Mnemonics Saved the Day

Growing up, I always had a difficult time studying for tests. There was always so much information that I needed to retain but I struggled keeping the information organized and straight in my mind. I always seemed to struggle until the day I started using mnemonics. In chapter 13 of Brain Matters Wolfe states, “many teachers view mnemonics as mere memorization or ‘memory tricks’ (Wolfe 208).” They say that mnemonics are unrespectable because they don’t enhance deep and meaningful understanding. As an educator, I could not disagree more. I was able to be successful in elementary school, middle school, high school and college because of the help from mnemonics. It is a great tool to  aid memory and the ability to recite information.

Wolf spends a great deal of time reciting many of the categories of mnemonics. Two categories that I was able to connect with the most is acrostic sentences, as well as acronyms. The two are very similar to one another. The difference is acrostic sentences are always sayings in a sentence form whereas acronyms are using just a single word.  Many of us have probably learned several of these as young children and still to this day are able to recite these silly sentences or words. Examples are how many days are in each month “30 days has September, April, June and November..” ,  learning the notes of the line on the treble clef by learning the sentence “Every good boy does fine” . A popular acronym that I still use to this day to help me remember how to properly use the words affect vs. effect is RAVEN.  “Remember affect (is a) verb, effect (is a) noun (Wolfe 210).”

“When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking (Wolfe 211).” Using what seems to be just a silly sentence during reading workshop to help students remember a very important rule while reading, truly works. In chapter 15 of Jossey Bass Reader, it talks about the differences between literate and illiterate students. One intriguing difference was when they looked into reciting nonsense words. “The illiterate people tended to turn these into real words (Blakemore 240).” Teaching kindergarten, I still have several students who are not reading yet. Illiterate students, struggle retaining the information and research shows that they are actually using a different part of their brains when attempting to read words. They use the part of the brain responsible for problem solving.

After looking deeper into this new learning, I am curious to see how helpful it could be using mnemonics more frequently with my illiterate students. I look forward to learning more creative ways to distribute information for my illiterate students to recall it better/faster, as well as strengthen my literate student’s skills. Could this change, decrease or eliminate (in some areas) the problem with students using the wrong part of their brain while trying to read? Even if it couldn’t solve the problem, I am curious to see the growth with those illiterate students in using mnemonics. As teachers we can teach students about how their memories work and give them the tools they need in order to recall and pull from that stored information.

Wolfe, P. (2010). Brain Matters. (2nd ed., pp.200-217). Arlington, VA: ASCD.

Blakemore, S. J., Frith, U. (2007). The JOSSEY-BASS READER on the Brain and Learning (p. 101). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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One thought on “Mnemonics Saved the Day

  1. I believe mnemonics are a great way to help students understand and improve their ability to remember information. In Brain Matters, Wolfe explains how “experts tend to organize information into very large chunks [..] Being able to see how information fits together in chunks is, therefore, a hallmark of learning (Wolfe, p.132).” We are unable to remember a large amount of information, but if we “chunk” it and make connections with those “chunks”, we are able to store larger groups of information. Therefore, using acronyms and catchy rhymes allow students to organize and easily recall more information. I can still recall my planets in order and know how to solve an order of operations problem in math, not because I use both on a regular basis, but because the mnemonics that I learned to assist me, are still easily remembered to this day.

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