Working Memory: Background to Causing Memory

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In her discussion of the hippocampus and why it matters in education, Dr. Shona identifies the need for students to store, retrieve, and cause memory.


You know––these next three posts are a lot of background information on brain science. I wrote about it here because I geeked out on it and the ideas changed how I taught. But you might be ready for something more action oriented. Feel free to skip this stuff, come back to it, or ignore it altogether. Jump to an experiment you can try with your class by scrolling right on past all the next stuff to the end of the post and click the link for the next post. I ain’t tellin’ on you.

Here’s the git-real chair. When I sit here, I’m being real. Honest. Brutally, sometimes. So here it is: Most of the time, I can’t get the kids to do what I tell them to do. They just won’t. For a while, I thought I’d gotten too old and mean to understand kids after COVID. That might be true, too. But then I remembered the hippocampus. It’s a part of your brain that helps you survive, especially in a fast-paced, modern world.

The hippocampus is a gatekeeper. It decides what you remember and what you don’t or won’t. If the hippocampus doesn’t approve the idea, nothing is stored chemically or physically in the neurons. Like, the cells don’t form. The dendrites don’t connect. You ask if kids remember the lesson on commas? Nope. They got nothin’. You might have been teaching about bananas and let them eat, touch, and paint with bananas, play a banana game, and do the banana dance. They might remember the play, but not until you remind them and probably not why you were teaching about bananas in the first place. So we gotta activate the hippocampus. And kids need to know they have one and how to make it work. This part of the brain eats emotions, loves attention, craves usefulness and relevance. It’s really happy when things are new or exciting. Novel even. Sometimes, it geeks out over gross or horrifying things. Other times, it focuses on interesting and powerful positives.

Feeding the hippocampus is a real problem on the STAAR test. Because, who cares? Not really immediately relevant like “Who farted in gym class?” Passing really isn’t even important for most of them because it takes too dang long to find out if they did. And frankly, most test takers are fed up by the time the big day comes. Or too nervous to think straight. Lots of problems there. That means we need to talk about several fixes: storing and retrieving memory, how to feed the hippocampus, and how to cause memory.

TEKS Commentary

Foundational Language Skills: Beginning Reading and Writing: By second grade, phonics and encoding skills must be at a self-extending level where students can learn and grow as text complexity increases. When these elements are not present, reading difficulties are hard to overcome.

Foundational Language Skills: Vocabulary: Learners require exposure to multiple texts, genres, and content areas to develop and extend vocabulary. In addition, fluency with in-line and post-reading techniques are necessary to monitor comprehension of complex vocabulary. Finally, adept skill in using digital resources adds sophisticated word capacity beyond current knowledge.

Foundational Language Skills: Fluency: Fluency at grade level must be in place for reading and writing (scribing and typing) at grade level. Writers must be able to write quickly and with ease to take and reread notes. Writers must be able to type fast enough to keep up with their thoughts for composition. Readers must adjust fluency to read at grade level and above.

Composition: The Writing Process: The writing process is the best place to show clarity in thinking, reasoning, and your proficiency to understand what life throws at you. All of these TEKS are in place. All the time.

Comprehension: These skills are innate to how learners interact with the world. There’s not a single standard here that folks aren’t using on a daily basis to survive life on planet Earth.They just become concrete skills and strategies when a text is added.

Response: The very approach to the text itself is a response that begins in memory from previous exposure to text and instructional/life activities.

Multiple Genres: Literary Elements and Genres: Readers use this information to set purposes for reading. They scan the text to know how to approach the text, pulling the salient details for action from previous experiences and knowledge of these characteristics.

Author’s Purpose and Craft: This strand is the heart of the standards. It’s the why and how behind every text. All of these TEKS are in place. All the time.

Research and Inquiry: 13/12/11 A, B, C, E, F: When presented with a cold text, readers are essentially detectives. They collect evidence and research the passage, their own knowledge, other texts, and the questions, in order to understand and make a reasoned response to what was presented. I ask kids: What’s the purpose of this test? They say: To answer the questions. Nope. No-one cares if you can answer the questions: They want to know if you can read and make decisions that lead to your success and happiness. It’s not about this test … the point is about how you will live your life as an informed and capable person.

Next Up:

Working Memory and Comprehension: Storing and Retrieving Memories

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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