Helping stdents remember what they learn (part 1)

Helping Students Remember What They Learn: An Intervention for Teachers and School Psychologists (part 1 of 2)

As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong with both parents and other education professionals who are seeking ways to help children that may have learning difficulties such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. It is preferable if interventions can have some research-base establishing their effectiveness. In this series I will outline a procedure for helping students remember what they learn.

There are many reasons why some children and youth struggle with reading and math. One common reason often found in research is that they experience memory difficulties. Incremental rehearsal (IR) is a flashcard intervention with a strong research base for increasing retention of newly learned material among struggling learners.

Basically, IR is used to practice (i.e., rehearse) new items within a series of eight or nine known items. In other words, IR uses what students already know to teach them what they need to learn. Doing so makes the intervention less frustrating for students while also providing enough repetition to learn the new information until it becomes automatic. IR is easy to implement and has been used in numerous schools. Researchers have used IR for the following skills and age levels:

  • Sight-words to upper elementary-age students identified as learning disabled in reading.
  • Sight-words to first-graders who were struggling readers.
  • Letter sounds to preschool and kindergarten students.
  • Math facts to elementary-age students with severe math difficulties.
  • Survival signs and words to high school students and adults with cognitive impairments.

IR is implemented by writing known and unknown items on flashcards. The unknown items are words, letter sounds, math facts, or anything that has to be memorized. The known items should be words, letter sounds, math facts, and other items for which the student gives the correct response within 2 seconds of showing them the card. Next week, specific steps for implementing incremental rehearsal.