Holding Information in Mind: Impact of Short-term Memory

The process of understanding is impacted by a student's ability to register information into memory. Short-term memory acts as a gatekeeper, deciding what information gets in and to what extent it gets in. Students' ability to understand is enhanced when they are able to recognize patterns in what they are learning and easily access relevant prior knowledge in their minds.

Here are some techniques to help students enhance their understanding through short-term memory strategies.

Helpful Hints

  • New knowledge and skills are best registered and consolidated into memory when new information is: (1) richly connected to prior knowledge and skills, e.g. "What does this new information have in common with information I already know about the topic or skills I already possess?" (2) elaborated upon using compare and contrast strategies, (3) modified in some way by shifting formats, e.g. using graphs to depict relationships, drawing pictures to make visual representations of information, and (4) cross-indexed or filed in the mind in more than one way and possibly in more than one file.  
  • Use graphics, such as semantic maps, webs, or concept maps, to provide students with a sense of how important information is and how it is best organized. For example, create a basic concept map template to use again and again, or provide concept maps in which some information is missing that students then complete.  
  • Keep visual aides as simple as possible when relating the intricacies of information. For example, display only one concept at a time initially to reduce visual distractions. Then build upon the same web with further details.  
  • Check to be certain that students perceive information accurately throughout your instruction. For example, when displaying visuals, ask students to describe the pictures before moving on, have students indicate how examples given represent a pattern or principle being learned, etc.  
  • Incorporate student affinity areas by introducing new skills in the context of students' areas of interest. For example, a student interested in space, may learn math problem solving techniques by calculating the speed of space rockets, enhance social studies skills by reading a book on the history of NASA, practice science demonstration of orbital paths, etc.  
  • Link saliency determination, understanding, and remembering by having students re-read information they determine to be important.
    • Use peer collaboration in which students compare the points they each drew from a lesson as being significant then review the material together.
    • Students may also underline or make note of information they do not understand and seek out help from a teacher or a designated peer.