LONG TERM MEMORY III: RETRIEVAL, FORGETTING,
AND CLASSROOM PRACTICE
How we retrieve something from long term memory depends on how well we stored
it in the first place.
If the information was stored in a well organized fashion, retrieval may be
relatively easy. (Relate attic storage as an illustration)
All Furniture in a section
Tools in a particular section
Look at the list of Words I have listed below for just a few minutes without
writing any of them down.
How many of the words can you recall?
Let me give you some categories that might help you.
Writing Supplies Gemstone
Land Forms Profession
The category names should have helped you remember more of the words because
all 12 words fall into those categories. Such associate cues are related to the
words you were searching for, as such, they should direct your search toward relevant parts of your long term memory.
THEORIES OF FORGETTING
Over time, people remember less and less about the events they have experienced
and the information they have acquired. Forgetting or information loss can occur in several ways:
Failure to Retrieve
Failure to Store
Lets look at each of these separately:
Unfortunately, no evidence confirms the permanence of any long term memory:
Research findings do not (and quite possibly cannot) demonstrate that all information stored in long term memory remains there
for the life of the individual.
In fact, some theorists believe that information loss due to such factors as interference or an inability to retrieve causes information to decay or fade, particularly
when that information is not used. (Lets look at several factors that create
difficulty or play a role in Forgetting)
FAILURE TO RETRIEVE
You can probably think of occasions when you couldnt remember something at
on time yet recalled it later on. Clearly, then, the information was still in
Long Term Memory; you just couldnt retrieve it the first time around.
Failure to retrieve is most likely to occur when people neglect to search that
part of Long Term Memory storing the desired information. Given appropriate cues,
they may eventually find what they are looking for.
Vivid recollection of where we were and what we were doing when we heard certain
news is common. I certainly can and perhaps you can too recall where I was and
what I was doing when John Kennedy was assassinated, when we first landed on the Moon, when Martin Luther King was assassinated,
and the beginning of the first Gulf War.
But in some situations we may receive news or have an experience that is so
painful or emotionally distressing that we tend not to remember it at all. This
phenomenon, known as repression, was first described by Sigmund Freud (1915 1957).
Construct error can occur at either storage (learning erroneously constructed
information) or retrieval (possible because of decay, interference, or learner remembering something that was never presented
in the first place). In other words, the individual just never got the story right from the beginning.
FAILURE TO STORE
A final explanation of forgetting is the fact that some information may never
have been learned or stored. We have all experiences working on a very long and
important document on the computer and neglect to save it. Consequently, when
we go back to retrieve the information or document, there is nothing there because we never saved or stored it in memory before
we closed out our computer.
FACILITATING STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL IN THE
As a way o summing up our discussion of long term memory lets review certain
principles and how they might be useful in helping students learn and remember classroom subjects matter more effectively
over the long run.
- Meaningful learning is more effective than rote learning:
Meaningful learningassociating new information with things that have
already been learned promotes effective storage and more successful retrieval than rote learning. Unfortunately, some educators seem to forget this basic principle.
All too often, classroom instruction and assessment methods emphasize the learning of classroom material at a verbatim
level, with little or no regard for its underlying meaning.
- Meaningful learning can occur only when the learner has relevant prior knowledge to which to relate new material:
Students have considerable difficulty learning and remembering material
that does not overlap with their existing knowledge.
- The internal organization of a body of information facilitates its storage and retrieval:
When material is presented in an organized fashion, students are more
likely to store it in a similar organizational network. And when information
in long term memory is organized, it can be more easily retrieved.
- In most situations, elaboration facilitates storage and retrieval:
Asking students to talk about academic subject matter, perhaps within
the context of a class discussion or cooperative learning activity, almost forces them to do something (mentally) with that
- Occasionally, elaboration leads to the learning of misinformation:
Teachers must continually monitor students understanding of classroom
material, perhaps by asking questions, assigning regular homework, or giving occasional quizzes and then take steps to correct
any misinterpretations that students response reveal.
- Information that must be retrieved within a particular context should be stored within that context:
People are most likely to retrieve information relevant to a situation
when they have stored it in close association with other aspects of that situation.
It they have stored it elsewhere, they are much less likely to stumble on it at times when it will be useful. Thus, information should be stored with retrieval in mind.
- Periodic review and practice promote easier retrieval:
Occasional repetition of learned information over a long period time
(days, weeks, or months) does facilitate retrieval of that information. Teachers,
then, might find it helpful to have students review and practice important material throughout the school year, perhaps by
integrating that material into the context of new lessons.
- Students memories will probably never be totally reliable records of information:
Long term memory storage and retrieval are both constructive processes
and therefore will always be fallible. Students memories can undoubtedly be improved,
but they will probably never be perfect.
Retrieval from long term memory appears to be a process of searching. in one
location at a time, until the desired information is found.
Numerous explanations have been offered for why people forget things they have
presumably learned. Possibilities include decay, interference, failure to retrieve,
repression and failure to store information in the first place.