Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Flexible and Inflexible Learning & Memory

Our memory systems may be our greatest untapped brain resource. Most of us don't think about how we remember, and even fewer know how to use our particular strengths strategically. The different ways we remember, and the best ways we remember should be part of the basic education of every teacher, but only now in the fancy era of brain reorganization and plasticity, are we waking up to the possibility of individually-designed brain-based learning.

The "Complementary Memory Systems" paper below is a good introduction to seeing the competition and complementarity in parallel memory systems exists. For some types of experience or learning, we want associations or details to be fairly fixed and inflexible. That fire is hot, or that we should extend our arms to break a fall, are lessons that should become so automatic that we don't have to think about them. It also might include a whole host of facts, definitions, and bits of information that are linked by unvarying relationships.

There are also some experiences and information that are best learned in a more flexible way, and its this sort of information that can be applied in different contexts and for new problems or situations.

The tricky thing in education is knowing where to strike the balance. This may be an even more difficult decision for students with disabilities.

In the case of some students with high functioning autism, fact-based memory maybe extremely strong - but problems arise with flexibility - being able to extrapolate or apply facts to new situations. Usually solutions are found by using a student's strengths - providing them with more facts, rules, and guidelines for decision-making, behavior, or activity, rather than expecting them to incidentally 'learn' from new situations or changing contexts.

In other students, flexible / personal / highly contextual learning may be the best or even only effective way of learning, so that a teacher may find herself directing learning only by her choice of materials and experiences, presentation of multiple examples and counter-examples, and careful consideration about how to interest or intrigue a child into becoming personally involved in learning a skill or subject.

APA: Memory Flexibility
Complementary Memory Systems
Mneumonic Strategies Ldonline
Improving Your Memory
Memory Considerations & Teaching
Inductive vs. Deductive (TA Handout)
Inductive Generalizations

(HT: Kevin McGrew's Blog)

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