The science behind memory is far more complex than most Montessori training programs can deliver; however, as a Montessori guide, you already employee the essential technique of memory generation!
How do Three-part Cards Generate Memories?
Have you ever wondered why three-part cards work? One reason is because like flash cards, the cards work on memory retrieval rather than decoding. When your brain has to hold onto information, you tend to remember it better.
For example, let’s look at some three-part cards isolating the parts of a turtle. If you were to read the word “carapace” under the picture isolating the part, your brain doesn’t have to work very hard. But if you look at the carapace and have to come up with the word introduced to you earlier, your brain must retrieve the word “carapace” and you’ll actually remember it far better than if you just read it over and over.
I think of the hundreds of times a student is given a quantity of items to fetch in the environment without the aid of a numeral. The constant retrieval generates a memory that serves them better than if they had the quantity symbols (numerals) in front of them. Stretching memory retrieval doesn’t necessarily deepen the learning, it allows the learner to retrieve that specific information easier.
Another example of generation can be found in the Montessori elementary environment where homework is used as a form of memory retrieval. Learning in the classroom introduces new ideas, and homework can be a tool to retrieve this information. I am not making a case for homework rather, knowing this is a possible function of homework may help schools craft more meaningful homework exercises.
Memory Generation is like Physical Exercise
How does this work? The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s like a muscle that needs workout, yet is better applied in chunks rather than all in one go. Using a “spacing effect” of memorizing math facts for ten minutes each day for two days is better than memorizing them in a twenty minute barrage one day.
Is the evidence behind memory generation indicating we should be testing our students? If you look at it on a surface level, yes, tests cause the learner to stretch their memory retrieval thereby flexing their memory muscles. Yet in Montessori, the third period of the classic Montessori lesson requires the student to retrieve from their memory. What happens when the student doesn’t retrieve the memory correctly? The evidence about memory generation shows that incorrect retrieval strengthens the incorrect memory trace further.
Our keen observations spur us on to represent lessons, and our relationships with our learners encourage practicing and strengthening correct memory retrieval.
Free Quick Tip #8
Montessori guides are in the perfect position to enhance learning using generation techniques such as Expanded Practice, Swapping a Target for a Cue, and Temporal Spacing. Here’s how:
Expanded Practice is when the learner not only retrieves the information, but backtracks and retrieves ALL the information. For instance, when learning a new letter sound, use the technique of generation retrieval by going through all the sound previously mastered by the student.
Cue Swapping is when the learner uses the cue (e.g., the picture card) to remember the target (the word card) then reverses the process using the target to remember the cue. This strategy strengthens retrieval going in both directions!
Temporal Spacing is as outlined above when you practice something in small chunks of time over days. The other part of this strategy relies on the under-appreciated learning strategy of sleeping on it as you consolidate memories during your sleep cycle.
Generation truly does forge the ability to retrieve memories and serves as a vital component of the learning cycle.
What memory devices do you observe at work in your learning environment? Is generation a technique you enhance with your learners?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.