Helping our children to review and memorise their school work is often a challenge; long study sessions and repetitive exercises can be tiring and demotivating. Thankfully, modern ideas about how to improve our memories show that by making some small changes, we can make a big difference to our children’s ability to remember their school-work, as well as making the process more engaging.
Make a Small Change
We often think of consistency as important for study: using the same desk, studying at the same time of day, maybe even using the same pen. However, every time we do something different (study outside, talk about our work with friends, record our notes instead of writing them etc.), we make the memory richer and easier to recall in the future. This phenomenon is called ‘encoding’, and we can help our children to do this by taking them to the park to study, allowing them to listen to music for part of their study time, or inviting their friends to come and study with them. Any small change has a huge benefit to learning.
Avoid the Fluency Trap
When we first meet someone and learn their name, we often believe we will always remember it, but then we see the person again a week later and have no idea what to call them! This is called ‘The Fluency Trap’; where we believe that we will ALWAYS know something because we know it NOW. Our children may suffer from this problem when choosing what to study – If they know it now, surely they will remember it for the test? Encourage them to revise all their class work a couple of weeks afterwards, and space out the study sessions so that they will see where the gaps in their knowledge are.
Testing IS Studying
Thinking back to our time in school, we all remember sitting to memorise lists of words or mathematical problems, and then testing our friends. We often think of the memorising as the important stage, but psychologists now believe that it is the testing that actually helps us to remember. The act of recalling a memory in a test situation requires a lot more brain power than sitting and memorising, and this makes the memory stronger. Try giving your child quick 5 minute tests on the work they have studied that day, or show your child websites such as learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org, where they can quickly complete short tests after each study session.
Take a Break
Anyone who is a fan of puzzles will know that feeling when you are stuck on a question, and have to put it down, only to see the answer immediately as soon as you pick it up again. The term for this is ‘Percolation’, and it can help our children when studying difficult subjects. If your son or daughter is struggling with an exercise, encourage them to take a break. They can do anything: rest, play sports, sit down for a meal; the activity isn’t important, it’s the break from the problem which helps. In this time, their subconscious steps in to start working on the problem, and when they start again, they should have a clearer idea of how to work it out.
At the British Council, our teachers put these theories into practice to aid your child’s memory of the material studied in class, as well as giving them study skills which are transferable to all of their future studies. Getting students to move in the classroom, constantly reviewing work to avoid the fluency trap, and encouraging students to work with their classmates, all enrich their memory of English and make the classes more enjoyable as well!