Hunched over the computer, her fingers flew over the keyboard. Fact after carefully researched fact about Ellis Island made their way onto the screen. The paper was practically writing itself—and then the phone rang. Wanting privacy, she took the call in her bedroom. Meanwhile, her mom ran upstairs for a sweater, saw the light on in the computer room, and flicked the switch. Such a howl! Eight pages gone, unsaved . . .
Our memories, too, can let us down. Our short-term memory allows us to keep a thought—but not for long. Storing information, like a computer’s hard-drive, is our long-term memory’s job. To demonstrate, ask your child to look up a number in the phone book, close it, and dial it—then immediately hang up. Now chat a bit before having her dial the number again. No redial button allowed. Most likely, the number will be forgotten, as if a switch had been flipped.
If your child studies at the last minute, much of those stuffed-in facts will quickly leak from her short-term memory—and all the head banging in the world won’t recapture what’s been lost. As chemistry professor, Dr. Pedlow, explains, “If information isn’t ‘saved’ in your long-term memory, it soon fades. In two weeks, recall is down to about 20%; in a month, it’s hovering around 5%” No wonder, then, if she earned a low grade despite her knowing it cold when you quizzed her. Very cold, it turns out. So what to do? Students must more permanently store all those facts, dates, events, terms, spellings, and here’s how:
MEMORY LESSON #1: Repeat information frequently, with the intent to learn and remember.
MEMORY LESSON #2: Recitation (studying/reviewing out loud) is the most powerful memory tool of all when coupled with repetition.
MEMORY LESSON #3: “Chunking,” or grouping information, is particularly helpful when it comes to rote memorization of facts, definitions, etc. That’s why flash cards are always in style. After the first go-through, your child should end up with an I-know-these pile and one for the not-so-well-known. Those require repeated sessions until the entire stack is memorized. Ma Bell understands the concept. Instead of 1234567890, phone numbers are listed as 123-456-7890.
MEMORY LESSON #4: Create sentence cues for learning lists, such as “My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” for recalling the planets in order.
MEMORY LESSON #5: Create acronyms for learning lists, such as ROY G. BIV for memorizing the colors of the visible spectrum in order (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet)
MEMORY LESSON #6: Make up mnemonics to correctly spell tricky words. For instance, WE are WEird and ERIN wants to be a vetERINarian.
MEMORY LESSON #7: The brain has the remarkable ability to create and hold onto images. When looking at something, an electrical impulse reaches the brain’s vision center; it happens when we use our “mind’s eye,” too, so tell your child to create mental pictures when reading.
Here’s some more advice. To store information in the long-term memory, it must be reviewed three to five times over the course of three to five days. Believing you’ll remember helps, too. Meanwhile, gesturing makes thinking easier, while writing begins the memory process and causes the brain to process information deeply and refine thinking. Some also say that peppermint and gum chewing boost memory, while glucose helps improve memory test scores–foods like apples and dried fruit, not sodas or sugar-laden juices. Helpful, too, is coupling learning with the rhythms of music and relaxing all muscles. Finally, getting a good night’s sleep helps the brain store studied information. Losing just two hours of sleep one night can impair the ability to remember the next day.