.” For example, in Social Studies, is it more important for a child to understand concepts about economics, or to memorise long lists of “imports and exports.” Is it more important to be able to use an atlas, read a map, use a map key, and recognise and understand things like political boundaries, etc., or to memorise the spelling of the names of the capital cities of states, provinces and countries? In spelling, is it more important to learn the “spelling rules” and “phonics tips,” understand them, and practice putting them to use, or to memorise long lists of random words that could easily be looked up?

Strategies to use during activities to make them less frustrating:

If a child is already frustrated and overwhelmed by the expectations for the activity, memory will become even more difficult. Here are some ways to simplify activities to help your child relax and focus–and remember!

– Don’t expect the child to keep “random” kinds of information (eg. spelling, especially non-phonetic words; mathematical calculations; etc.) in mind and at the same time manipulate it in her head. Encourage her to write out the steps and information, using pencil and paper, to help her keep track. Allow her to “work it out” with manipulatives, drawing, talking it through (out loud), and so on.
– Likewise, when assigned to write a story or a report, divide the assignment up into small chunks, and have her do one part at a time. Sometimes it is helpful if she can “tell” the story first (either dictate it to a scribe or tape-record it and then write it out). Don’t expect her to edit while creating. Then, during the editing process, have her work on one aspect at a time (organisation/chronological order, spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.). Give a shorter assignment length (say, 1 page instead of 2 or 3) so she can focus better.
– In a workbook or textbook assignment, choose the most important assignment examples. Allow the child to use the time available to work through these questions carefully, step by step, rather than overwhelm with too much work in a limited time.
– Help the child to become more organised and tidy. Provide a binder in which she can place step-by-step “direction” sheets for different activities (if she can make such sheets herself, or with a little help, all the better). Help her set up a very organised desk-top, drawers, cubby, etc. with specific containers for different tools. Then she can focus on memory, not distracted by having to search for things.
– Make use of very clearly set out “planners.” For assignments due later, use not only “day by day” planners, but also “week at a time” and “month” calendars. Try using electronic organisers; children love them. The less “organisational” things a child has to store in his mind, the more he can focus on the things he really needs to memorise.

“Easy to Learn” Booklets with Memory Tips, Tricks and Strategies:

The tips in this post are just a few of the ways you can help a child (or an adult–maybe even yourself!) with memory difficulties. If you’d like lots more tips and tricks, check out my 3-part set of booklets on “Memory and Learning Strategies”:

1. Overview: General Tips: If you think you just can’t memorise – you can! This booklet will give you dozens of suggestions, and you’ll be sure to find different ideas that work for children, teens, and adults. Learn about short and long term memory, focus, health, stress, learning styles, memory and the brain (association, location, imagination) – and lots of practical tips and ideas.
2. Tips and Tricks: Part 2 provides a wide variety of other memory and learning strategies. Topics include: Multisensory Learning Methods (see & visualise; hear & verbalise; visual games for memory; auditory games for memory; physical memory games); short and long term memory strategies; active working memory strategies; the recall curve; and other memory and learning strategies, tips, and tricks.
3. In the classroom: Part 3 focuses on memory, learning, and study strategies directly related to the school, home school, or other classroom situation, and for learning broad concepts as well as facts and how they relate. This booklet also discusses the use of computers for word processing, learning programs, and research.

What memory tips do you have?

Please share them in the comments! Thank you!

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