Jogging the memory

How a memory improving program is proving to be a valuable asset for helping pupils with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.

Memory is the basis of all learning. Anyone who has worked with a child who has been in a road traffic accident, or is experiencing memory loss after chemotherapy, knows how slow progress can be and the sense of frustration shared by the pupil and the teacher. A bright child is suddenly groping for words, finding it difficult to think about two things at once and getting 'overloaded' very quickly. Yet for many children with learning difficulties this may be the normal state of affairs.
Mastering Memory is a program to improve visual and auditory memory.  Shortlisted for the BETT 2002 Special Needs Software award and designed by CALSC to improve memory in pupils with speech and language difficulties, dyslexia or learning difficulties, it has been also used with those who have hearing impairment, visual impairment, Down's Syndrome and head injuries, as well as with some able and gifted children.  It is not a panacea for all forms of memory deficit but, for many children, it is the first time they consciously practise strategies which other children inherently use, such as rehearsing and repetition.

How does it work?
The program uses a sequence of pictures. These might;be animals, food, transport, sport, or, for older learners, Highway Code symbols, etc.  These can be presented visually and/or auditorially.  The sequence, speed and number of pictures selected can be altered, and the amount of detail increases at each level to develop observation and memory skills.

Glenys Heap, Principal of the Dyslexia Institute Centres in Nottingham and Leicester, thinks the program has two major strengths: "The program is easy to use and is fun.  The use of a metacognitive approach, where students are taught how memory works and how to develop alternative strategies, has been proved to work with people with dyslexia."

The fun element is important, but this is not a game.  It is very much a tool which the teacher or therapist uses with a pupil to think through and weigh up the merits of different strategies.
Mastering Memory has been the subject of many pieces of research. One of the most interesting is the study undertaken by Nia Solomon at Portsmouth University, where a sample of 13 children with Down's Syndrome were assessed, before and after using Mastering Memory, for short-term memory skills on four standard memory measures taken from the British Ability Scale. The study concluded

"It is clear that all of the children's memory skills improved on the memory program itself. However, it is necessary to establish whether the improvements seen are specific to the program situation, or whether in fact they can be found to improve memory performance in general. To investigate this, a comparison was made between the BAS tests administered pre-and post-training. It can be assumed that the rehearsal strategies taught and practised by the children when using the Mastering Memory program have been generalised to tasks other than the trained situation."

But if all this sounds like serious stuff, remember that it is also used in ordinary classrooms around the country with good results, as this comment from a teacher shows: "I have been meaning to let you know how brilliant Mastering Memory is. I am using it with children in an Infant Speech and Language unit, who are thoroughly enjoying the challenge. George is doing particularly well, and this has had the hoped-for knock-on effect on his reading ability. The more we use it, the more we feel that it will prove to be a very useful addition to our other activities - thanks."
This article, written by Sally McKeown, is taken from Transforming Technologies supplement which shows how technology has transformed the lives of children and adults with learning difficulties and disabilities.
Mastering Memory is available at or by calling 020 8642 4663 in the UK.