Memory Mondays, Ch. 3: Short-Term Memory

Welcome to Memory Mondays, where I read a textbook on memory and talk about what I Iearned. If you like your cognitive psychology neatly summarized, with a healthy dose of unnecessary commentary and bad humour, this is the series for you!

Short-term memory is not what many people think it is.

It is not about remembering something from a few days ago, or even a few hours ago. That’s long-term memory. It is very small, and very brief, and while it is part of working memory, it is not the same as working memory. That’ll be another chapter.

It is brief retention of information, and can be divided into two parts: verbal and visuo-spatial.

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Memory Mondays, Ch. 2: Memory and the Brain

Welcome to Memory Mondays, where I read a textbook on memory and talk about what I Iearned. If you like your cognitive psychology neatly summarized, with a healthy dose of unnecessary commentary and bad humour, this is the series for you!

While the text focuses on a psychological approach, evidence from neuroscience is still woven in, as it was in the cognitive psychology textbook I read previously. Alas, it seems I cannot fully avoid learning about the parts of the brain.

For example, if evidence from psychological studies shows that verbal and visuo-spatial short-term memory (STM) are separate, then neuroscience evidence that shows visual and spatial activities activate different parts of the brain supports the theory that they are indeed separate systems.

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Memory Mondays, Chapter 1: What is Memory?

This blog series takes its inspiration from series like this, and will provide a chapter-by-chapter summary of Memory, by Alan Baddeley,‎ Michael W. Eysenck, and‎ Michael C. Anderson, along with a healthy dose of my views thoughts, interpretations and connections to experience and other things I’ve read.

After reading the text on cognitive psychology, I wanted to delve more deeply into the research on memory, an area of interest for me. This text cam recommended by Logical Incrementalism, and is also four of the first five results in a Google search for “memory textbook.” So it seemed like a good choice.

Regardless of your educational philosophy, of your views on the goals of education and the purpose of school, what students learn is held in their memory. Want your students to know all 44 U.S presidents? Memory. Want them to know how to look that up? Memory. Want them to capitalize their proper nouns? Memory. Want them to have critical thinking skills. Memory. Whatever you want students to take with them when they leave, they take it in their brains.

This stuff might prove useful.

So here it goes.

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Writing is Hard: Blogging as a Teacher

Writing is Hard

I did not realize how little I wrote as a teacher, until I wrote the first post for this blog.  

I majored in History in university. This entailed two things: reading, and writing. Yeah, sometimes there was discussion and presentations, but if you were to make a pie chart of how I spent my time, that slice would be the size I should take during Thanksgiving, rather than the slice I actually do. Most of my time was spent pouring over primary and secondary sources at the library, and writing about what I read.

So, when I sat down to write that first post, I faced the uncomfortable realization that teaching entailed little writing, and that my writing skills had deteriorated as a result. It was far harder than I remembered.

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Knowledge Series Part 7: In Conclusion

Changing My Mind

It is hard to change your mind. Very hard.

When presented with information that disagrees with your point of view, it is easy to feel attacked. I recognize that process in myself, when I receive feedback on, well, anything. Initially defensive and resentful, I often need to let the ideas cook before I’m willing to acknowledge I’m not perfect.

Studies completed in the 1970s at Stanford first exposed how unreasonable people could be. Once a particular view was formed, it was very resistant to change, even when the evidence that originally formed the view was shown to be false.

This is partly physiological, as the two sources linked above show. When we are faced with information that supports our point of view, we get a surge of dopamine, a rush of pleasure. When we are faced with information that contradicts our point of view, the same part of our brain responsible for pain is activated.

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Knowledge Series Part 6: Why It Matters

This is not a strawman argument. It is easy to find examples of people who argue that search engines and other new technology has eliminated the need for knowledge. It is much harder to find schools that are knowledge-free; indeed, even school leaders who promote the idea that Google has replaced individual human knowledge will keep some content in the curriculum.

However, considering its importance to education, knowledge cannot be kept as an afterthought in our schools.

We shouldn’t rely on chance or incidental development of this knowledge, for children to pick it up from their surroundings or their privileged background. This may work for the high-achieving students, but leaves the low-achieving students further and further behind.

Knowledge in our curriculum should be intentional and thoughtfully considered.

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Knowledge Series Part 5: Response to Counter-Arguments

They Can Just look It Up

They can, but will they? And will doing so actually help them?

I’ve already explored the impact prior knowledge has on reading comprehension and on learning new information, both of which are relevant to students’ abilities to just look it up, but it merits revisiting here. To make use of the information online, we need to possess a foundation of knowledge. To quote Hirsch:

There is a consensus in cognitive psychology that it takes knowledge to gain knowledge.Those who repudiate a fact-filled curriculum on the grounds that kids can always look things up miss the paradox that de-emphasizing factual knowledge actually disables children from looking things up effectively. To stress process at the expense of factual knowledge actually hinders children from learning to learn.Yes, the Internet has placed a wealth of information at our fingertips. But to be able to use that information—to absorb it, to add to our knowledge—we must already possess a storehouse of knowledge.That is the paradox disclosed by cognitive research.

There are other factors at play here as well. First, let’s start with their ability to find accurate information. Having background information on a topic helps students assess the reliability of a source. Yes, you can teach students about corroborating sources and doing research on the source itself, but having some knowledge on a topic helps as well. Michael Fordham demonstrates this with two passages on historical events, both with the same amount of misinformation. Read the article for yourself; I think you’ll find the inaccuracies easier to identify in one over the other, and this is because of the background information you possess.

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