ModKathryn: Welcome everyone to this week’s live chat!
Joem: Hi I’m Joe, I was wondering if you could explain the connection between short-term and long-term memory and which is most important for helping students revise for exams?
Lucy: They’re both important really. Students will be retrieving information from long-term memory (ie stuff they’ve learned) in exams but it gets into/out of long-term memory via short-term memory
Jessie: That’s a really interesting question. To lay down more durable long-term memories requires consolidation and integration and relies on the hippocampus. Sleep seems to be important for consolidation and therefore long-term learning.
Yana: I am not sure about picking short-term memory versus long-term memory in terms of which is “more important”, because they each have very important roles to play in learning. I think of short-term memory as mainly to do with attention. If students are not attending to the information they are supposed to be learning, then very little learning (or none) will take place.
Paul: Indeed, our attention and short-term memory work together like filters – new information needs to be “paid attention to” to be encoded long-term, but then we need to focus our attention on the material we want to retrieve in order to successfully retrieve it.
Janet: One way that memories (and the synapses that are active for that memory) can become strengthened is by simultaneously activating other synapses that were simultaneously active at the same time the original experience occurred. This simultaneity means that context may be important for remembering something. Retrieval is important because it reactivates the original set of synapses and can strengthen (again) their ability to work together to recall the information.
Lia – WellcomeTrust: Hi all – the other day I was asked by a teachers what the one thing is that ‘science of learning’ researchers wish teachers knew. Any views?
Yana: I love that question! I can tell you my “one thing”. I wish teachers (and people in general) would all realize that memory is reconstructive. That is, that when we retrieve information from memory, we’re not just grabbing a book from a shelf and reading from it. Instead, we are re-creating the memory, which can add to it and change it! I think it’s important to understand because it opens the pathway to understanding why retrieval practice is so important. That is, simply bringing information to mind (retrieving it) strengthens memories. This is hard to understand unless you are on board with the reconstructive nature of memory
Paul: To me, perhaps it would be that we (so also children) get “cognitively overloaded” by information within the same sensory modality, but presenting complementary and especially redundant information across multiple senses should lead to benefits in learning, not costs.
Jessie: I think my burning bit of information would be that direct instruction is often more effective for learning than allowing pupils to discover things for themselves. I’m particularly thinking of the teaching of phonics and vocabulary, grammar etc.
ModShane: Wow. That seems to be counter to what teachers generally understand. I’m guessing that the nuance is that direct instruction works in certain tasks but not all
Jessie: I guess it depends on existing levels of knowledge but when you are teaching new information or a new system then direct instruction is really important. In the example of teaching how letters relate to sounds you can either teach this directly (phonics) or teach children to read whole words. If you want them to extract the ‘system’ and be able to generalise to a word they’ve never seen then it makes sense to just teach them that system rather than relying on their capacity to work it out for themselves.
Paul: I completely agree with Jessie – even adults can be quite bad at figuring out relationships between different bits of information on their own (especially consciously) – let alone children
Jessie: When you want children (or adults) to learn some kind of systematic relationship (like letter-sound mappings or spelling patterns or grammar) then it seems to be more effective to teach that system along with examples rather than expect children to discover the system for themselves. Teachers do this all the time and it is embedded to some extent in the curriculum but it does seem counter-intuitive to some. In my experience direct instruction is better than discovery. The problem is that we can’t directly teach everything and to the level we’d like (e.g., all vocabulary items for a topic) so we need to also teach strategies for indepdendent learning (e.g. learning new words through reading). There is evidence that our resources to encode information are relatively separate, at especially for vision and hearing. What is found very consistently is that objects – from inanimate physical objects to symbols – are represented in the same areas / networks, largely independent of the sense used for encoding.
Lucy: I’m not sure I want them to know one thing, but to have the tools to evaluate information. So I guess maybe knowing the difference between good and bad evidence for an intervention/product etc. I’m also really interested in what one thing teachers wish ‘science of learning’ researchers knew!
Liz: I couldn’t agree more with Lucy. Knowing how to evaluate when something is “research-backed” or “brain-based”. And definitiely interested in the reverse question too! What should we know?
