Learning Memory: How Your Child’s Input / Output Systems Create a Learning Memory Process
Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
Everyone knows they hear with their ears and smell with their nose. But, did you know there are tiny little hairs in both the ears and the nose that help both senses gather sensory information in our environment? Everyone has hairs in their ears and nose. At the bottom of these tiny hairs, right where the hair meets the skin, there is a cell. This cell is like a little button that is pushed when the hair is moved. When a sound comes into your ear, the hairs in your ear move.
The same thing happens when there is a smell in the air, the hairs in your nose move. When the hairs are moved, the “button” is pushed and it sends a message to your brain that there is a new stimuli (smell, sound, pitch, taste). If your brain recognizes the stimuli, it then tells you what the sound is or what the smell is. Isn’t that cool?
This describes briefly how learning and learning memory initially begins for a child, and everyone else. It is a complex input/output system. Within this input/output system there are five learning steps that are involved in the learning memory process. The process for developing learning memory is based on how they receive new information at school or within their environment. The five steps are as follows:
What is Learning Memory?
Before discussing each step in detail, first let me give you an example of the entire learning memory cycle. Picture this. Your child’s teacher announces in class, “Tomorrow is Show and Tell for the letter S.” She proceeds to explain what an appropriate item to bring to school is (Step1: Receives) and what is not. Hopefully, the student is listening and pays attention. If so, they decide to take that information and store it until they get home (Step 2: Stores). Next, the child has to hold onto that information in their brain, using their memory skills, until they need to access it (Step 3: Retains). When the child gets home and sees their mom at the table, they exclaim, “Hey mom, I have Show and Tell tomorrow at school and I need to bring something that starts with the letter S” (Step 4: Retrieves). That evening, the child puts a stuffed animal snake into their backpack (Step 5: Utilizes).
The 5 Steps of Learning Memory
This whole cycle begins when the brain starts receiving a flood of messages from the senses. It is through our senses that we bring information to our brain. The brain organizes and encodes these messages. To understand how the brain organizes and encodes these messages, let’s go into more detail with each of the five steps of learning memory that takes place in the brain.
The brain receives information when the senses send messages to the brain that new stimuli is present. For a child to receive the information, whether it is instruction from a teacher, reading a book or watching a movie, they need to pay attention, look or listen. This is a real struggle for many students. Parents frequently express that their child misses so much in the classroom and at home because they aren’t listening or processing what was just said. They may receive the information at first, but then there is a breakdown in the child’s brain when the child tries to store and retrieve that information later. This is a sign that your child’s auditory processing is not working properly and why they may forget or glaze over the information they receive.
It is also a reason why they may have attention and focus issues in the classroom. Your child’s input system is not retaining the information, therefore, they cannot use their output system to get their thoughts down on paper, recall important details, remember facts for exams, and struggles with following directions. If your child doesn’t receive the information and process it appropriately, there is no output.
After the brain receives the information from your child’s environment, this information must be placed somewhere. Because there is no need for us to remember everything we experience, the different stages of human memory function as a filter. There are three stages: Sensory Memory, Short Term Memory, and Long Term Memory. Sensory Memory holds information coming in through the senses anywhere from a fraction of a second to several seconds. It is held long enough to process whether it is needed or not.
Short Term holds about five to nine items of information for about 30 seconds without any rehearsal. Short Term memory is also referred to as Working Memory. We use our “working memory” to remember tasks we must complete or we use this information to solve problems or have conversations. The final stage of memory is our Long Term Memory. This space is a relatively permanent system and has virtually an unlimited capacity to hold information. If your child stores the information they receive during one of these three stages, their brain prepares them to recall the information later when needed.
Retaining information is a problem for many students. Parents will describe how they work on sight words, spelling words or math facts with their child repeatedly and their child seems to get it and the next day, they have forgotten everything. To retain information, your child’s brain has to first encode the information. What does it mean to encode? Encoding requires your brain to link new information to existing knowledge so the new data becomes more meaningful. If the information or stimuli never gets encoded then it is never sent to long-term memory.
Retention is also affected when your child is required to divide their attention, which occurs when a child must pay attention to more than one thing at the same time. To improve your child’s retention, rehearsal is one way to help them remember and hold on to the information they learn. Rehearsing new material with a song, funny rhymes or other educational topics, will assist the assimilation of the new information.
After all this new information is encoded and stored in your child’s brain, it must be retrieved to be used. There are many different ways a child can retrieve the information they have learned in the classroom. If the information is stored and retained, your child may use one of the following ways to retrieve the information later to follow instructions or take a test:
- Recalling information is the process of accessing data immediately without a cue.
- Recollection is basically reconstructing your memory of an event or instruction from clues. Your child may remember bits and pieces of important data, but can’t remember the full scope of the information they learned. It forces them to use their recollection to reconstruct the remaining details to elaborate on the questions asked on their quiz or exam.
- Recognition involves identifying information after seeing it again. You see the correct answer in the list of answers on a multiple choice test, and recognize it as information you have seen before.
- Relearning involves relearning the information that has previously been stored. This often makes it easier to remember in the future and improves the strength of the retrieval.
This is the step that we all must get to when new information is presented to us. After we have received, stored, retained and retrieved new information, now we need to apply it. If your child has all the skills to help his or her brain remember what the teacher said about Show and Tell, and retrieved the information by telling you about the event, the first four steps in the learning process was a success. What happens though if the child doesn’t apply what he knows? What if he doesn’t find an item that starts with the letter S? What if he didn’t put the stuffed snake in his backpack and take it to school?
The information and retrieval may have been there, but applying that knowledge is that last important step. And, they must utilize the information correctly based on what they received and stored. Helping our children have the skills to utilize their newly gained knowledge is as important as making sure their brain is able to process the information in the first place.
Remember, we can’t learn without our senses. Each one is important to a child’s learning experience. That being said, in a school environment, the two senses used most often when a child is learning are the visual and auditory systems. Most teachers present their material and facts in a way that targets your child’s visual and auditory. Even though this is one of the most common methods for teaching, it’s important to remember each child learns differently, and if there is a gap in a child’s learning, teaching through auditory or visual means may not be the right method for that student. This is why teachers may have to adapt their lesson plans to your child’s learning style.
As you become more familiar with your child’s learning style, you will better understand how to help them retain information longer. When they finally learn how to reach the last and final step of the learning memory process, which is utilizing the knowledge they learn, your child will perform and apply the information at a higher level. This requires multiple learning spheres where many senses were used, not just one. The more neural pathways we create in your child’s brain using many of these learning methods, the greater chance they have at succeeding in school and in future careers. Their knowledge must connect and build on previous knowledge, which creates better retrieval and utilization of the information they gain.
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Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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