How People Learn: Learning to Remember

            One of the key characteristics of an experts’ knowledge, as discussed in How People Learn, is the ability to store information in a systematic, organized and meaningful manner that promotes fluid retrieval.  Experts store “chunks” of information based on underlying functions, strategies, and concepts in their long-term memory.  Like an organized filing system, retrieval and application of this information is triggered by the recognition of patterns, conceptual structures or schemas under which the information has been filed.  This has important implications for teaching conceptual understanding.  The important role of memory in learning, organizing and chinking cannot be understated.  This is particularly important when developing and curricular content and instruction for students with disabilities. 

            Think of the student who studies for hours and yet cannot remember the information at testing time or when called upon in class.  What about the attentive student for whom the lesson is repeated several times who still is not able to recall salient points shortly after instruction ends, or the student sometimes referred to as “absentminded.”  Dr. Mel Levine (2002) discusses how he helps students and their parents understand and work with many neural processing differences, including difficulties retaining and applying information.  Dr. Levin offers a simple explanation on how the memory system works.  He describes short-term memory as “learning’s front entrance” (p. 94); this is information’s first stop where the individual decides if the information will be used now in active memory, discarded, or stored in long-term memory for later use.  Active working memory is described as the place “where the multiple intentions or components of any activity are held in place long enough to complete that activity” (p. 100).  This can be thought of as the place where the information from short- and long-term memory meets to organize, plan and develop ideas, tasks and activities.  And long-term memory is the filing system in which the mind stores all information, and, like a filing system, it is only useful if you can remember where information is filed.

            Dr. Levine offers recommendations for working with individuals with memory dysfunctions.  These recommendations are extremely helpful for teachers when planning instruction for students with identified learning disabilities.  Dr. Levine, for example, recommends paraphrasing or visualizing as a strategies to help students hold onto incoming information and assist in deciding how and where to file it, use it or discard it.  Slowing down the rate of incoming information will give students time for processing and retention.  Long-term memory can be strengthened with the development of filing systems or organizers.  Understand how the memory system works and how we, as educators, can strength the process of information retention and application is essential to the instruction of students with disabilities that impact memory. 




Levine, Mel (2002). A Mind at a Time. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY.