coaching, homework, learning and remembering, Math, Mathematics, reading and writing skills, resilient children

How to remember what you learn

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

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.

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. I have some suggestions for you so that your child is definitely not bored and stays interested and involved while they revise.

Make lots of connections with what you are learning. Remembering works best when we encourage the neurons to communicate with each other by using our senses and by connecting new ideas to what we already know. Paying close attention also helps us remember more easily. Make revision time brief and focused, and competitive too at times, so your child is more likely to stay alert and interested. Encourage them to involve their senses as they learn, and to connect new knowledge to what they already know. Whatever your child’s age, when they find revision time an interesting time rather than something they must endure, they will pay more attention and make more connections, and remember more easily.

Practical ways to stay alert and make connections when learning and remembering

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. You can make your own flashcards using card or paper, and there are versions on the internet now too. 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. They can test themselves too because the answers are on the back.

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. Keep the ones they hesitate too long on, then count who has the most cards at the end. A prize for the winner can be offered to make it more exciting for you both. They can also rip up the ones that they ‘just know’ and throw them in the rubbish.

Make many connections with their senses and prior knowledge when revising spelling (you can adapt the following ideas for remembering spelling words to revising many other facts and skills).

  • Five to seven new facts is enough to commit to memory at any one time.  Help them stay focussed by only revising five to seven  new spelling words each coaching session.
  • Help your child concentrate well by making revision practises short and simple and interactive. Use a system that involves their senses and uses their memory. For example 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.
  • When they write, say, and look while learning each spelling word, they use three senses at the same moment. The new spelling word connects to their muscle memory or kinesthetic sense as they write it. When they say it out loud, sound by sound and using slow motion speaking while writing each sound, their ears hear the sounds as the hand writes them, and the eyes watch as the sounds are written as letters on the paper.
  • Connect the new word with other words, or parts of words, they already know how to spell, so the new memory is connected to what they already know.
  • Make their spelling somehow shocking/interesting/surprising, especially if the word doesn’t follow any phonics rule you know of. New learning when connected with strong emotions is more easily learnt.
  • 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 helps your child use more effort to learn and remember that word the first time they learn it, and also gives them another chance to learn it if they have forgotten parts of it.

New memory pathways need the support of other existing pathways to grow strong. The more connections you help your child make, the faster and easier they will remember new information. You can help your child remember faster by:

  • Connecting new ideas with ideas your child already knows.
  • Using 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).
  • Making the idea shocking/interesting/surprising.
  • Only learning for a brief period of time then taking a break or learning something else.
  • Testing and retesting for longer than you might think necessary.

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