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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Young People Don't Learn As Well as We Think

Some people think that only older people have memory problems. Don't you believe it! Even young people, who are supposed to have super ability to learn, have many more memory deficiencies than they or we are willing to admit.

Let me give you an example. Money Magazine ran a study where high school seniors were given lessons in money management. When these students were tested for their understanding of money management, they scored the same as students who had not had the lessons in money management. Let me give you another example. I am a co-developer of middle school curriculum, and one of the modules that we developed was taught and tested by a master Teacher in a two-week period. We knew exactly what she was teaching and we developed our pre - and post-tests based on that content. So, we expected the post test results to show
that students had learned something. To our utter dismay, the post-test
scores were the same as the great test scores. We couldn't believe it!
So we asked the teacher for her explanation. She wasn't surprised at
all. Her explanation was simply this: well, we only went over it ONCE!
My response was that this doesn't make any sense: if any kid hears a
dirty word, he learns it immediately. Well, the explanation of course
is that people remember what they are motivated to remember.

Here is another example of a young child's problems with memory. I have
a nine-year-old grandson who is learning to read. And when I have him
read something to me and ask what it said, he doesn't have the foggiest
notion of what it said. Here, the explanation is that the the youngster
is so involved in the mechanics of reading that he doesn't get the idea
being expressed by the words. By the way, this problem is not limited
to nine-year-olds. In my more than 40 years of teaching college
students I have run into the hundreds of college students who can read
an assigned reading over and over again and still not know what it said.

What should we make of all of this? First, let us not make assumptions
about how easily children learn things. Secondly, how well people
remember things depends on how motivated they are to remember. Third,
a lot of people don't know how to memorize. They think it just happens auto-
matically. I go into all of these issues in much greater depth in my book, Thank You Brain for All You Remember. What You Forgot Was My Fault.

W. R. (Bill) Klemm, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Professor of Neuroscience

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