Monday, September 16, 2013

Memory Strategies: Use Music, Mnemonics, and YouTube to Improve Learning

A frequent issue mentioned by students who come to The Yellin Center for help with school is that they can’t remember information they studied when test time rolls around. They often suspect they have memory difficulties, but we frequently find that poor memory is not the problem. Even the strongest memories in the world can’t handle a limitless number of facts; these students are usually in need of better memory strategies. The more strategically they learn information, the easier it will be to “find” when taking exams.

Testing is particularly difficult for medical or law students, or even high school students in chemistry or history classes, because there is so much material to remember. We often recommend that students use mnemonics to help them recall lists of facts. For example, to remember the taxonomy for biology, if students can remember the sentence “King Philip Cuts Open Five Green Snakes,” they’ll have access to the first letter of each of the taxonomic levels in order (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species).

Another way to recall information is to turn it into song lyrics to go with a catchy tune. We think this is a great idea, and we’re not the only ones. A recent news story tells of a young British doctor doing just that to help the staff at his hospital remember to use the asthma treatment guidelines when treating wheezing patients. When traditional reminders weren't working, Dr. Tapas Mukherjee made a YouTube video  in which he sang his new asthma-related lyrics to the tune of Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and crossed his fingers. Within two months, doctors at his hospital reported that they all knew the guidelines. More importantly, they performed much better on measures that tested their knowledge of specifics. For his efforts, Dr. Mukherjee won the British Thoracic Society Innovation in Education Award in 2012 and the National Health Service Expo/Network Casebook II Innovation Award this year.

There are plenty of other great examples of students using song to help get troublesome facts to stick. One is a video made by Canadian medical students. (Those unfamiliar with second-degree AV block, a disorder that causes irregular heartbeat, may find it a little tough to follow but will still get the idea). Another winner is “This is Why We Clot,” described on the page as “Drug Life’s hot new single about the use of anticoagulants.” To see a model of how this tactic could work with younger children, watch the silly “Place Value Song” from Teacher Tipster  below to see how Mr. Smith uses a song to help his youngsters learn how to grasp the concept of tens and ones.

The most memorable study song, of course, is the one a student invents himself. So next time your student has to learn a list of prepositions, recall a series of events, or perform a multi-step procedure, help him turn the information into a song. Teachers can try this out in the classroom by putting students in groups; finished songs can be recorded and played or performed live for the class. Turn studying into a rockin’ good time!

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