3 Ways to Help Your Child "Retrieve" Information When Their Memory Is Weak

We all know that memory is very important cognitive skill needed in order to learn. There are three parts to the memory process:
  1. You need the ability to "encode" the memory which means process what is coming in put the memory into your internal filing cabinet.
  2. You need the ability to "store" the memory which means you need to have the ability to keep the memory.
  3. You need the ability to "retrieve" the memory which means you need to be able to recall the memory when requested.
I work with a lot of students who come to me with memory problems. They can study for hours and then not be able to retrieve the material on demand. Most of the time, the storage of the material can be the culprit where your child just doesn't have enough storage room to hold the material so it gets lost. Some of the time, the encoding could be impaired where the need for strategies to help process incoming information to form a memory is the issue. Most of the time, however, the problem resonates with the processing in the brain relative to the retrieval of the information.
To help your child be successful, you can use certain types of retrieval strategies. According to the Brain Injury Association of New York 2006, there are three types of retrieval you can use with the first two being the most useful when you are working with a child with extreme memory weakness.
The first type of retrieval memory strategy is "Cued Retrieval." Your child's memory is there... waiting... your job is to get it to the front of the line.....
This is a common known method but sometimes it is not performed correctly. Most of know of "Cued Retrieval" as giving our child ways to get to the answer. In fact, it a support strategy where you help to trigger your child's memory. We are working under the assumption that retrieval is an issue and not storage or encoding at this time.
Therefore, we should work with the assumption that our child has learned and retained and needs help pulling (retrieving) the information from their brain. However, a lot of time, if this doesn't work fast enough, we instinctively feel we need to give the answer to the child. Which is not the case, because you can move to another strategy known as Recognition Memory which I will discuss later.
With "Cued Retrieval" we simply support our child by "cueing" them up for the correct answer without giving them the answer. For example, I use this method when working with students and my daughter who suffer from memory retrieval weakness. Lets say my daughter is working through her homework where she needs to categorize words into nouns using categories of places, people or things/ideas.
To "cue" her memory up in a way that I do not give her the answer, I would support her by saying:
  • We know that nouns are either a person, place or thing.
  • A person is "people" "humans" like you and I, etc.
  • A place is a location like school, library, etc.
  • A thing is an object like a chair, TV, phone, etc.
  • Then I say - what category would "backyard" fall into?
  • I would wait to see if she can reply with place. If not, I move into recognition memory described below.
With "Cued Memory", I did not give her the answer. Her retrieval in general is weak. Her retrieval around nouns, what they are and what categories they fall into is very weak. She needs to be "cued" up to support her learning.
The second type of retrieval strategy that I use with my daughter and students is called "Recognition Memory". This is where you literally give your child the answers within a multiple choice or true/false option.
For example, when working with my daughter, I could have restated my questions to ask:
  • Nouns are either a person, place or thing - yes or no? True or False?
  • Is the word "backyard" a person? y/n
  • Is the word "backyard" a thing y/n
  • Is the word "backyard" a place y/n
  • I could also have tried - The word "backyard" is either a person, place or thing - which one is it?
This type of retrieval is the easiest and often used to discover what your child knows and does not know. In other words, did your child learn and retain material? Did they retain and understand a concept? Is your child mainly having retrieval problems? I also use this method when the retrieval is very weak because more encoding strategies are needed - more repetition is yet to come on a topic but we are working retrieval strategies in parallel.
The third type of retrieval that should commonly be used with children who do not often make mistakes or have anxiety in school is called "Free Retrieval". This is when the teacher asks a question point blank and wants an answer.
For example, when working with Shannon to help her with nouns, I could have restated my question above to ask:
  • What category of nouns does the word "backyard" fall into?
There is NO support, cueing or recognition to trigger the memory. Shannon has to freely retrieve the memory of what nouns are and what the categories for nouns are and what are examples of each category - from her head!
The problem with this memory is that when using this strategy with children who have weak memory retrieval, it just leaves you as homeschooling parent or classroom teacher with the knowledge that the child has retrieval issues! You are not helping to discover what the child "knows" and definitely not helping the child to learn and move forward.
From an assessment perspective, using "Cued Retrieval" and "Recognition Memory" will help you discover just what your child has in memory and has learned. You know the child "knows" the information and has learned the material. Now, you can focus on strengthening their cognitive memory skills to help the retrieval process!
For a child with documented retrieval (memory) weakness, testing accommodations using the "Recognition Memory" of true/false or multiple choice should be used to "test" the child's knowledge. Using the standard open-ended "Free Retrieval" questions will only help you, as the teacher, recognize the child has retrieval issues - which you should already know via your Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or assessments.
Like with all other types of supports, these would be removed at the appropriate timing when the cognitive memory skill has strengthened appropriately and is able to shown success in retrieval.
Remember, if you have a child with retrieval problems, have your child assessed today and get moving on strengthening their memory skills sooner than later.


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