Memory – What was I saying? Come Again!

Have you wondered why you remember a few things that happened long ago but forget things that happened recently? Memory is a very complex system and the subject of research in multiple disciplines. The focus of Attention can be somewhat compared to the function of  a spotlight. A child’s attention span starts out brief, but increases steadily through the early school years and adolescence. It improves particularly after age 10.

How Much Attention Do Students Pay in Class?

It Depends on the Subject and the methodology used by the teacher. Relevant and challenging materials hold the attention more. Teacher-centred methods get less engagement. Courses such as mathematics that demand prior knowledge forced students to be engaged more often.

A few significant pointers:

  1. Events like videogames and television cartoons that have immediate feedback and fast-moving designs may capture attention for longer periods.
  2. A class activity that lasts longer than the average attention span for a given age is likely to lose many students.

The Peculiarities of Memory

Memory can be broadly divided into short-term memory (temporary storage before processing) and long-term memory (relatively permanent storage)

Implicit memory refers to items that cannot be retrieved consciously but are activated as part of particular skills or actions. Eg. riding a bike, taking the road to school, forming letters with a pen etc.

Explicit (or declarative) memory supports acquisition of factual knowledge that can be verbalized. Explicit memory is divided further as follows:

– Episodic memory concerns the storage and recall of specific events or episodes occurring in a particular place or at a particular time, such as comments made by classmates in school.

– Semantic memory comprises our encyclopedic knowledge about the world that is not associated with a specific time or location.

Pavlovian Episodic memory and classical conditioning offer distinct insights on emotional memory.

Procedural memory  – Tying your shoes, reading a book, playing an instrument, or driving a car are all examples of procedural memory in our lives.

These types of memory work seamlessly together and constitute our knowledge base.

Working Memory: A Concept Critical for Effective Education

To be registered in permanent memory, the information must first go through the short-term memory which is referred to as working memory.

Working memory consists of a central executive mechanism and two sub-systems referred to as the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad (Refer to Figure  – Classification of Memory). The phonological loop: The duration and capacity are exceedingly limited. There is space for only about seven items, and they can stay in the phonological loop only for about 12 seconds.

2) The visuospatial sketchpad holds visual or spatial information, such as a picture that was just seen. It only holds about four items.

Working memory capacity increases as children grow. Longer schooling is related to a larger capacity. Adults with higher education have significantly better working memory than those with fewer than 12 years of education and adult illiterates have shorter working memory than literate people. students with more limited working memory have lower performance. Once information is processed by the working memory, consolidation starts. It is an involuntary process.


Generally, people forget a fair amount of what they learn within a few days or months after learning it, and then the rate of forgetting levels off. The amount ultimately forgotten depends on how meaningful and well connected the text is to the existing body of knowledge;

Longer the vacations, more the forgetting particularly in language and Math skills. This is referred to as the Summer learning Loss1.

To retain the information:

• present activities that attract children’s attention

• repeat often because overlearned activities are remembered better

• connect to existing knowledge, the more the better

• Learn in small chunks over several days or weeks

• presented within about 30 minutes of humorous or emotional events has a better recall

• learned during or right after physical activity has a better recall

• presented after consumption of food containing slow-digesting glucose



Published by Dr. Pramila Kudva

I am a teacher educator currently worrking as a Principal of a reputed school in North Mumbai, have more than 30 years of experience, with several publications to my credit and have authored a book -"From chalk to Talk The Art of Teaching.

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