International Foundation Diploma and Memory / Recall Difficulties
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Some students with memory and recall difficulties may need to use other or extra shortcuts and aids to learning than other students do because of their specific learning patterns. Spelling aids may be used if the student has difficulty remembering correct spelling and grammar, or mnemonics, diagrams, mind maps, visual patterns, colour coding, etc. may all be especially valuable to students who have difficulties with memory and recall.
An important form of support that academic staff can give to students with memory and recall difficulties is to actively encourage them to identify and use shortcuts and aids that work for them. A number of examples (including mnemonics and mind-maps) have been suggested, but the ways in which these and other such devices are used will inevitably be individual to the student and therefore they cannot easily be provided by academic staff. What academic staff can do, however, is to acknowledge the validity of such tools for learning, and to value them as a means of achieving the results that are sought. The message to the students must be "if it works for you, use it", rather than for the lecturer to succumb to any temptation to cling to more traditional learning methods, either because they have somehow come to be regarded as academically more respectable, or simply because they have worked for others, perhaps including the lecturer her/himself.
Such encouragement and recognition of individualised tools is very important, but there are also more direct forms of help that academic staff can provide or at least facilitate. These could include the following:
- Opportunities to see the work (including the written work) of others, as a means of helping the student develop a clear sense of possible methods of approach to a given task. Care needs to be taken to avoid any inappropriate suggestion that an identified task can only be tackled in one way, and that this one way can be demonstrated by the provision of a single example of someone else's attempt at the same or a similar task. Rather, a number of examples should be offered, as a means of helping the student achieve a clear sense of the whole-ness of the completed task, as a basis for developing their own approach. This is clearly different from simply giving the student a model to copy which, far from advancing their learning, might in fact inhibit it.
- Provision of materials in diagrammatic or pictorial forms, rather than in text. The value of diagrams in education has long been acknowledged, but there is still a tendency for much handout material to consist of text rather than other forms of representation. Greater use of a range of diagrammatic forms such as flow-charts, mind-maps, tree diagrams, tables, etc. would be of considerable benefit to students with memory and recall difficulties. In addition, however, many find it helpful to devise their own pictorial representations of situations and concepts, or to use for example a colour code to organise ideas in their minds. For academic staff, the most important thing is to acknowledge and engage with what works best for the student.
- More generally, handouts need to be clear, well structured, well presented and easily readable, whether they are in text or any other form.
Paired Associate Learning
Paired Associate Learning (PAL), or flash cards, is a good strategy to use when a subject requires the memorisation and understanding of large amounts of factual material such as various vocabulary words, terms and definitions.
PAL involves the pairing or connection made by the student between a known or unknown stimulus and a known or unknown response. For example, in Economics, the word for "buyer" is consumer. Buyer is the known stimulus that must be linked to the unknown vocabulary word, consumer. Often both the stimulus and the response are unknown. For example, in art history, students must learn what the word chiaroscuro means. Since chiaroscuro is a word most students have never encountered, both the word (stimulus) and its definition (response) must be learned. The use of Paired Associate (PA) cards is an efficient and effective method of learning this sort of factual material.
The process of using PA cards involves two steps:
- The development of cards according to your personal learning style.
- The use of the cards over a period of time for practice and rehearsal
How to Develop Cards
Don't be discouraged if your first response from the student to the suggestion of making PA cards is a negative one. Many students already feel overloaded by all the demands of Higher Education courses, and they are hesitant to make a commitment to learning a strategy that involves extra work. The use of PAL does require students to prepare cards throughout the semester rather than cramming all of the studying into the night before an exam. On the other hand, students who use PA cards may suffer from far less stress and anxiety before exams because they feel better prepared and more confident.
Students should be encouraged to make cards that are based on their individual learning strengths and weaknesses. For example, auditory learners might develop cards that rhyme ~ the stimulus and the response, visual learners may prefer to use drawings to represent information.
Once the students have developed a style for card making, they should find that they are able to produce effective cards rapidly. They may also find that making cards also gives them proof of studying and a feeling that they are making real progress with their learning.
Using PA Cards to Learn
The second step of PAL is learning the material on the cards. Once the student has developed a group of cards, they can use them to quiz themselves on a regular basis by looking only at one side of the card and trying to remember the proper response. Alternatively, the students can look at the response and try to recall the stimulus.
A case study describing the experience of a student with disabilities who studies abroad.