Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Remembering to Learn: Five Factors for Improving Recall

Taken from: Debora S. Herold, PhD, Faculty Focus.

As a professor of cognitive psychology, I teach about memory, especially about when and why our memories often fail us. Students are excited to apply this material to their everyday lives. During a recent class, a student asked whether other faculty were familiar with this research and remarked that it would be helpful if everyone structured their lessons with this knowledge in mind. I offer the following tips taken from basic memory research. All of these findings can be easily applied to how you teach your classes and advise students.
  1. Attend to information. How often are your students checking text messages while listening to your lecture, arguing that they are really good at multitasking? Remind your students that most failures of memory are not problems with retrieval but with encoding. Most of the time we do not have difficulty pulling information out; the problem is that we never got it in to begin with. To make this point, I use the classic Nickerson and Adams (1979) penny task and ask students to draw the head of a penny from memory. They quickly realize that they have “forgotten” which direction Lincoln is facing or are unsure which phrases are on the heads or tails side. Explain to your students that they didn’t forget what a penny looks like. The truth is that they never bothered to encode the information. To remember something, they need to engage in controlled processing. They have to block out other distractions and focus on the task at hand.
  2. Engage in deep processing and self-reference. Deep processing involves thinking about the meaning of the information and connecting it to personal experiences. To make this point, I use a modified version of Craik and Tulving’s (1975) study and present students with a list of adjectives, such as “creative,” “methodical,” or “serious.” For some of the words they are asked a question about how it is spelled; for example, “Does the word contain the letter T?” For other words, they are asked, “Does the word describe you?” Later, students are asked to recall as many of the words as possible. Students are significantly more likely to recall words from the “describe list” because they had to think about the meanings and apply the words to themselves. Simply reading over a paragraph of text or listening to a lecture does not guarantee encoding it into memory. What one thinks about while listening or reading is what matters. Read More.