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Dyslexia : Picture a memory

30th October 2020

Its halloween weekend but I think everyone will agree that actually 2020 has been scary enough already! Whatever you are doing this weekend it probably won’t be the same as past year celebrations (especially if you have children).

But with a little imagination and ‘big picture’ thinking I am sure you will come up with some exciting new ideas and alternatives.

If you are reading this because you are a parent of a dyslexic, are a dyslexic yourself or support a dyslexic in an education setting you will no doubt know of all the difficulties connected with the learning difference. I wish to highlight the positives in my weekly blog.

I believe that it is so important for any individual to be aware of their own strengths, to have time to nurture them, to use them to their advantage. As a consequence grow in confidence and self worth/belief. That confidence will help them go and conquer the challenges.

Have a look at this link, try the free training! Yes, you heard me correctly, FREE training to promote dyslexia awareness and celebrate the positives. Take the test and see what super power you have.

Highlights Dyslexic Thinking Skills : visualising, imagining, communicating, reasoning, connecting and exploring.

Once you have identified your strength then think how can that help with some of the challenges you may face in everyday life?

For dyslexics, one of the challenges they encounter is with their memory recall. Maybe being able to remember to do a task whilst it is fresh in your memory but not afterwards? Find it takes longer than others to retrieve information from long term storage? Or whilst reading can not do everything at once – Can read but lose comprehension or can follow story but by doing this miss out or mis-read words?

Do you have a ‘photographic memory’? Do you see in pictures?
Does it feel like your mind is like a sieve, full of holes?

Memory –

There is plenty of studies and research papers on the subject of memory. If you are interested in the psychology or neuroscience of it all then feel free to delve into all the available research.

However, for today’s purposes this is a basic/general idea of the big topic of memory:

Short term = Storage of information for a limited time

Long term = A collection of information gained through experience and previously acquired knowledge.

Working memory = The manipulation and processing of information stored in short term memory. Together with the retrieval of information held in long term memory to assist in the situation. Also transfers new skills into the long term store.

Dyslexics often have difficulties with short term memory; issues of a verbal, visual and phonological nature. Also there can be difficulties with working memory; the processing and manipulation of information stored in short term memory. Together with taking more time to retrieve information from the long term store.

I would like to focus on strategies that may help. As always not one way fits all. It’s a case of having a go and find what helps you, to develop your own personal way.

Within your long term memory you store Episodic information, memories of your past thoughts and experiences. You also store Semantic information such as factual, logical knowledge. Semantic memory is necessary for use of language, conceptual knowledge about the world and way it is expressed in words. Semantic memory is what dyslexics can find a challenge, the understanding and using of language in reading and writing.

You can look at this in different ways. Either be aware of your working memory capacity and identify your strengths and work them to your advantage. Or try and increase your working memory capacity to try to develop the areas in which you struggle. I am of the opinion that you could choose either way or a combination of the two as long as you keep trying, find your way and do not give up.

As I said there has been plenty of research into the subject of memory. The working memory model (Baddeley 2010) involves the verbal working memory, visual spatial working memory, the attention control systems.

Some dyslexics have been known to exhibit a strength in the visual spatial working memory element. Can this be worked to your advantage? With an advantage of visual spatial skills you may see words as a whole unit and remember them that way, rather than splitting them up into individual sounds. Seeing the shape of the word, like drawing a line around the word to see its shapes. This is how a good mental vocabulary of sight words is built up which is great. However, without the skills of decoding unfamiliar words your knowledge is limited.

Dyslexics may ‘see’ the unit sight words, you may see them ‘looking up’ physically to recall the picture. Dyslexics can be seen to be great ‘big picture’ thinkers. To see the subject in question as a whole rather than in parts.

When learning a new topic it may be helpful for a dyslexic to understand the whole picture first. This understanding could help in the transfer of new skills/knowledge into the long term memory store.

Some people are sequential learners, they often do well in the traditional school setting as the curriculum is set up for them. Learning step by step, drill and repeat, under time restrictions and then reviewed.

Visual spatial learners (picture thinkers) work best by creating a mental picture of what ever concept they are learning and checking in their long term memory box to see if they have experienced anything like it before. They may of excelled in lego, puzzles, computer games and art. Being able to ‘see’ in their minds the final big picture before they fill in the details.

To understand the ‘big picture’ first of all try brainstorming ideas, mind maps, use of videos, charts, seeing others complete task first, seeing example final product first. Understand the main concept initially then organise ideas/details. Even drama can help the comprehension. Seeing a ‘play’ or acting out the concept can help in the understanding with a holistic viewpoint. Providing an overall big picture concept first instead of building up step by step can have the benefit of not overloading the working memory.

Dyslexics may have a good memory of stories. They may have difficulty in reading them but stories they have heard they comprehend. They build up a picture of the story which helps with recall.

They may have good narrative reasoning skills where they can create vivid mental scenes involving ideas, experiences and concepts from their past and present and using those patterns could predict a future outcome. The experiences could be ones that have actually happened or have been imagined. We all know dyslexics can have great imagination.

Visualisation –

If spatial reasoning is your skill then you may find remembering and recalling a virtual environment to be one of your strengths?

Visualisation skills work best when you use all the senses. Trying to visualise in colour, shape, size, movement, mood, emotion, smell, touch and taste. Try and picture your last holiday (whenever you were last allowed to travel), think about a particular scene there. Then narrate the scene, explaining the colours that you see, from what standpoint you are (above, straight on etc), what you can hear and touch. How do you feel? Without judging your art skills, can you sketch the scene from the picture in your minds eye?