Lia-Wellcome Trust: Some great answers thanks. What do you think are the most important things teachers should look at when evaluating evidence of interventions/products?
Lucy: I guess the first thing is whether there is any evaluation of it at all. I think that pyramids like those in this blog (with systematic reviews at the top) are a nice and relatively easy to understand way to show how good different forms of evidence are. Here is the link: http://markgibsonphysio.com/2015/06/09/the-inverted-pyramid/
Jessie: There are some tips in Dorothy Bishop’s blog: http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/neuroscientific-interventions-for.html
Jo: My one thing I wish teachers new: if you want to improve someones ability in something (e.g. reading, maths) the best thing to do is practice that thing! not to try and find another magic bullet (e.g., unrelated memory games)
MissJPlumb: Hi, I’m Jo, and I’m a teacher of science and psychology in a secondary school. I have read lots on retrieval practice and what I want to know is, how sound is the evidence for improved retention of all information, not just that tested? In particular, I am interested when there is a lot to be learned as most research I have read is lab based, involving learning just a few items.
Jo: There is lots of research showing that having an overall schema (or a number of different schemas) which means a framework that explains how things are related to each other, can boost learning/memory. One reason for this is that the better new knowledge fits with what we already know, the easier it is to integrate into our long term memory. This link might be useful: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201212/memory-schemas-under-used-approach-improving-education
Jo: If students can see the links between things then this facilitates retrieval… I’m sure you already try to emphasise the relationship between different things students are learning, and how one lesson relates to another
MissJPlumb: Yes, always trying to do this. I think I need to unpick what they are failing to remember to see if there is something specific about them – maybe these are the bits where the links are harder to make.
Jo: Yes, that seems like a great strategy.
Yana: One thing to think about is all of the different opportunities we already give our students to practice retrieval in the classroom, and how to maximize them. It doesn’t have to be a quiz or test!
For example, we often ask students questions in class. One way to make it a retrieval practice exercise for everyone is that instead of calling on one student to answer, let all students write down their answers for a few minutes. Then, ask a student to answer. This way, everyone gets a chance to retrieve!
Reakesg16: Hi all! I’m a science teacher. Can anyone elaborate on ‘dual coding’ – what it might look like in a classroom and why it works?
Yana: Great question! There’s a lot we don’t know about dual coding yet, but the basic idea is that we have two opportunities to remember information if it is coded both as an image (no words) and verbally. The other aspect is that if we use images, we tend to illustrate things with an organizational structure that is hard to achieve with just words, which is an additional benefit to learning. Those interested in dual coding should follow Oliver Caviglioli on Twitter! He is an amazing illustrator who has read a lot about the theory behind dual coding.
Paul: The point I made just above – providing the same information across multiple senses, leads to its integration by the brain – which leads to stronger attending to it, hence better encoding into short-term and then long-term memory. Our brain likes redundancy and will integrate information just based on the fact that it is presented at the same time. More importantly, if there is a semantic link between the bits of information (and here we go back directly to the points just made about material familiarity), integration processes based on long-term memory become active, helping to encode the semi-novel material. And if there are also other “ways” of presenting the material – via touch, perhaps somehow by their movement – this variety should help
Lucy: Sharon Ainsworth does some great work on using visualisations in science that I think is relevant here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/333/6046/1096
Jessie: I have been working on a strategy that relates to this. Interestingly I am taking a lab effect to the classroom at the moment to make sure that it works but essentially children seem to find it easier to learn new words (what they sound like and what they mean) if they have seen what they look like (the spelling pattern). We call this orthographic facilitation and it is akin to what teachers do all the time – write a word on the board while describing it. Though what I have found in classroom observations is that teachers do this sometimes but not all the time. Also, when I talk to teachers about this strategy (emphasising written words when teaching their meanings) for once it is a message from science that is translatable into the classroom without too much time or resource.
Reakesg16: Agreed – very transferrable! I’ll be passing this on. Any supporting study/evidence I can point people to?
