Working Memory and Comprehension: Storing and Retrieving Memories

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Dr. Shona uses the metaphor of the windy roads of Texas to help explain the moment when she realized as a teacher that she should have been teaching kids to store information in taxon ways instead of locale ways since the learner has more than one entry point to retrieve the information.

Here’s a sheet I made about this after studying taxon and locale memory in the Abydos International Learning Brain Week and cited here. What I realized here is that I’d been teaching wrong. I’d been teaching kids to store stuff in taxon ways instead of locale ways. When it came time to use the information, they’d look at me like I had antlers or green skin. I needed to learn how to activate the locale type of schematic and experiential memories. I needed to create multiple ways for kids to find the memories. Kind of like finding your way around Austin, Texas.

Those windy roads don’t make any sense because they came from cows trying to find the easiest way to feed and water. Turns out we followed their paths and paved them. Over time, a lot of that stuff connected, one road leading to another. If you keep a bird’s eye view or schema of where things are and how the roads connect, instead of trying to remember when the names change, there’s lots of ways to get to where you are going if I-35 is impossible. Even without using an app to tell you a better route. That’s what we need learners to do when they are solving problems.

We need them to keep in mind where they are headed, like we do when we are driving. Instead of a place as a destination, consumers of text keep these things in mind:

  • I need to understand what I’m reading.
  • I need to add this knowledge to my intelligence database in case I need it later to be interesting or to do something important.
  • I need to be able to make decisions about what I am reading or needing to do.

As drivers, this works pretty well for a while, until there is car trouble, a traffic jam, or construction. What we do depends on the type of problem, our timeline, and importance. As readers, car trouble is the stuff of decoding hard words, figuring out difficult terms and contexts, unfamiliar formats. Depending on how much time we have and what mood we are in, we solve those problems differently. The traffic problems are how readers experience comprehension and problem-solving issues. Usually, there’s a lot going on: nuances in ideas, vocabulary, and structure; pressure for time and success. At this point, readers have to try other routes available to them at the time. It requires a lot of thinking, so they don’t get stuck without an offramp and just give up reading or getting to the destination at all. Construction problems are like those things readers just don’t know yet, haven’t experienced, or haven’t been taught yet. Each requires a different approach in the reading process.

Here’s a cool example of taxon teaching: This is the letter “Aa.” Teacher shows a flash card with the letter a on it. The letter a says /a/, / ay/, /ah/. Repeat after me. And so on.

Here’s a cool example of locale teaching: This is the letter “Aa.” A says /a/ as in cat, /a/ as in ape, and /ah/ as in father. Repeat after me. We could add picture and letter cards to add to the meaning. Then we could add the actual words with the letter a in them. Then we could add names and sentences and stories where we teach them to problem-solve the sounds in the words to trigger known words, learn new ones, and connect to the meaning in the text we want to read or create. You see, the learner has more than one entry point to retrieve the information when they encounter a word with an a in it.

Next Up:

Feeding the Hippocampus: Causing Memory

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About the Author

Dr Shona Rose

Shona Rose

Dr. Shona Rose, passionate about literacy and improving student experiences, researches and presents solutions to cause displays of learner growth. These displays become tools for teachers to provide support and intervention to accelerate the impact on student performance.
Dr. Rose uses her experiences as a baker at Kind House Ukraine Bakery, gardening and music, and budding interest as an outdoorswoman and overlander to make concrete connections to literary processes. Her rescue mutt, Joy, and ugly Cornish Rex cat, Youglie, often appear in her writings and activities.
When not researching and reading, Dr. Rose revels in being a “Nona” to her three grandchildren. 
Connect with Shona: 
Or by email to shonarose67 at gmail