Memory and Long-Term Solutions

a jigsaw in the shape of a brain with two missing pieces

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It’s early Monday morning, and I’m driving down to Somerset to deliver face-to-face training in Lexonik Advance. Traffic seems quieter than usual, which may be due to the post-pandemic shift to home working, or, equally plausibly, a collective post-Platinum Jubilee comedown.

When I was in junior school, we had a book on display entitled “Life in the 20th Century”. Due to a slight misunderstanding over the way centuries were named, ie. a failure to apply the plus one rule, I was briefly convinced I was living in the nineteenth century, so you can imagine how excited I was to get my mitts on this portal into the future. But what a letdown! Instead of robots and hoverboards, it was just men with sensible haircuts polishing old-fashioned cars, whilst nuclear families crowded around tiny black and white TVs to watch something called ‘The Coronation’.

However, soon after this disappointment, I found myself caught up in a more technicolour wave of celebrations as the nation commemorated the Silver Jubilee, or Silly Jubes in today’s parlance. Whilst my mum (Royalist) was much in favour, my dad (Republican) was very much against. Caught in the middle, I went along mainly for the jelly and ice cream, kept my head down and was rewarded with a free mug at the end.

Hard to believe that that was the best part of fifty years ago. But memory is a funny old thing. My uncle says he can remember the ’60s as if they were yesterday. I picture mini skirted Daleks jigging around to The Beatles and wish I’d been there. An aunt’s long-term memory is equally fantastic; she can tell you anything about her 1930's childhood, yet she has no idea where the teapot is.

Anyway, when I arrive at my destination, the school is calm and purposeful. It is, of course, peak exam season. For this year’s cohort of students, it’s good to see that a degree of normality has resumed, both with regard to the testing and, further ahead, the opportunity to celebrate with some kind of prom; a rite of passage to be remembered for years to come.

But for now, exams are still the thing. And exams are about nothing if not memory. But how to remember? A rigorously adhered to revision timetable, printed out weeks in advance, or a couple of late nights and a full jar of coffee? Herman Ebbinghaus would have something to say about that!

Back in the late 19th century, Ebbinghaus was one of the first people to experiment on human memory. Particularly interested in what happens to recall post-learning, he came up with the Rule of 5, the minimum number of times information needs to be reviewed for long-term storage and retention. He suggested that regular review is more efficient than short-term cramming, so maybe we all need to move away from those coffee beans for now.

Last autumn, I attended a seminar on memory friendly teaching at the National Education Show in Cardiff. Delivered by Charlie Warshawski, not only did he namecheck Ebbinghaus and his Forgetting Curve, he also discussed the more contemporary work of The Learning Scientists, a group of cognitive psychological scientists who have developed six strategies for effective learning: spacing, interleaving, retrieval practice, concrete examples, elaboration and dual coding.

It was striking how closely these match Lexonik methodology. All our courses employ these techniques, but they’re particularly present in our flagship Lexonik Advance, a short course that comes with big expectations, promising to raise student reading age by an average of 27 months over 6 one-hour sessions.

And here’s the thing. If you were to sit in on the first and then the final session of the programme, you wouldn’t notice a huge amount of difference. Not in terms of the activities at any rate. There’s a lot of repetition, with one particular challenge occurring an incredible 18 times! Because of this, by week six, key skills have been thoroughly embedded, passed into long-term memory and are ready to be applied independently, both in lessons and, equally importantly, in exams.

The difference comes in the student response. The novice learners of week one have been transformed into confident, cooperative and often very competitive learners. Their automaticity, or speed of response, has vastly improved, alongside their phonological awareness, metacognitive and vocabulary skills.

We’re not a short-term stimulant; we’re a long-term solution.

Turn over your papers now.

If you feel like you want to learn more about our intervention programmes check them out here or if you’re looking for advice, get in touch.

Ian Jones - Senior Regional Trainer