Why doesn’t my dyslexic child retain what they have learned?
When I get a phone call from parents asking about assessments they will often say their child is bright and intelligent but they struggle to understand why they don’t retain information.
There can be many reasons why children don’t retain information, not just based around literacy. Too often it is thought that if a child has sat in class and appeared to be attentive and not day dreaming or being distracted by themselves or others, it will be assumed they are learning, well why wouldn’t they be?
At one time it was thought that intelligence tests were a key indicator to predicting a child’s educational outcome. However there is an additional school of thought that working memory (WM) is also a predictor. A great researcher and author on WM is Tracy Packiam Alloway.
Working memory is the part of memory which processes information as it is coming in/being received. This can be visually, auditory or through experience (kinaesthetic).
Imagine you have been given a telephone number and you have to do other tasks before you are able to have an opportunity to recite it back again. What strategies would you put in place to remember it? Verbal rehearsal (keep repeating it), repeat it in certain chunks, have a visual picture of it, draw it in the air with an invisible pen? It would feel like spinning plates if you had to retain information like this all the time if it didn’t transfer into the long term memory.
Unless information is processed there is no way it can be stored into the long term memory (LT). The way in which we get information into the LT memory ensures that we can retain it, store it and retrieve it at the necessary time.
In the world of dyslexia we have heard so many times about multi sensory learning, through visual, auditory or kinaesthetic strategies. These are great but we have to ensure other conditions are also present to ensure information sticks!
So if our WM isn’t as effective as it can be, in turn information doesn’t go into the LT so in effect we can’t retrieve information at the necessary time i.e. exams to prove our level of learning/intelligence. Therefore WM needs to work well to learn.
WM is also not static, we can improve working memory through games and apps. Those of us old enough to remember the electronic game of the late 70s/early 80s will perhaps remember the game ‘Simon’. In the game 4 different colours flashed and we needed to remember the visual pattern and repeat it to get to the next level. This was a visual game. An age old game of ‘I went shopping and bought…’ is also a game of auditory memory, as we added on an additional item to the shopping list as each person took a turn. Playing simple games such as this can work to strengthen the WM. Some of us may have a stronger/weaker visual or auditory memory.
However in order to make things stick we must also consider additional factors when learning takes place. Anxiety and worry of any type can reduce the WM capacity to process information.
Always link information into the students existing schemata, or in other words, attach it to information they have already learned and have stored securely. Pull it out of their memory and apply the new learning to it.
Give information a semantic link. If someone says ‘cat’ you will instantly have a picture, feeling or sound in your imagination. Talk about it and ensure the student relates to the information. Make it applicable to their world. Put vocabulary into their context and apply it to scenarios in their experiences. Read more about semantic links
Discuss the information as a group and get students to explain to each other what they have learned. It is at this point that assimilation of learning and the ‘penny dropping’ often takes places when they realise they can understand and explain it.
Learning is experience
Use the information in practical scenarios. Apply metacognition, ask the student how valuable they think that information is and where they can see themselves using it. Let’s face it none of us ever thought algebra was ever going to be useful….neither did I and I can’t recall a thing about it! Learn more about metacognition.
Create a pathway, show them where the learning is going and what the aims are. Some students need a whole picture not just isolated segments of information. Show them where they have come from and get them to reflect on what they have learned.
Ensure that information is structured. For dyslexics in particular they can retrieve random facts and information, so ensure that it is structured and tagged into existing information (schemata) so it can be retrieved in an organised manner.
Make information into a story, put it into context, use other information such as films/videos and story-telling to bring information alive.
Make sure information is delivered in bite-sized chunks and practiced for shorts bursts at a time. Don’t just deliver learning, get students involved in learning. Get them to discover and question learning. Ensure that their brains change the way they look at information and evaluate it. Make quizzes and ask them to rationalise, compare and contrast what they have learned.
Finally give PLENTY of opportunity for practice and over learning. Transfer information from the isolation of one subject into others at home and school. Don’t just learn spelling rules in isolation, bring them into other subjects. Read and identify the key words that have the pattern which you are learning. If you have a private tutor or work at home on a programme, make sure the information is transferred into school work or used out on days trips or in the supermarket!
I try to bring all these aspects into CodeBreakers® private tuition and advocate this to all my students. Don’t assume that your student or child has retained all the information because they have sat in your class quietly for an hour.
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