So many children have a hard time retaining the information they have learned at school. Read this one tip on a simple, research-based method to help your struggling learner retain information. It’s so easy!
One of my great passions in life is teaching. I especially love teaching students who struggle to learn.
One of the most common themes I have seen in these students over the years is poor retention of subject matter.
Maybe this sounds familiar to you. You work with your child on a certain concept and they finally seem to get it. Then the next day or sometimes even the next class period, all the progress seems to have flown out the window and you are back at square one.
I have always been interested in finding a way to increase that retention and have tried various things over the years from brain exercises to varied modes of presentation, and even aromatherapy with varying levels of success. Occasionally those strategies would work well for one or two students, but overall, the majority of my students continued to struggle in this area.
This is frustrating on so many levels, mainly for the student who tries so hard.
Recently I attended an online professional development class taught by Dr. Valorie Salimpoor, and she was able to connect some of the dots for me on how to reach these students through some of her latest research on the brain and learning.
One thing that research has found is that the brain needs increased levels of dopamine in order to retain information.
What is Dopamine?
According to Psychology Today,
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.
Dopamine is increased when there is an element of chance or reward involved.
Increasing dopamine is as simple (or as hard for some people) as making learning adventurous and exciting.
How to Help a Struggling Learner Retain Information
However, with struggling learners, increasing retention takes more than just increasing dopamine. Dr. Salimpoor pointed out that first, you have to free up the child’s working memory, then increase the dopamine while presenting the new concept.
Once I heard that, it made so much sense. Of course! How can a child learn and retain a new concept when their brain is still working to recall prior information.
Practically, this can be pretty easy to implement. Take long division for example. If you have a student who struggles in math and it’s time for them to learn long division, first you have to free up that working memory. That means they get a calculator or a times chart to use for the operations while they learn the order of long division (Divide, multiply, subtract, bring down). When they don’t have to try to remember how many times 8 goes into 56, they all of a sudden can focus on where to write the answer and what to do next.
This is a game changer, people. A game changer!
Add in a learning activity for learning that order that will increase dopamine (hint: a game or activity) and you have improved retention.
Dr. Salimpoor mentioned that after they show complete mastery (ie. the concept has moved from short-term memory to long-term memory), then you can remove the aids and move the student towards independently solving the whole multi-step equation.
Does this process take time? Yes! So does teaching the same concept over and over because the student isn’t learning.
There are many great resources online that you can use along these lines. Cignition.com is a website that Dr. Salimpoor helped create and it is designed to increase dopamine levels for improved retention, mainly with fractions. I have also found ixl.com a great resource. It works on every individual math skill and rewards the students with “prizes” (pictures) that I thought was kind of cheesy but all of the students I have used it with have enjoyed it and really work hard for the reward.