Jessie: Yes, I have written a blog on this: http://tdtrust.org/is-reading-a-virus
And versions of the papers can be found on the uni website: https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/orthographic-facilitation-in-oral-vocabulary-acquisition(0b8bc980-4c26-4411-a886-175ff86cb2fd).html, https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/do-children-with-specific-language-impairment-and-autism-spectrum-disorders-benefit-from-the-presence-of-orthography-when-learning-new-spoken-words(6c8c4b86-453b-4006-8c60-514ef20fa825).html
and on my lab website I’ve summarised findings in a poster form for teachers http://pc.rhul.ac.uk/sites/lara/information-for-teachers/
Jessie: What I would add is that typically visual information seems to be easier to process/learn that auditory information so having the visual information ‘supports’ the more difficult auditory learning. This is counter to ideas about learning styles.
Yana: Yes, very important to distinguish between dual coding and learning styles, because they are NOT the same thing! Learning styles is the idea that you have to match instructional style to students’ preferences, for which there is no evidence. Dual coding, on the other hand, is the idea that providing information as both images and words is going to be helpful to ALL students.
KrisMS: Hi, in some schools learning styles are still used in training and are suggested that they are a good thing to consider when teaching – is this not true?
Yana: Thank you for your question! On the whole, there isn’t any evidence that teaching according to preferred learning styles helps students. However, given that some schools still use it in their trainings, maybe we can try to see the upside. A benefit of the “learning styles” idea is that teachers end up using many different ways of presenting information, which is going to help all students in general because it’s important to see information presented in a variety of modalities. The individual student’s preference, however, does not relate to how they learn.
Jessie: Agreed. The problem with the way the learning styles is used at school (in my experience) is that it is tailored to the individual so children may not get all of the rich and varied modes of presenting information
Jo: This article shows that there is no evidence for learning styles https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf
Jo: And this was written about it in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/12/no-evidence-to-back-idea-of-learning-styles
Yana: We have a great post on our blog about how to re-purpose the learning styles idea to help students – http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/5/25-1
ModSu: This link has a useful summary about what evidence there may or may not be for several ‘neuromyths’, including learning styles – http://www.educationalneuroscience.org.uk/neuromyth-or-neurofact/
Janet: One also has to be careful not to overload the learners with too much visual and auditory information at the same time. We use auditory cortex when reading; we silently read aloud to ourselves, however fast or slow an individual processes that visual information. So competing auditory input from a lecture can overload a brain trying to read a dense slide. Be judicious in the presentations. One must balance information to be used for studying with information to be used to understand the presentation.
KrisMS: Thank you. Does this relate to students writting and listening at the same time? can they do both or would it be better to get them to stop writing and listen and then make notes when I am not talking?
Janet: Great question. I am not aware of any research on this, but I like your strategy. It is worth trying. When students type digital notes, they tend to type verbatim what the lecturer is saying. When they write longhand notes, which take longer, then synthesize and remember the information better because they actually processed it in the note taking. If you stop to let them take notes, even better, because they have to write from their own memories.
Janet: Here are some relevant references for more information: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614524581
Paul: I believe if small bits of information are presented in separate “chunks” and the information is based on familiar constructs, multisensory formats do help attention and learning. Naturally, we cannot pay attention to multiple constant streams of novel information across different senses – or at least we’re bad at it. This is because we encode sequentially. In general, people are v bad at doing multiple things at the same time, especially if this involves material we’re not experts in.
Reakesg16: My department this year are focusing our teacher development on improving students’ recall of more important information. Currently this seems to involve teachers ensuring repetition of ‘the basics’ during lessons. Is this a good starting point? Would another approach be preferable?
Jo: Repetition of information by the teacher may not be that effective. but getting students to try and recall the basics might be!
Yana: Yes, if “the basics” are repeated throughout the year, that is a great form of spaced practice of the important concepts. However, even better than just repetition would be actually having students recall the basic concepts!
Jo: Linking new knowledge onto these basics would likely also be effective – showing students how new knowledge relates to old improves integration into memory
Reakesg16: Thanks – sounds like there’s still a benefit in moving past the basics, e.g. applying them to new situations/contexts?
Liz: Yes! New contexts and ones learners are already familiar with
ModKathryn: Thank you all for a really interesting discussion. Look forward to seeing you at the next live chat!