This is part two of the article (part 1 can be found in the 2 October edition of this magazine).
5: Learning by numbers
This technique requires you to embed a visual in your memory for the numbers 1 to 10. Each visual should look like the number. These will then stay with you forever. My recommended list of visuals is as follows (but please use your own preferences):
- Lighthouse (looks like a ‘1’)
- Swan (looks like a ‘2’)
- open handcuffs (looks like a ‘3’)
- sail on a toy boat (looks like a ‘4’)
- an open hand, palm upwards (5 fingers)
- a left-handed golf club (looks like a ‘6’)
- front of a ship – its prow (looks like a ‘7’)
- a snowman (looks like an ‘8’)
- an inflated balloon on a string (looks like a ‘9’)
- a circular gate (the gate post and swinging gate look like a ‘10’)
Then, whatever word or object you are trying to remember, associate it with the appropriate image for that number. So for example, suppose you had to remember these 4 random words: tree, vase, keys and heart. You then create a visual picture of each word with its appropriate number: for example, a tree growing out of a lighthouse; a vase sitting on the back of a swan; a set of keys alongside an open handcuff; and a picture of a heart on the sail of the toy boat.
This is the technique where the letters of the acrostic word are the initial letters of other key words you are trying to remember. (Other terms for an acrostic include mnemonics and acronyms). So for example, in terms of target setting, the acrostic ‘SMART’ is used to stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timeframed. The word ‘NEET’ stands for ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’. More romantically, ‘SWALK’ stands for ‘Sealed With A Loving Kiss’. So the word (like SMART) can be a real one, or, like NEET and SWALK, be one that is made up. The value of this technique is that the acrostic not only is a trigger for your memory, but also lets you know how many things you want to remember, and in what order.
Patterns are perhaps the most obvious memory aid. Anything that represents a clear – and ideally familiar – image or structure, will be easier to remember. For example, I typically attach things I am trying to remember to geometric shapes. So if I’m remembering two things, I visually attach them to each end of a straight line; I use a triangle to remember 3 things; a square to remember 4 things, and a 5-point star to remember 5 things – and so on. The shape reminds me how many items I am trying to remember – and I visualise the words or objects at the end of each part of the shape: for threes, I ‘attach’ each word to one of the triangle’s points; for fours, I attach the words to each corner – and so on. There are other obvious patterns: numbers themselves are patterns – so a list is immediately more memorable if attached to numbers (which indicate a sequence) than to bullet points, which don’t.
Many people struggle to remember – or even access – information because it is presented in a medium that is either unfamiliar, or difficult for that person to access. If this is the case, then it is really helpful for both understanding and memory if you can ‘translate’ the information into a format that is more accessible. The classic example of this is translating text into a visual (eg a mind map); most people find it easier to remember pictures than words, so it may be worth creating a picture, rather than persisting with text. Often creating a picture, then labelling it, will help the words stick….(and the process itself of translating also helps embed the learning).
9: Learning names
Every teacher wants to be able to remember their learners’ names – but not all teachers can do it…or at least, that’s the teacher’s view or belief. And that’s the number one problem. If you tell yourself “I just can’t remember names” then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: why would you invest in something you don’t believe is possible? The truth is – you can remember names: everyone can. There’s a simple and obvious test of the truth of this: write down 20 names of people you know, or have known. Easy. So what’s the difficulty? Apart from investing in a negative self fulfilling belief, there are two main blocks to remembering names: pressure and lack of technique.
Pressure, because as teachers we feel we have to know the names as soon as we’ve been given them in class – which seems impossible; and secondly, because most of us will not have an organised and effective way of learning those names. So if you use the technique that follows, you will almost certainly learn very quickly the names of your learners, and that will solve the problem of pressure: knowing you can do it, you’ll relax when faced with the challenge.
So here’s the technique. Sit them in smaller groups – this is crucial, and the purpose will be explained later. Go round each group, asking for their first names only (since that’s all you need to connect to your learners in your first meeting/lesson). Write their name down, on your own A4 sheet of paper or notebook - something you can refer to privately (not the white board or flip chart). Write their names in seating plan order – this produces a pattern that will help you remember. As they introduce themselves, check for spellings where you know there are variations: Catherine, Ann, Jacqui, and so on. Asking “is that with a ‘C’ or a ‘K’?” will help you start to embed their name (and also values that learner, who appreciates you taking the trouble to get it right).
Then – and this is the magic: set the class an activity, working in their groups. Then, while they are doing that, you can spend that time learning their names. Choose a group task that is proportional to the class size. If there’s say 8 in the class, it could be a 5 minute activity. If there’s 20 or so in the class, choose a 15 minute activity. Then, when it’s time to check back with the class, to see how they’ve got on – you can use all, or at least a majority, of their names.
Just try it: it works!
I hope you’ve found the 9 techniques helpful: remember, it’s different strokes for different folks. You’ll almost certainly find one that works best for you – so stick with that technique, and bin the rest! But also remember that, if you want to help your learners improve their memory, then introduce them to all, or most of the techniques – not just the one that works for you! That way, they have the option of finding the one that suits them best, too.
Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd
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