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So That Your Learners Remember

How do we teach in a brain-friendly way so that our learners will be more likely to recall the information being learned? There are five simple strategies we can utilize, that will enable us to optimize memory formation. Over the next several issues, we will investigate those strategies.

To help remember the five strategies, I like to use a mnemonic device called CROME.

Remember-Chunking-NotesC stands for “chunk information.”
R reminds us of the importance of repetition.
O helps us remember the need for oxygen and glucose.
M means that we must link the learning to something that is “meaningful” or relevant for the students.
E helps us understand that our emotional state impacts what and how we remember.

In this issue we will dig deeper into the importance of chunking information.

Working memory is short. Scientists used to think that we could hold on to five to nine bits of information and process it. However, more recent research suggests that one to four bits of information is more ideal for memory formation. Our brain works best when it “nibbles” at small bits of information. So when we are teaching new information, we need to have a goal of breaking down that information into smaller chunks. We regularly do this when we memorize Bible passages. We also need to do this as we teach new concepts.

Not only do we want to chunk information, but we also want to chunk time. The primacy-recency effect posits that we remember information at the beginning and the end of each learning session better than information we learn in the middle. So how do we break our teaching time into smaller chunks?

Here are some suggestions you might utilize to increase retention:

  • Energizers—activities that get the learners up out of their seats and thinking about something else: “Stretch and take three deep breaths.” or “Turn to a neighbor and the two of you develop your own personal handshake.” or “Walk around the room and touch three things that are black, and then find someone standing near you and discuss one key concept you have learned so far that you want to remember.” The goal of an energizer is to move and, ideally, to attend to something other than what you have been studying. After the brief break, which can be as short as 30 seconds, the mind returns to the learning activity more refreshed.
  • Slide presentations—Using a PowerPoint presentation actually chunks the teaching in a visual manner. As you transition from slide to slide, your brain sees the succession of slides as an end and a new beginning.
  • Group discussions—“Turn and talk to a neighbor for two minutes—what is one point you don’t really understand or agree with?” Or, “What is one concept that really resonates with you and that you want to make sure you remember?” Or, “How would you apply this information in your personal life?” The question is only part of the benefit; the additional benefit is that this is another brain reset that chunks your instruction time.
  • One-minute paper—Ask students to take out a sheet of paper and write nonstop on any of the questions mentioned in the previous strategy.
  • Videos—Showing videos that reinforce what is being taught is an excellent way to chunk instructional time and incorporate another modality to help learners remember.

The brain is most able to retain information when it has time to process the information as it receives it. Chunking both the amount of information you share and the instruction time you share it in will allow the brain to nibble at information over time and optimize the meaningful transition from short- term to long-term memory.

Dr. Rhoda Wolle is the Dean of Student Success and an Associate Professor of Education at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee. She teaches Educational Psychology in both the undergraduate and graduate programs.