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Historical Aspects of Learning and Memory

Learning and memory have arguably developed from the field of philosophy. A key contribution came from Aristotle(384BC) who asserted that memory is composed of associations, which connect knowledge and experiences. These associations allow humans to remember and construct reality( this concept was later taken up in by schema and network theories of language.) Early scientific theory (Darwin 1882) related principles of evolution to memory. Darwin suggested that through evolution humans have developed genetic features, which have allowed them to become more adaptive to the environment. As a result, memory evolved in order to capture experiences in and of the environment for later use. Neurosciences have helped substantiate this evolutionary perspective. Kandel (2001) has shown that the cells in the hippocampus part of the brain, across a number of different species, are involved in learning and long term aspects of memory.

It was Ebbinghaus (1885) who made one of the earliest link between memory and learning, when he studied 169 separate lists of nonsense syllables over different time spans. The main findings showed that the more he was exposed to a syllable the more he could remember; this familiarity with learning new material is now known as the repetition effect. Other findings showed that repetition enhanced recall substantially, when learning trails were distributed over time, compared to when learning intervals were massed together. This concept has since been taken up by the field of cognitive psychology and has become known as the distributed practice effect.

Reliability & Validity of Learning and Memory Experiments

The reliability and validity of Ebbinghaus’ early findings have been tested through replication and manipulation across different laboratory experiments. So much so that distributed practice has been accepted by many to enhance memory and learning.Word lists, paragraph reading and picture learning are some areas mentioned by Challis(1993). However, theoretical discussion of why distributed practice can be said to be more effective for learning and memory, rather than massed practice learning intervals is a contentious areas of debate and beyond the scope of this article. 

So what does this mean for Teachers and speech and language therapists? The theory provides the backdrop to formulate universal strategies to support memory and learning in the classroom.

The following speech and language therapy strategies are intended for Teachers, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists who want to support those children who difficulty with learning and memory in the classroom and other school based activities.

Learning and Memory Classroom strategies

Following Directions:

  1. When giving directions, repeat them again using different words.
  2. Using gestures when giving directions can be beneficial.
  3. If there are several directions, give one to two directions at a time versus all at one time.
  4. Be specific when giving directions.
  5. If possible, give a visual cue. For example, if making an activity you can demonstrate the steps as you go along. Showing the completed project would also provide them assistance.
  6. When working with projects that have multi-step directions, it may be helpful to write the directions on the board.
  7. Create a list of common directions that are used throughout the day. When needed, they can be laminated and placed on the board for the entire class, or can be smaller to be placed on the individual’s desk.
  1. The client may benefit from sitting next to an individual who would be willing to provide assistance with multi-step tasks.

Processing Information:

  1. Ask basic questions that have the answer in a picture or hands-on activity.
  1. Provide small group opportunities where the children can discuss newly learned concepts or ideas.
  2. Provide adequate time for the child to process what you have asked and form their answer. If the child does not respond after a given period of time, ask the question in a different way.
  1. Use several modalities when communicating (speaking, reading, writing, listening, visual, hands-on).
  2. Do frequent comprehension checks when teaching. Stop periodically and discuss the information you have presented.
  3. Encourage the client to ask for help.
  1. Provide additional support for writing down information, such as notebooks. Actual pictures could also be taken of what needs to go home (i.e. Math book, writing notebook, etc.). Some students may need written directions on how to complete assignments so that parents can assist them in the home.

Further research reading:

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