Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Question(s) (about memory)

Working with an elementary school student with working active memory issues + dyslexia. Several folks answered my call for more information about helping kids in this situation; one of the best links I was directed to was All Kinds of Minds.

I am looking for more information, and you -- the readers of this blog -- are without a doubt the best resource I have. So I'm asking for help, advice, thoughts, experiences related to helping students with working memory issues to learn and gain confidence in academics.

What are things that have worked for you? What hasn't? And it what ways can we turn a difficulty into a benefit when it comes to learning and loving to learn?

Looking forward to hearing from you.


  1. My son, now 12, has severe dyslexia and dysgraphia. He has extreme difficulty with reading and writing symbols, letters, and individual words in isolation, but if he considers a whole concept or is given something in context he does much better. So for instance, if he just looks at the word "woods" in isolation and tries to read it, he has difficulty. But if he is trying to read a passage written about the woods, he might substitute "forest" instead of "woods" (and not really recognize that they are two different-looking words) because he knows what it's trying to say through the context of the passage. Same thing in math, e.g. trying to do long division was a nightmare because although he understood the whole process of it, the "simple" math facts like 3+4 or 7-3 got him stuck along the way. What absolutely *did not* work for him was repeated attempts to pull him out and remedialize--the assumption was that he just needed to learn "the basics" better, by brute force memorization if necessary. This was not what he needed and he was falling further and further behind.

    He is now at or above grade-level in most topics, and for the first time in a long time he loves going to school. The accommodations provided by his IEP have made all the difference in the world (how long and hard I had to fight to actually get him a helpful IEP is another story) since he tends to get "caught" on certain basic steps in a process and that's where things go awry. So for math, he gets a multiplication chart. For writing at home and at school, he keeps a simple alphabet chart nearby - it helps him figure out what the correct shape of the letter is (p,d,b,q, etc.) because he knows the order of the letters and so he can find the right one. He gets a reader/writer for tests which are not actually on reading or writing, so that he can focus on the concepts and his answers rather than trying to struggle to even understand the question. Etc. etc.

    But most importantly, we and his fabulous teachers have worked hard to help him learn how HE can best use these tools for himself. At first he was struggling and embarrassed that his peers would call him stupid (lord help the person who ever says this to him!) but we've tried to emphasize that everybody uses tools for something, and he does also even though his tool set may be different than someone else's tools. Now he owns them, he makes them work in the way HE needs, and he's quite proud that he does. He's focused on what he CAN do rather than any limits. This is the number one thing that has boosted his confidence in himself, not to mention that his academics improved substantially from Ds and Fs to As and Bs. Quite frankly, I know he might never be able to recall simple math facts on the fly and he might always struggle with individual letters and isolated words, but we've all made peace with the fact that it's okay because the meaning and the process are more important.

  2. Shelly
    First, I'm not a fan of All Kinds of Minds: details here:

    Second, a question: do you have a sense whether the working memory issue is isolated to particular domains? Different features of working memory are, to some extent, separable. Is it a problem with keeping things in mind? Verbal stuff, spatial stuff? Or in *manipulating* what's in mind?

  3. @Angela

    Thanks for your comments. That "owning" the process/tools/learning is key; the trick is figuring out how to get there. Your comments help to inspire.


    Yes, the issues seem to be across the board from Verbal Memory (esp Story Memory), Visual (esp Design -- that's actually the most severe), and Working Verbal and Symbolic.

    Other considerations: The student is diagnosed dyslexic/dysgraphic; had late expressive verbal communication dev; and also is musically gifted, but has trouble reading music.


  4. As an Intervention Specialist, I've had a lot of success building on the memory strategy using the method of loci. You can Google it and get all kinds of info., but in short, it's building on the visual memory strategy of location.

    Here's an example: If the student is struggling with spelling words, use a simple drawing (of a person, a house, a bird, anything you have on hand). Place the words in specific places on the drawing. If the spelling word is "queen" and your pictures is a person, you might add a crown and place the word queen in the crown. Add the other spelling words in strategic places. The student would work on studying the spelling words using the picture. When assessed on the words, the student could be cued with "Remember where you placed the word queen on your drawing. Think of how it was spelled there."

  5. gosh - i wish i could meet him.

    i know i'm crazy (as opposed to intelligently giving advice) - but i would just let him do his music. i would let him hang with you - when you do your music. i would let him swim in his element.

    when he's not swimming in music.. i'd have him listen to stories...topics that interest him. give him an ipod filled with audio books. watch ted talks. watch sal kahn's videos on math and science and whatever he asks for more of.

    i'd treat him to a buffet of topics in his most comfortable media - and let him find what he's dying to know more about - then give him more of that and switch up the media.

    crazy people who's books i keep reading are making me crazy. carol dweck just now.

  6. I like to give my students that are showing some of the signs of dyslexia and/or dysgraphia some Brain Gym activities. At the beginning of the year I teach one-three different activities in less than seven minutes a couple times a week. I include some of the purposes that the different activities focus on, like math facts, focus, reading comprehension...then later in the year I can use the activities to break up the time I have with them and let them decide which exercises they think would help them. The water break is actually quite popular, lol. It is one of the last Brain Gym activities I teach, and it will always be one of the favorites because they get to move around to get the drink.

    The mention of music also reminded me of a student I had many years ago. I told him that we would be able to listen to music if he would write the lyrics so that I could make sure they were school appropriate. He had never thought of doing that. He had all kinds of misspelled words, but it didn't matter, I could decipher them. Later, his sister gave me an entire CD of music that he wrote. He had a great ear for how words go together well.

  7. You might want to look into something called Cogmed our of the Unversity of Virginia. We used it here at Wakefielf with out learning support students and it seems to produce positive results. Contact "Amrit Daryanani" , for more information.

    I have had great success playing chess with children. It focuses attention and improves memory as you get better at it. And it is free!

  8. I am glad that I came across your blog. I have worked many years with struggling readers. I have always wanted more information about working with students with dyslexia. I have made your blog a favorite and will use it as a resource.

  9. Hmm. there are a couple of things you could try...
    One is corroborate with @elephantsgerald a teacher who has a child with some memory problems, and she came up with some creative solutions for spelling.

    Two: memory is heavily studied by magicians who use it for practical purposes (for them... like memorizing 1500 peoples names as they enter the hall.) One such man, Harry Lorayne, had a book that is very interesting. (more info on him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Lorayne)
    There are several strategies that are laid out which may be worth looking at.


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