If I ask you how many rooms does your house have you will probably find yourself sitting there mentally walking around your house, coming in the front door etc. Counting the rooms on your virtual tour. Obviously your home is very familiar to you and through experience its layout has been transferred to long term storage. Where it has been retrieved for this purpose and your working memory is helping you solve the problem.

One strategy people use in remembering facts is the Memory Palace. Ever heard of it?

A memory palace is a place or journey you know very well. Something you can very easily visualise. Within that place or route you will store and recall the information you need. Litemind – Develop perfect memory with the memory palace technique maybe worth a read if you wish to try this strategy further. It talks about imprinting ‘palace’ in your mind, making associations between the areas of the palace and information and then rehearsal.

Mnemonics –

In the dictionary it defines a mnemonic as:

“Something such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something” Example given : the musical notes on the lines go EGBDF – use the mnemonic “Every Good Boy Deserves Fun.”

There are so many of these, which I may touch upon another day otherwise this post could go on forever. Although I would say here that I think this is an excellent memory recall tool. Well worth trying and seeing if it works for you. Making them personal always helps!

memory games –

Kims game- I have played this with children many times. The idea originates (out of interest) from a book By Rudyard Kipling.

Based on ‘Kim’ (1901), by Rudyard Kipling.

“ Play the Play of the Jewels against him. He returned with a copper tray. “Let them come from thy hand, for he may say that I knew them before.”

from a drawer under the table dealt a half handful of clattering trifles into the tray.

“Now,” said the child, waving an old newspaper. “Look on them as long as thou wilt, stranger. Count and, if need be, handle. One look is enough for me.” He turned his back proudly.

“But what is the game?”

“When thou hast counted and handled and art sure that thou canst remember them all, I cover them with this paper, and thou must tell over the tally to Lurgan Sahib, I will write mine.”

“Oah!” The instinct of competition waked in his breast. He bent over the tray.

There have been many alternative uses of this game but principles remain the same, to help your memory recall. You can put any items on the tray, let child look at them for a while, then either cover them up and ask child to try to remember as many as they can. Or ask child to turn around, remove one item, then ask child to find out what is missing.

Maybe discuss with child how they think they could remember more. Maybe if they like stories, to think up a story involving all the items, funnier the better, making a mental picture of that storyboard and see if it helps in recall.

There are plenty of other memory games out there which are fun to play as well as beneficial. The pairs game is always a good one. Have a look at the many on the market and with Christmas around the corner maybe a gift idea? (yes, I am talking about Christmas already!)

Strengthen difficult auditory memory:

Play the “I went shopping…” game, ‘Simon says …’, Ask them to draw a picture with a series of instructions, ‘odd one out’ – read up to 5 words with all but one related to each other. The child has to say the odd one out.

The “I went shopping game and I bought …” is easy and can be played anywhere with a group of people. You may all decide to have a theme such as halloween or random objects or, making it more difficult, an item from each letter in the alphabet in turn (working on memory recall and sequential memory). Each person says the stock phrase as above then adds their own item. I bought a broomstick! Next person says “I went shopping and I bought a broomstick and a pumpkin etc” going around the group as many times as is possible. I would find often that the funniest thing was remembered the most, or the first thing rather than the last (maybe because that had been rehearsed more throughout the time), also if someone added a mime or gesture with their item that had a good chance of sticking in the memory.

Try all the strategies and see which works for you. Or even invent your own. Think about a memory palace, mnemonic, visualise and make associations. Also never forget the power of colour coding, making up your own system using different colours to relate to different things. Chunking can also be helpful, Chunking bits of information together. It has been found that on average people can recall 7 bits of information minus or plus 2. Problems with verbal working memory skills means rehearsal of the information can be difficult. It can take longer to rehearse (repeat) so they forget some of the information. If you have a large number to remember sometimes you can chunk the digits together into small groups. Sometimes remembering them with rhythm can help recall. As I said, best to try all and find your way.

Strategies in classroom –

Identify any children in the class who may have memory issues and monitor their understanding throughout.

Use books and stories with plenty of written visual description. Lots of descriptive words that chidden can use to create their visual imagery.

Do not overload them with information or instructions. If you give them too many instructions at one time, they may verbally rehearse but this takes a lot of time and by the time they have got back to their chairs they have forgotten some.

Provide a structure in their learning where they see and understand the big picture of what you are teaching them then help them to organise the detail.

Encourage them to ask questions or admit when they are falling behind. Above all, praise the successes however small.

Teach computer skills early on, look at possibilities of technology aids such as ‘speech to text’ software.

Maybe have children with picture prompts on their desks and personal dictionaries they keep of difficult words.

Avoid, as much as possible, the use of ‘rote’ learning in the classroom. Allow time for children to become independent learners, to think and to question. Not just to be told to learn a lot of facts with no explanation as to why!

Critical thinking –

Critical thinking is basically thinking about the way you think. It helps to promote independance. With each child/teen/adult having control over their own learning. Considering how they reason, evaluate, problem solve, make decisions and analyse.

The fact that dyslexics have had a lifetime of having to learn about themselves and how best they learn they may have a head start in the thinking process of critical thinking.

Asking questions and not just accepting the way things are can come naturally to a dyslexic. To be creative and think out of the box.

So, as I have mentioned, it’s halloween so go and have fun and use that big picture imagination to think of some new ideas for entertaining those kids.


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