Memory & Learning (Part 2)

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This is the second part of the memory and learning blog.  As highlighted in Part 1, it is not sufficient just to present information and concepts to children, they also need strategies for remembering the information.



In Part 1 of this blog, it was mentioned that we remember best when:

  • New knowledge is linked to existing knowledge.
  • The different components of a program are integrate.
  • Information is presented in a pictorial and story format.
  • As many senses as possible are used.
  • Multiple opportunities are provided for rehearsing or practising the information.

This blog will look at the research and strategies around the fourth point.

If you look at the brain research, you find that brain growth is linked to the development of new connections between neurons (of which we all have 100 billion) and these connections occur as a result of sensory stimulation.

Each sense has its own receptive and processing areas. Therefore, if information is presented in a multisensory format a greater region of the brain is stimulated promoting not only a greater number of connections, but also multiple, mutually reinforcing information storage sites and neural networks to carry in and then retrieve the stored information. Please note: This is a very different concept to Learning Styles which the research does not support.

In Krafnick et al.’s (2011) study eleven dyslexic children underwent an eight week multisensory intervention program that focused on mental imagery, articulation and tracing of letters, groups of letters and words.  This intervention resulted in significant improvements in reading skills, giving support to the positive effects of a multisensory approach.

This was followed by an eight week control period where no intervention was administered.  At the end of this period there had been no further significant gains in reading.  But what was really interesting about this study was that structural MRI scans were obtained before the intervention, after the intervention and after the null period. It was found that grey matter volume (neural connections) increased significantly after the intervention, but showed no further increases after the control period.  In other words the change was only specific to the intervention period. However, just keep in mind that this was a very small study in terms of the number of participants.

Yet, a more recent study by Broadbent et al. (2020) found that two sensory information cues (e.g., visual and auditory) were better than one

How can we use these research findings to support children’s learning? An obvious starting place is to encourage children to use as many senses as possible at the same time.  For example, children could trace over a word, which has been colour-coded while saying the sounds represented by the different letters or letter combinations.

Research by Cook, Yip and Goldin-Meadow (2010) found that using hand gestures during the learning process significantly increases long term recall of that information.  They hypothesised that the brain maybe more efficient at encoding and retrieving the motor coding involved in gesturing compared to the coding associated with auditory information or visual information in isolation.  This is supported by other research which show a better retention of information during and after exercise.

So, one of the things I do when I’m teaching say digraphs is to get the students to say the relevant information in conjunction with a clapping pattern while looking at the visual and pictorial representation of the sound.  I also encourage students to walk around the room while trying to learn new concepts or to jog up and down on the spot.

While we’re considering the importance of including movement components in your lessons, it’s worthwhile considering Mangen and Velay’s (2010) research into the area.  In this experiment two groups of adults were required to learn to write an unknown alphabet, consisting of approximately twenty letters.  One group was taught to write by hand, while the other group used a keyboard.

The participants’ recollection of the letters and well as how quickly they could distinguish right and reversed letters was tested after 3 and then after 6 weeks into the experiment. Those who had learned the letters by handwriting came out best in all tests.

These researchers argued that the process of putting pen to paper more effectively imprints knowledge in the brain as:

  • Greater mental effort is required to write by hand.
  • Visual attention is concentrated on the letter formation (where as in typing there is a separation as most people tend to look at the screen.
  • The writer has to form the visual shape of the letter as opposed to hitting a ready formed letter.
  • Different parts of the brain are stimulated and the more areas stimulated the greater the likelihood of retention.
  • The writing process takes longer thus the temporal areas of the brain (which are involved in visual and auditory processing and play a key role in the formation of long term memory) are stimulated for a longer period.
  • Again, if you look at the brain research – and these authors provide a good overview of the research in this area – you will find that sustained or repeated mental processing of information builds and strengthens the neural networks or Practice builds permanence
  • Let’s look at an example of the benefits of rehearsal and repetition from the literacy research.
  • Good comprehension requires fluent reading (i.e. the ability to quickly and accurately decode words) so that the majority of your mental energy can be focused on comprehending the text.
  • One strategy for improving reading fluency is repeated reading whereby the student rereads a passage of text until a preset criteria is reached.
  • Research on repeated reading dates back to the 1970s and current research continues to support the effectiveness of this strategy.

These findings have also been supported by a range of studies carried out by James (2017).

So, perhaps we should be encouraging our children to at least do some of their learning by writing using pen and paper!


Broadbent, H., Osborne, T., Mareschal, D., & Kirkham, N. (2020). Are two cues always better than one? The role of multiple intra-sensory cues compared to multi-cross-sensory cues in children’s incidental category learning. Cognition. 199:104202. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104202

Cook, S., Yip, T., & Goldin-Meadow, S., (2010). Gesturing makes memories that last, Journal of Memory and Language, 63 (4), 465-475.

Eggen, P., & Kauchak, D. (2010). Educational psychology: Windows on classrooms (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Ltd.

James, K. H. (2017). The Importance of Handwriting Experience on the Development of the Literate Brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 502–508.

Krafnick, A., Flowers, D., Napoliello, E & Eden, G. (2011). Gray matter volume changes following reading intervention in dyslexic children, Neuroimage, 57(3), 733-741.

Mangen, A. & Velay, J. (2010). Digitizing literacy: Reflections on the haptics of writing, Advances in Haptics, (April), 385-401.

Sjöström, P., Rancz, E., Roth, & Hausser, M. (2008). Dendritic excitability and synaptic plasticity. Physiological Reviews, 88, 769-840.