Sunday, February 3, 2013

Anita's Story and Memory

The third week of Neuroscience in Education session was about attention and memory. We first watched two interesting videos showing how our attention works when we expose to many stimuli at the same time. 

Part 1

Part 2

You can feel the limitation of attention in your everyday life situations. Sometimes, you can't hear somebody talking to you or can't see something that is in front of you. This is simply because you direct your attention to just one piece or slice of something. According to Zull (2002: 75), "different sensory signals physically compete for attention in the brain, and those that are the strongest win out. As teachers, we face such physical battle. A lot of things may happen in the class and students can be easily distracted unless you have an ability to make them more engaged and involved into your activities. Here are some of my strategies that help me a lot to make my students more focused and attentive:
  1. Time Restriction: I always provide my students with time-restricted activities. The more the time is limited, the more the students' attention increases trying to accomplish them quickly.
  2. Varying Speech Tone and Intonation: Talking with the same intonation or tone will lead to boredom and then students will look around to find something else that may catch their attention. My voice plays a very great role in my classes.One of its effective uses is to attract the attention of those students whose eyes and minds are not in the class. 
  3. Multi-Tasking: Among the rules we set at the beginning of the semester is to be multi-taskers. I ask them to do 2 or 3 things at the same time. Maybe you disagree with me in this point. However, I tried it and worked well with my high school students. For example, in the listening lesson, I first ask them to listen to the text, find some new words and then tell me the whole idea. When teaching novels, I ask them to read a paragraph or two, find difficult words, make questions and ready to read and translate. If you enter my class, you will find them like bees. 
  4. Gamifying the lessons: Gamification doesn't mean playing games. It is applying some features of games to the learning and teaching settings, e.g., points, hall of fame, progress bar, happy and sad faces, badges, most active group or member ... etc. These features add some sort of competition in the lesson. All students work hard to be the best.  
  5. Linking the lessons to Students' Lives: I always encourage students to give me examples from their everyday lives. When students find a connection between what they learn and what they face in their everyday lives, they get involved and become more intrinsically motivated. 
  6. Using all Students' Senses: My students are always busy listening to my instructions, taking notes, looking at the board when drawing some diagrams to clarify my speech, following my gestures and body language ... etc. Using more than one sense will capture students' attention and encourage them to be more attentive.
  7. To know more strategies, please watch the video below:

The second topic of this week was about memory. In psychology, memory is a process by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding allows information that is from the outside world to reach our senses in the forms of chemical and physical stimuli. In this first stage we must change the information so that we may put the memory into the encoding process. Storage is the second memory stage or process. This entails that we maintain information over periods of time. Finally the third process is the retrieval of information that we have stored. We must locate it and return it to our consciousness (See more here).  

The possible problem that can arise in this area is the failure to recall some information when needed. Going back to Zull's book to see some solutions to this problem, I found Zull tell another story about his student "Anita." Please, take a couple of minutes reading this story to be ready for the discussion below. 

In my EFL classes, I have a lot of Anitas. They just remember information for testing. They memorize every bit of word I say to be ready for what comes in the exam. Those students memorize in order to learn, not to learn so they can remember as Zull (2002) pointed out. Really, this is not the problem of students. It's the way of teaching that teachers follow. They don't provide students with opportunities to build their knowledge by themselves. They keep talking and talking all the time pouring all the information they know in their poor students' minds. Creating an environment where students can discuss, think critically and creatively will help them to be more flexible and try to understand what they learn. Once they find a value for what they do, they will store it in the long-term memory and recall it easily. This process is not an easy job. It needs more training and teaching. What students expect from teachers is not just new information, but also new strategies that help them learn better and remember for a long time. 

To enhance students' memory capacity, Darek Prochaska provides us with some strategies in his video below. Among them are repetition, relating information already students understand, avoiding distractions, and exercising. For me, I ask students to take notes, use colors, create concepts maps, find pros and cons, and many more thing according to the topic being discussed. In this age of information explosion, students don't need to memorize, they need to be be more strategic

To find more strategies to enhance students' memory, please check the following websites:
  1. Strategies to improve memory and retention, e.g., writing down, singing, linking, grouping, categorizing, using colors ... etc.
  2. Strategies to enhance memory based on brain research, e.g., cues or signals, use of contrast, creating emotion, establishing purpose for learning, and organizing for learning.
  3. Brain-friendly teaching: Strategies to improve memory, e.g., storytelling, humor, games ... etc.
I still feel excited to know more about our brains and how they work. I enjoyed a lot learning about neuroscience research and results through the past 3 weeks. I'm expecting more brain-based activities and some practical procedures in the coming 2 weeks. 

Resources Used:
  1. The Art of Changing the Brain by James E. Zull (2002).
  2.  Memory.


  1. Azhar, great as always! I like the web sites you recommended! Thank you!

    1. Dear Maja,
      Thank so much for visiting my blog. It's a great pleasure to know that the websites can be valuable for you.

      Best Regards!

  2. Azhar, I really enjoyed your blog! Thank you for the links and extra information.

  3. Replies
    1. Hi Edward,
      Thanks so much for visiting my blog. I'm so happy to see your blogs, too. I'm an educator, but I'm also interested in arts.

      All the best!

  4. Thank you for this in-depth post and sorry for reading it so late! I'm curious to know more about how you use gamification in your classes.

    1. Dear Mary,
      Thanks so much for reading my posts. Gamification is a new term for me. I took an online course about it last year. I reflected on this course in the following post I hope it would be helpful.

      All the best!