We often talk of memory as an entity: a thing like a kidney or lung or heart. To make our understanding easier, many of us picture it as discrete little packets of information filed away in neat little compartments in our brain. Memory certainly does not exist in the way an object does. It is actually the process of remembering.
Considering that it is a process, it must involve a system with some steps. Many factors go into forming a memory. A memory has greater chances of being well-formed if:
It is based on information that a person is already familiar with
Attention has been paid to trying to remember it
Now, applying this to students struggling to remember what has been stored in the form of memory, we can conclude the following: A child forgets or is fuzzy about what has been taught because:
• He may not have clearly registered the information
• He may not have retained what he registered
• He may be having trouble retrieving the memory accurately.
Improving Memory Formation
Scientists have shown that it is possible to improve memory by focusing on the process of memory formation. What a child does during practicing memorization is more important than the repetition for memory formation. For children learning the Times Tables, this implies that practicing memorization can help improve memory provided specific techniques to boost memory formation are used in the classroom.
Where Memory Resides
Scientists say there is no one place in the brain that memory occupies. It appears to be a complex biological phenomenon which functions at the level of synapses of the innumerable interconnecting nerve cells scattered all over the brain. In fact, scientists hardly care to make a distinction between how we remember and how we think!
How Memory Forms
Among other things, memory has its roots in the five senses as well as in movements. When external stimuli prompted by education or by training cause functional changes in the nerve cells at the dendrites and synapses, memory is believed to have formed.
Perception: Among a child’s earliest memories may be being held snugly in his mother’s arms. Since memories begin with perception, his visual system identifies attributes of things around him by associating them with his earliest memories: this shape is Mother’s face, this one is her smell, this is how mom’s touch feels, this is how she sounds, and this is the colour of her hair.
These perceptions travel to the brain as sensations that are integrated into a single memorable moment which is the experience of being held snugly by mom. The brain is not done yet: it now consolidates this information and stores it as a permanent memory.
Registering and Retaining: Memory formation begins with registering information upon perception. The data is then stored as short term memory. It is lost within minutes unless it is repeated and conscious attention is paid to remember it, whereupon it is transferred to long term memory and is retained. This means that kids will remember better if specific strategies to engage attention are used in the classroom. So, what intervention or activity has been planned is of great significance in how effective memory formation is.
Recalling: Transferring information to long term memory involves making associations between words, images, meanings and earlier experiences including smells and sounds. These associations help in recall. How well the associations were originally formed will determine how accurate the recall is. This means that attention is the key to good memory performance.
The lesson for educators and parents is then that they must devise methods to engage attention while teaching. This is the basis for pedagogy for effective memory formation.