SHORT AND LONG TERM MEMORY
There’s a big difference between SHORT TERM memory and LONG TERM memory. It’s important to know this because even if you feel confident that your ordinary short term memory works well –without much effort- your long term memory will not operate the same way. The difference is that you have to make deliberate effort to put things into your long term memory- particularly if the information is not personally interesting to you.
The most obvious case of needing special effort is when you’re taught something early in the year but aren’t required to recall or use the information until many months later. Without deliberate early effort to store that information in your long term memory –when the time comes your recall of it is likely to be vague, confused or non-existent.
Remember Dory from Finding Nemo…..
Warning to students:
Short term memory is not a bottomless pit. There are various processes which inhibit short term memory and limit its capacity to store information. Even when something seems crystal clear on first hearing and you think you’d have no difficulty remembering it, further information can easily confuse or wipe out what you thought was safely taken in. In other words, until you have some reliable knowledge of a topic – (i.e. something safely stored in your LONG TERM MEMORY so that new information fits in and reinforces an existing picture)-new information can easily overload your short term memory and cause you to jumble up or totally forget what you saw / heard/ understood just moments before.
Reducing the Burden on Short Term Memory
The main way to reduce the burden on Short Term Memory is to handle information in the same way that opens the channels to Long Term Memory. Two simple ways to do this are:
(a) Avoiding randomness:
Your own experience should suggest what the research does-that it is extremely difficult to remember meaningless or unrelated (random) things when there are more than just a few together. For an example, try the following experiment:
1. First look at the list of letters above. Read each letter separately (one at time). Then look away and try to write the letters on a piece of paper.
2. Now look at the list again. Look for pronounce-able GROUPS among the letter (mark the groups or pronounce them out loud if it helps). Then look away and write the letters on a piece of paper.
3. Finally, read the letters BACK TO FRONT. Then write the letters down in that order
(1) The first way is very difficult or impossible
(2) The second way is easier but still slow
(3) The third way is no trouble at all.
If you tried it, you’ll see that it wasn’t repetition which made it get easier (especially not the THIRD time when they were in a total new order).
The second time was easier because You had fewer things to remember (“GNID/ NATS/REDNU”= 3 pronounceable groups instead of 13
separate letters.) Your knowledge of spelling produced the individual letters for you.
(ii) The third time of course, it was down to one word which you “understood” so you could easily remember that one comprehensive item and reproduce all the letters at will.
What does this tell us? It suggests that by avoiding randomness-i.e. by finding patterns, relationship or meaning we can:
a) Reduce the number of items to remember.
b) Call in help from other existing knowledge.
In most cases, of course, your task will be much more complicated than that – i.e not just simple letters or words but complex facts and concepts. But no matter how you manage it (you’ll find you own best ways) this is an important approach which you should use all the time.
(b) Using mnemonics:
According to the Collins Dictionary a mnemonic is “a verse or rhyme, etc, to aid the memory”. If the word is unfamiliar, to you the process isn’t. For example, how do you remember the number of days in a month? (30 days hath September).Or if you studied music, how did you learn to read notes? (Every good boy…?). Mnemonics, or similar tricks, are also handy for things like comparative definitions. For example, do you know how to remember easily the difference between stalactites and stalagmites? Stalactites with a “c” hang down from the ceiling, and stalagmites with a “g” stick up from the ground. (Some students prefer this one: when the “mites” goes up the “tights come down”).
Be creative with mnemonics (invent your own) and you’ll find they can be extremely useful.
to be continued…….
(ADAPTED FROM UCC STUDENT HANDBOOK)