Memory is a broad term with many sides to it. Simply put, it is generally accepted that the process of memory involves experiencing information with our senses, encoding it into our minds, storing it, and then retrieving it. To forget something means there was a disruption somewhere along the way.
The act of learning happens in the same process. Take for example, learning how to play a new song on the piano. You experience it by hearing it and playing it for the first time. Then you encode it into your mind by rehearsing or listening to it again. It’s stored in your memory and then next time you sit down at the keyboard, you can play it at least a little bit better than you could after the first time you heard it.
The similarity makes memory an essential process to look at when diagnosing and understanding learning disabilities. One area of memory is verbal learning; that is, remembering spoken information. Oyler, Obrzut, and Asbjornsen (2012) examined verbal memory in adolescents with learning disabilities in order to better understand the way their brain processes information and what parts of their memory might be making reading difficult for them.
The researchers used the memorizing of word lists to investigate the different parts of memory mentioned above, such as inputting words into memory, storing them, and then being able to recall as many as possible. The results of their study revealed that students with learning disabilities (particularly in reading), had most difficulty in the initial learning of the words, as opposed to being able to retrieve them from their memory. So when it comes to learning, teens with learning disabilities are having more difficulty with getting information into their memory.
Often we think that our kids with learning disabilities just need to “catch up” in reading or math, but studies such as this one show that there are parts of the learning process that may need to be different. This study in particular suggests a few ways to help teens to have good strategies for learning.
For some teens, learning a new concept is a difficult task, but studies like this tell us that by being creative and flexible in our approach to memory, they can be confident that learning is possible.
By Kristi MacDonald
Oyler, J. D., Obrzut, J. E., & Asbjornsen, A. E. (2012). Verbal learning and memory functions in adolescents with reading disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 35(3), 184-195. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1114699703?accountid=14569