5 Reading strategies that boost memory
I wanted to share my insight into a common issue that shows up in at least 70% of my consultations with the students we support through tutoring.
As a mother, I share personal anecdotes from my own life during my meetings with parents because I can relate to their struggles on a very personal level. I want them to know that they are not alone.
As a consultant, I want to share the strategies that have worked for my daughter and the many students we have helped through our service. These are strategies parents can use right away to become an active part of the solution.
I want to focus on what Individualized Learning Plans (IEPs) label Auditory processing and short-term memory issues— specifically how these challenges affect reading comprehension.
These tips are helpful for any reader who struggles to understand and remember information when reading. They are especially helpful for students who have an IEP or accommodation due to a special learning need.
Five Reading Strategies
- Chunk it. Rather than reading a few chapters at a time, a helpful reading habit is to break down a story into smaller chunks. This can look like stopping to write down a note to summarize each paragraph, or simply stopping at the end of each page or chapter to reflect on the events and ideas covered before moving forward.
Tip: Making a prediction about what might happen next is a great way to stay engaged in the story.
- Repeat. Sometimes we need give ourselves a few extra chances to absorb the information we are reading. For many students who struggle to sound out or ‘decode’ words, the first read is mostly for getting a feel for the words and sentences. A second read is usually more fluent, and lets a reader understand the ideas behind the words.
Tip: Reading aloud the first time helps to sound out the words. Reading quietly the second time around helps to focus on the story.
- Elaborate. One of my favorite strategies that I feel as a parent I didn’t realize the importance of with my own daughter was the power of elaboration. Looking for relationships between the information and your child’s world is a powerful way to connect a story- especially during bedtime stories. Asking questions about the character’s emotions, the setting, or the events allows your child to dive deeply into the story using their own imagination.
Tip: Stay away from ‘testing’ your child on the details and instead help spark their imagination with “what if” or “what would you do?” questions that are open ended.
- Organize. Brains naturally seek patterns. We can help our brains by organizing information to make it easier to digest. One great way to move information from short-term to long-term memory is to write a study guide or draw a concept map. This is especially useful when comparing and contrasting ideas.
Tip: When creating a study guide, allow your child to choose the format and fill in the details. This will help them take ownership of the information and put it into their own words.
- Mix up the modes. Help your child engage with the story in a deep way by mixing in different modes of learning. A combination of visual, audio, and hands-on activities make for much better recall later on. Acting or drawing out a story is a great way to make reading fun.
Tip: Let your child select a book and an activity from a short list that is appropriate for their reading level and age.
Once you have figured out which strategies work for your child, make sure to apply that strategy when they have an assignment. Encourage them to use it on their own by celebrating each effort and achievement.
It is also helpful to share stories about a difficulty you overcame (reading or otherwise). This shows your child that you understand how they feel, that the unpleasant feeling is temporary, and that you are there to help. Sharing stories relieves stress and connects you with your child in a meaningful way.
Memory is not about memorizing
How does chunking, repeating, and organizing information help the brain with memory?
In order to read, comprehend, and remember information, your child must first be able to focus on it, encode it, store it, and then recall it. Here is the process broken down step-by-step.
Chunking information helps your child to break down an otherwise overwhelming task into bite-sized pieces. This lets them take things one-step at a time and relax. Without the pressure or the nervous adrenaline coursing through their body, they can focus long enough to decode words, string them into sentences and paragraphs and so on. Repeating helps for those who have a tendency to lose focus, skip or misread words.
Elaborating on a story requires your child to pay attention to the events and characters in the story. It gives them a reason to care about the characters and an opportunity to be creative. Elaborating also gives you insight into how your child is encoding (or interpreting) what they are reading. If you notice the predictions do not follow the story, you can intervene to set them on the right path.
Organizing information allows your child to keep track of main ideas and the details that support ideas in a more manageable way. Writing things in a guide or a list helps them zoom in on the details or zoom out to put things into perspective.
Here is the part where memory is not about memorizing. Your child commits information to long-term memory not when they have repeated it or when they have organized it, but when we have understood it. Therefore, organizing information helps your child to store it, because it helps them to fully understand the information in context.
Once your child is familiar with the information they have read, it’s important to help them practice applying it through an activity—especially one that uses involves multiple modes (visual, audio, tactile). This not only reinforces the information, but it also helps them practice recalling that information.
Recall may take a while at first, so be patient! It is extremely important to take long pauses after asking questions. This gives your child time to process the directions, think, and respond.
Personally, I have experienced a lot of heartache as a parent watching my child struggle with reading. My advice comes from thousands of meetings with parents, students, and teachers. It comes from my own trials and hours of research. I hope this advice is helpful and the strategies are simple for parents to apply.