34. Memory and Comprehension – some thoughts


Memory and Comprehension (some thoughts)

As ever, there are endless crossovers between aspects of my studies, my explorations, my teaching.  Networks of information and experience grow in my understanding, each influencing the others.

The role of visuals in learning has been a strong theme in my studies and teaching lately, with my own learning experiences informing my thinking about how we should teach.  The value of visuals seems so apparent to me that it’s like an elephant in the room – I’m surprised it’s not being talked about more.  But maybe it’s a case of my own experiences and personality influencing what I believe.  And in writing the portfolio and this blog, I’m reminded of how much I enjoy words too, so I don’t want to overshadow that element of my work with my passion for visuals.  Anyway, I digress…

In studying and revising for the Language Awareness exam, I’ve been using acronyms, mnemonics and visual memes to help me remember certain aspects.  This is a clear example of the retentive quality of visuals and the more unusual the image, the more memorable.  An example:

homophones meme

This leads me onto the relationship between memory and comprehension.  Understanding a concept enables me to give an example, but the reverse is also true: examining an example enables me to better understand it.

In theatre, I had ‘trigger’ lines for different accents – specific phrases that could get me ‘into’ and accent (saying “don’t us girls just love that?” said in an Edinburgh accent enables me to continue and say other things in the same accent).

There’s a connection between this ‘trigger’ idea and asking learners to create example sentences of new language, and in fact when I look at keeping lexical notebooks with learners I tend to stress that the example is the most important component.  I’m able to demonstrate this in a class when a learner has a list of new vocabulary by asking them what something means.  When they can’t remember, I give an example sentence and they can then recall the meaning.

Similarly, when I need to explain a grammar point off the top of my head, running through a few examples helps me work out the patterns (or rules).  So, here I am again (in the ever-growing network): context is everything.  Which is what I tell my learners about language, and is what determines what we teach, and how we teach.  And that – for me – is one of the joys of teaching: the variety.


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