Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Forgetful Learners

If you teach or parent one of these forgetful learners, then you'll know what we mean. Forgetful learners can be frustrating to teach because although they're paying close attention to the lessons and showing that they understand you...snap! Then it suddenly seems gone.

There are different types of Forgetful Learners because of the different types of memory, but here are a few of the most common profiles:

Young Children in General: Forgetting happens often in young children because of their developing brains and lack of organization. They may remember many details, but miss the forest for the trees because they don't know how to identify the most important information or put what they know into groups or categories.

In the figure below, scientists were a bit surprised to find that young children were better than adults during category hint trials. As it turned out, the adults tended to tune out individual differences in cats, once they thought a sorting task applied to all cats. This sort of thing should remind us about real state of affairs with the learning of young children. They might be learning all sorts of things when they are being shown information, but they may not connect it with what they know or generalize what they learn to other facts. For the adults, it says that we may miss 'seeing' if we already have a strong expectation of what we think we will see.

In One Ear, Out the Other: Some people have very short auditory verbal memories and may process more information through visual or spatial ways. This might have been the kind of forgetfulness that Enrico Fermi had (also struggled with taking notes in class). This sort of pattern can also be seen among dyslexics, kids with mild birth injury or preemie births, or just as a individual variation.

Children with mild or moderate language difficulties may also appear much more forgetful for spoken information than their general memories might predict. It's because they are also having to work harder at decoding words - and this robs the brain resources from keeping everything in mind.

Non-Multi-Taskers: Some kids always look like they're forgetting because they can only reliably take information in through one channel at a time (for instance, just listening or just seeing). If you break things down, they can do quite well.

Able to Narrate Ideas, But Not Write: These kids can also be very perplexing to parents or teachers, but the problem here is usually visual (visual memory for letters / words) or kinesthetic (sensory-motor memory for written letters or words). This can also be a common problem in dyslexia.

Because of the redundancy in the nervous system, there is usually quite a lot you can do if any one of these memory systems are down. But at least today, conventional teaching practices and educational software don't consider these types of differences. Maybe for the future?

Children Worse with Categories, Better with Perceptual Memory
Memory Strategies for Students
Some memory strategies for children

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