My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets… If only I knew then that Pluto isn’t actually considered a real planet, then I would have told Mrs Griffiths that she was wrong using that mnemonic to help me remember the planets…
Hold on… was she wrong for giving me a mnemonic to aid my memory? I can still recite the planets and know which is closest to the sun. When the BBC reports on the Mars Rover, I know that this is happening further away from the sun than I am – due to my mnemonic. When I hear red planet, because of my knowledge on the proximity of Mars to the sun, I am able to deduce that it can’t be red because it is hot, because otherwise we’d be a red planet too. This small amount of knowledge allows me to begin to make sense of things – knowledge is power.
Mnemonics allow us to organize large bodies of knowledge to permit their ready retrieval according to Brown, Roediger and McDaniel (2014). The more we make use of a mnemonic to retrieve information, the less reliant on it we become. The mnemonic cue we use to draw upon knowledge becomes less important as the knowledge we’re using is consolidated and encoded into our schemas (basically organised patterns of thought). This information becomes automatic to us.
Bjork and Bjork (1996) identify two forms of mnemonics, ‘encoding and organisational’. Both of these mnemonics often use mental cues in the form of visual images to support making information more retrievable.
* Organisational mnemonics organise and integrate new information in memory. These can later be accessed as I have been able to with the planets.
* Encoding mnemonics are used to transform low imagery (things we have little visual image of) and abstract material (something that isn’t in the here and now) into something more memorable so that it can be organised. Here Belleza (1996) provides an example of how this works:
‘An abstract word, such as “fiscal” may be replaced by some semantic association, such as “money” or by words similar in pronunciation such as “fish tail”. It turns out that for most people the words “money” and “fish tail” are easier to process in memory because these words are familiar and high in imagery. So one of these is used instead of “fiscal”. Later, when the substitute word “money” or “fish tail” is remembered, it acts as a cue for the related word “fiscal”, and this latter word is recognized as the word that was to be memorized.’
The above mentioned quote provides us with an easy way of delivering new information to learners in a way which will help them to make sense of it and encode it in their memories. Of course, there is more to learning that just memorising, but without the memory, we can’t do the other stuff well.
If you don’t already, why not get your learners to create their own mnemonics for learning new information?
I also came across the mnemonic generator which some learners may find useful…
Bjork, E.L. and Bjork, R.A. (1996). Memory. Academic Press.
Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L., McDaniel, M.A. (2014). Make it stick: the science of successful learning. London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.