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Mnemonics and Students with Disabilities

Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss

Published: 2012-03-17

Synopsis and Key Points:

Memory skills related to learning may be difficult for students with disabilities but you can help them learn ways to improve these skills.

Main Digest

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has strengthened the need to make sure students with disabilities make achievements in the same general education curriculum as non-disabled students.

Mnemonic - Any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. They do so by increasing the efficiency of the process of consolidation. This process involves the conversion of short term memory to long term memory. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something, particularly lists, but a mnemonic may instead be visual, kinesthetic or auditory. Mnemonics rely on associations between easy-to-remember constructs which can be related back to the data that are to be remembered. This is based on the observation that the human mind much more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, physical, sexual, humorous, or otherwise meaningful information, as compared to retrieving arbitrary sequences.

While this is occurring, there is also an effort being made to achieve better results for every student, not only students with disabilities, on a national level. An increasing number of states in America are requiring achievement testing for students; tests that are being used to decide whether they will advance to the next grade level or graduate.

A student with a disability takes the same tests as their non-disabled classmates and must have the ability to rapidly recall facts and perform correctly on the tests. Memory; of course, is not the same as understanding - yet a student will experience difficulties with demonstrating their knowledge without the ability to remember facts. Memory skills related to learning may be difficult for students with disabilities and fortunately, there are ways to help them learn ways to improve these skills.

A student's memory in relation to factual content is dependent upon information encoding and retrieval.

Learning is the way a student encodes, or puts information into their memory. Testing requires a student to retrieve, or remember the things they have learned. As you help a student with their homework, you can also help them to change the way they encode information, which has the potential to result in improved retrieval of the information they have learned, as well as improvement in their test scores.

Mnemonic strategies involve ways to help students perform better as they encode information. Through the use of mnemonics, a student will find themselves able to do better at retrieving information on demand.

Three mnemonic techniques include:

Through the use of mnemonic strategies, a student can find ways to relate the information they are learning to information they already possess in their long-term memory; information they already remember. The process creates a strong connection between new and old information, giving a student the ability to remember new information for a long time.

Letter Strategies: The Letter Strategies method is one that is used in order to remember a list of things. An acronym is created that is made up of the first letters of the things a student needs to remember. The first letters of the things found in the acronym helps the student to remember the list of familiar items. It is easier to remember the one word acronym that it is to remember every one of the words on the list. For example; the acronym, 'HOMES,' might be used to help a student remember the names of the Great Lakes - (H)uron, (O)ntario, (M)ichigan, (E)rie, and (S)uperior.

The Keyword Method: The Keyword Method pairs new words with keywords. A keyword is one that sounds like the new word and is also something that can be easily pictured. The picture shows the keyword interacting with the meaning of the word the student is learning. For example; if a student is learning that a, 'barrister,' is another word used to describe a lawyer, they might picture a bear in a courtroom.

The Pegword Method: The Pegword Method is one that is used to remember ordered or numbered information. 'Pegwords,' are words that rhyme with numbers. A student pictures a pegword in association with the information they are learning. For example; if a student chooses the pegword, 'sticks,' to represent the number, 'six,' they can picture insects walking on sticks - which would remind them that insects have six legs.

Research has demonstrated that students with disabilities can be successfully taught to use the above mnemonic strategies to encode and retrieve information. The studies showed that use of mnemonics resulted in improved test scores for students in a variety of subjects, as well as across different grade levels.

Mnemonics; however, is not intended to be used as an, 'overall,' teaching approach for every area of instruction. There are good ways to teach across every subject area involving a focus which is more on the memorization of factual content. Mnemonics can be used as a tool to help students to demonstrate the knowledge they have gained, and lead to their success.

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