Memory & Learning (Part 3)

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This is the final part in the memory and learning series of blogs.  In this series we have looked at the research to find effective ways to maximise children’s learning.

In the first part 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 and information is presented in a pictorial and story format.  In the second part, we discussed how memory is enhanced by using as many senses as possible.

This blog will look at the research and strategies around the necessity for providing students with multiple opportunities to rehearse, practise and apply the information they are learning.

If you look at the brain research you will find that sustained or repeated mental processing of information  builds and strengthens the neural networks or ‘practice builds permanence’ (Sjöström, Rancz, Roth & Hausser, 2008, provide a good overview of the research in this area).

How does this knowledge apply to developing students’ literacy skills?

Firstly, 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 pre-set criteria is reached.

Research on repeated-reading dates back to the 1970s and current research continues to support the effectiveness of this strategy.  For example, Vadasy and Sanders (2008), Lo et al. (2011) and Hawkins et al. (2011) found that struggling readers who participated in a repeated-reading intervention program not only improved in fluency but significantly outperformed the control group in vocabulary recognition, word comprehension and passage comprehension.

In fact, Steven’s et al. (2017) published a meta-analysis of 19 studies examining reading fluency and comprehension outcomes of reading fluency interventions for students with learning difficulties in kindergarten through 5th grade. They found that repeated reading remains the most effective intervention of improving reading fluency. However, just be aware that the research indicates that although repeated reading has been shown to be beneficial to struggling readers, it doesn’t appear to have the same benefits for typically developing readers

To use this strategy with your child, choose a small passage of text – one paragraph is sufficient.  First ask your child to read through the passage backwards (i.e., from the last word in the passage to the first word) and help decode any unknown words. The reason for reading backwards is that it stops the child using context cues to guess the word and instead requires them to focus on decoding the word (Kilpatrick, 2019).

Next, spend some time helping your child learn the unknown words both in isolation and in the lines in which the words occur.  One your child is able to read the passage accurately, begin timing.  Read the passage through yourself at a reasonable pace (not too fast or too slow).  This is the time you want your child to achieve.  As your child is reading, correct any errors.  The child must repeat the word, reading it correctly, and this is included in the time.  In between each timing, make sure your child practises any words or sections of text that were difficult to read accurately.  If you don’t take the time to do this, your child will just be reinforcing the errors.

Students with poor working memories will require more repetitions than the ‘average’ student.  So, if the ‘average’ student needs four repetitions to remember a spelling rule or how to spell a particularly difficult word, a student with learning difficulties may need sixteen or more repetitions.  You need to be patient!!  Think of ways to give your child lots of practice – clapping patterns, singing songs and playing games which incorporate the material to be learned are all useful strategies for providing lots of repetition without making it quite so tedious.


Hawkins, R. O., Hale, A. D., Sheeley, W., & Ling, S. (2011). Repeated reading and vocabulary-previewing interventions to improve fluency and comprehension for struggling high-school readers. Psychology in the Schools, 48(1), 59-77.

Kilpatrick, D. (2019). Equipped for reading success: A comprehensive, step-by-step program for developing phoneme awareness and fluent word recognition. Casey & Kirsch Publishers: New York.

Lo, Y., Cooke, N. L., & Starling, A. L. (2011). Using a repeated reading program to improve generalization of oral reading fluency. Education & Treatment of Children, 34(1), 115-140.

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

Stevens, E.A., Melodee A. Walker, M.A., & Vaughn, S. (2017). The effects of reading fluency interventions on the reading fluency and reading comprehension performance of elementary students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50(5), 576–590.

Vadasy, P., & Sanders, E. (2008).  Benefits of repeated reading intervention for low-achieving fourth and fifth grade students,   Remedial and Special Education, 29 (4) 235-250