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Memory is a highly complex process involving multiple components working simultaneously. Our description of isolated components is only a representation because in reality our brains process information in an integrated fashion.
Everything begins as sensory input from our environment. Using our sensory systems, we see, taste, hear, or feel a sensation or stimuli. We have a mechanism to filter out and discard irrelevant or unnecessary data, such as the feel of the carpet as we walk or the sound of the air conditioner. This same filtering mechanism organizes relevant data into meaningful patterns. In figure 1, the funnel and the filter represent these processes: sensory input and sensory memory.
Information "grabbed," or made meaningful, moves on to short-term memory. Our brains are programmed to pay attention to the unusual - something different. Incorporating novelty such as humor, movement, or music, into strategies helps the information attract our attention.
The use of strategies plays a very critical role in structuring input to help it move into long-term memory in a meaningful and memorable format. To establish a more durable memory, we need to prevent incoming information from being "dumped." We accomplish this by associating it meaningfully with knowledge that already exists.
If the information is important and is rehearsed, it moves to another part of the brain to be coded and then is eventually stored in long-term memory. In figure 1, a file cabinet represents long-term memory. The entire memory is not filed intact in a location, rather, the specific components of the experience are each stored as individual files.
In thinking about how memory works, it is critical to realize that each individual has a different way of processing and remembering. There is more than one way to store a given memory, just as there are often multiple routes to drive to a destination. One person may choose to go to the grocery store by route A whereas another person may prefer route B. Either is appropriate. Similarly with memory: One person may prefer to remember a list by singing it whereas another person may prefer to visualize an association. There is no one correct way.
This article presents a variety of strategy suggestions. We need to pay attention to our student's reactions to the strategies and help each child select and use strategies that are comfortable and most closely match his or her preferred learning style.