When I think of a Labrador retriever I picture a black lab running fast through the wilderness diving into the water and retrieving a duck. I also think of my own yellow lab flinching when a tennis ball lands close to her, and then slowly walking towards it and sniffing it. This shows how two animals of the same species and breed can exhibit two very different speeds of retrieval. However, both dogs ultimately get to the item they are supposed to be retrieving.
This brings us to our next cognitive processing area, long-term retrieval. This processing area relates to the ability to take information in, store it, and retrieve it quickly in the future. This can be confusing because this ability is not about what is stored in your long-term memory but the process of remembering and retrieving that knowledge. So for some of us we are the black lab quickly and efficiently getting to our target while others of us might be my dear lab, Clover, who gets a little confused and needs a little more time to get to the tennis ball.
If Clover were a human child she might have some academic difficulties. In reading, she could struggle with remembering names of objects or categories. For example, she might struggle to compare and contrast. In math, Clover might have difficulty recalling basic math facts, especially when these calculations are within a larger math problem. While she might understand conceptually the math word problem, she may not be able to quickly retrieve the answer to a multiplication problem. If my Clover could write, her fluency might be negatively impacted. This is because it’s going to take her longer to retrieve her knowledge. Clover might be trying to think of a particular word or name and search for it for a long time before she finally gets it.
So how can we help our Clovers in the classroom?
We need to activate prior knowledge to increase a child’s ability to understand a new skill or concept. You can do this by remembering to:
- Ask questions about the topic
- Share personal experiences about the topic
- Help students brainstorm everything they know about the topic
- Ask students what they think they still need to learn about it
- Use opinion statements to start a discussion about the new topic with students
You can use other strategies in the classroom, including, reviewing information at the beginning of a lesson and using spaced practice. Students can even struggle to recall rote information so don’t forget to include it in your reviews. Help students to break information into parts instead of a long list. In addition, to reviewing information before the lesson it can also be helpful to review the meaning of a text immediately after completing it.
Students who struggle with long-term retrieval will love using mnemonic devices! Any opportunity for a student to problem solve using a new concept or skill will help them with retrieving the information later. Visuals like models and graphic organizers can help support retrieval.
I hope you can quickly retrieve these strategies to use with your students to support long-term learning!