Now what was I doing?

Now what was I doing?

There are many times when my memory seems to have failed me. Sometimes I walk into a room and don’t remember why I went into the room. Some days I can’t remember what I did the previous day. Sometimes I just block things from my memory and other times I wish I could block things from my memory but seem unable to do so. And sometimes I get the wrong idea in my head and it just sticks there.

Memory is a very interesting thing. It can be so helpful, but it can also be problematic at times too.

There are three different types of memory: semantic memory, episodic memory, and procedural memory. Episodic memory is memory related to experiences that we have had, semantic memory is the memory of facts and information about the world, and procedural memory is the memory of how to do things.

Memories get stored and we can later recall our memories, bring that information back up in a conversation, and sometimes we can even forget our memories.

So how do things get stored in long-term memory? First, information is encoded, meaning it is registered. This information is then stored for a period of time and can be retrieved at a later date.

But there are many different things that can affect our memory.

When information is first encoded, it may be related to other information that is already stored in memory. For example, when encoding information, I might explain the information in a way that makes sense to me and that is related to my prior experience and memory. But those connections may not necessarily be correct.

When information is stored, we may have problems recalling that information at a later time, especially in a different context. We have all experienced the lapse in memory when we go to say someone’s name (even if it is someone we know well), and their name just sits on the tip of our tongue without us being able to recall their name. The name usually comes back to us at some point, but there still is that period of time where we can’t remember the name.

And if we repeat things enough, we can sometimes develop misconceptions about a topic or idea. This video is an interesting demonstration of this idea.

Students are asked why we have seasons. Students give a variety of explanations based on their past experiences and through incorporating new information with existing information. However, when we tell ourselves these explanations over and over again, they can become ingrained and stored in our memory. Even if these ideas are not correct. And then these ideas become harder to correct the more they are enforced.

These challenges with memory can cause problems and frustrations for students. So how can we help correct any misconceptions and help students store accurate information in their long-term memory?

Here are a few tips:

  • First, find out what students know or believe at the beginning of a class/unit/week/day. This will help the instructor understand what students may be having a hard time with or what the students may have misconceptions about.
  • Have students connect the new knowledge to previous knowledge (warning! You don’t want students connecting new knowledge to incorrect existing knowledge. That is why it is so important to try to understand what students know about a topic in the beginning).
  • Have students reiterate what they learned at the end of each class period, and start out the next class period with a brief review.

For more information, check out these resources:

  • Matlin, M. Chapter 8: General knowledge. In Cognition (7th ed., pp. 239285). Wiley: Hoboken,
  •  Schacter, D. L. (1999). The seven sins of memory: Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience. American psychologist, 54(3), 182.
  • Tulving, E. (1984). How many memory systems are there? American Psychologist40, 385 398.
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