coaching, homework, learning and remembering, Math, Mathematics, resilient children, spelling

How to remember what you learn

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‘Just knowing’ the basic facts means that your child can master Maths and spelling

There are some very easy techniques your child can use to remember skills and knowledge they have learnt. Recent brain research proves how important these techniques are, but even before research told them it was a good idea good teachers and learners have always used them.

Revise, revise, revise. Good teachers never assume their students understand and remember today what was taught yesterday, and they revise regularly. Indeed, research has shown that revision is an important part of the coaching or teaching session so that new learning is remembered. Brain research has demonstrated how regular practice of new learning gives brains the opportunity to ‘hardwire’ the connections between the neural pathways so that these new memory pathways become hard-wired into existing neuron nets.

However, rote learning by itself is slow and boring. Repetition and drills don’t work well on their own. When your child revises ‘mindlessly’ by just repeating the information over and over, they won’t remember easily because their mind is not paying attention. You have probably experienced the time-consuming boredom of having to repeat information over and over until it is remembered.

How your child can stay interested and involved:

Make lots of connections. Remembering works best when we encourage the neurons to communicate with each other. Whatever your child’s age, when learning is an interesting time rather than something they must endure, they will pay more attention and remember more easily.

  1. Use the senses when learning (listen, look, talk aloud, and do something)
  2. Connect new ideas to what they already know.
  3. Make revision time interesting, brief and focused.

Practical tips

Flash cards are brilliant tools to help your child remember because they can be flexible and exciting to use and easily adapt to revise most facts. They can test themselves too because the answers are on the back. You can make your own flashcards using card or paper, and there are versions on the internet. I use them for all my students when they have to remember basic facts ranging from upper high school biology and physics, to addition and subtraction number facts.

Flashcard variations to keep your child focused and interested:

  • Ask your child to place the cards in two piles as they revise them, a hard and easy pile, and then revise one of those piles again.
    • When revising the ‘hard’ pile, encourage your child to make connections with other facts they know.
    • When revising the ‘easy’ pile – slightly increase the speed you place the card down. Their concentration increases, as does their fluency.         
    • When they develop a little more confidence and skill, speed up by giving them one to two seconds to give their answer. They can enjoy ripping up the ones that they ‘just know’ and throwing them in the rubbish.

Make many connections with their senses and current knowledge.

  • Five to seven new facts is enough to commit to memory at any one time. 
  • Help your child concentrate well by making revision practices short and simple and interactive. Use a system that involves their senses and uses their memory. When learning spelling words, use ‘the write and say – check and cover system’. Write, and as they write, say the sounds in the word aloud. Check it is spelt correctly, then cover that word so it can’t be seen, then write and say the word again. Repeat this process five times for each word.
  • Connect the new information with known facts.
  • New learning when connected with strong emotions is more easily learnt. You can make their spelling somehow shocking/interesting/surprising, especially if the word doesn’t follow any phonics rule you know of.
  • Set up a simple system of automatically revising words that have been learnt. Revise them within 24 hours, then again during the week, and again within a month. Testing spelling words regularly gives them another chance to learn it if they have forgotten parts of it.

The more chances the brain has to make connections, the faster and easier it will remember new information. So….

  • Connect new ideas with ideas your child already knows.
  • Use as many of the senses as you can. Explain and discuss together (aural), show them how (visual), the student does it or writes it down (kinesthetic).
  • Make the new learning shocking/interesting/surprising.
  • Only learn for a brief period of time then take a break or learn something else.
  • Test and retest for longer than you might think necessary.

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