Teachers can strengthen the memory of children with reading disabilities. To do this, teachers must first capture and then keep the children’s attention. They must then focus instruction on the acronym REMOS: Repeat It, Elaborate or Explain it, Make it Meaningful, Organize it, and engage in Spaced or Distributed Practice.
In practical terms, the teacher must get the children to:
Attend to What’s Important. Teachers have a good chance of capturing and keeping children’s attention if they’re enthusiastic about what they’re teaching, make it interesting, use novelty, use words the children can understand, use pictures or multimedia to illustrate what they want remembered, and assign materials the children can read comfortably.
To keep the attention of children with reading disabilities during a lecture, teachers should break the lecture into eight to ten minute blocks. Each block should focus on one concept; the first few minutes should emphasize the main point; the next few minutes should elaborate on it. After each block, the children should take a break. During the break, the teacher might tell a story to illustrate the major concept, or the children might engage in a short group activity, like scripting a podcast, or individually, they might spend five minutes illustrating the major concept. They might even spend a few minutes exercising lightly. To learn more about structuring a lecture to keep a class’s attention, read Brain Rules. In this enlightening book, John Medina describes how and why he divides his lectures into ten-minute blocks.
Repeat It. If you want to remember something, repeat it or lose it. Teachers need to structure their lessons so children with reading disabilities have many opportunities to repeat and practice what they need to remember. Repeat does not mean saying it silently one or two times. If it’s important, children should say it six or seven times, maybe twelve to sixteen times, maybe seventeen to umpteen times. However, asking children to repeat what they don’t understand often benefits no one. They quickly forget what’s not understood, what’s not meaningful to them. Elaboration can make things meaningful.
Elaborate on It. To say it another way, teachers should create lots of opportunities for children to talk about it, and talk about it, and talk about it. Children should discuss it. If it’s controversial, they might switch between the “pro” and “con” positions. Talk is important, but it should be meaningful. The more meaningful something is, the more likely it will be remembered.
Make It Meaningful. The more children understand something, the more likely they’ll remember it. Teachers can give meaning to an abstract concept by helping children relate it to their lives. To reinforce and extend the meaning of the word practical, the teacher might begin a discussion by asking, “So in your house or near it, what do people do that’s practical? What makes it practical? After the discussion, the teacher might ask the children to “take five minutes to draw a picture of someone doing something practical and something impractical.” To make practical even more meaningful, she can have the children share their pictures: “Show your pictures to your neighbor. Tell your neighbor what was practical and impractical in your picture. And tell them why it was practical and impractical.”
Organize the Information. When teachers help children with reading disabilities to organize information—in ways the children find meaningful—they’ll remember the information better than if it’s random or unorganized. Here’s a list of ten words: pineapple, collie, cantaloupe, chihuahua, bulldog, apple, grape, terrier, boxer, peach. If children try to remember all the words as one list, they’ll forget most of them in a week. If they organize the words into the categories of dogs and fruit, they’ll remember many more of them. Even their mistakes will fall into the two groups: dogs and fruit. Try it.
The teacher must also:
Schedule Spaced or Distributed Practice. When referring to children with reading disabilities, spaced or distributed practice refers to assessing the effects of instruction a day or two after the initial instruction and then re-teaching children what they didn’t remember or master. For maximum effect, teachers should repeat the process some three to four weeks later. They should assess what was taught and re-teach what was forgotten. This can have a profound effect on the children’s memory and application of skills.
The good news about gaining and maintaining children’s attention and using REMOS is that the principles are straightforward. Teachers can use them—easily. So can parents.
In a future articles, I’ll discuss some straightforward mnemonic strategies for helping children remember simple but important things. Some people dismiss mnemonic strategies, saying memorization is not important. It is. Reading comprehension and higher level thinking often involve remembering, retrieving, and manipulating lots of simple things. So memorizing important information is good: It frees time and mental energy for comprehension and higher-level thinking. For children with reading disabilities, mastering mnemonics is often the key to succeeding in content area classes like history, science, and health.
Medina, J. (2009). Brain rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Howard Margolis, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at Queens College of the City University of New York. He is former editor of the Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation and for the last 19-years he has edited the Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties. Howard and Dr. Gary G. Brannigan, Professor of Psychology and Chancellor’s Scholar at the State University of New York-Plattsburgh, have recently published a book on reading and advocacy for parents, Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds. This column was originally published at www.reading2008.com/blog.