Saturday, August 30, 2014

Handwritten Notes Lead to Better Learning

In response to the trend to abolish teaching of cursive in schools, about a year ago I posted an article on what I thought were the developmental benefits of handwriting (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/why-writing-hand-could-make-you-smarter). That post has generated over 230 comments.

Now there is evidence that handwriting of lecture notes, compared to typing on a laptop, improves learning by college students. Following up on prior studies that indicated relative ineffectiveness of taking notes by laptop, researchers Pam Meuller and Daniel Oppenheimer provide clear evidence that handwritten note-taking produces better learning in college students.

They reported three experiments that compared the efficacy of college students taking notes by handwriting or with a lap top. Those who used handwritten notes that they studied later scored significantly higher than students using laptops, including fleet typists who took vastly more copious notes. Handwriters took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording. There are many possible explanations, beginning with the "less is more" idea in which too much information produces cognitive overload. Notably, when the typing students were told to avoid verbatim notes, they still did it. This suggests that there is something about typing that leads to mindless processing.  Handwritten notes involve more thought, re-framing, and re-organization, all of which promote better understanding and retention. The manual act of handwriting requires more engagement with the subject matter. Finally, handwritten notes capitalize on the use of drawings and of personalized spatial layout of the notes. Memorization involves not only what the information is, but where it is spatially located.

Added note: Readers interested in education are invited to join our Neuro-education group on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=4883556&trk=my_groups-tile-grp)



Mueller, P. A., and Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science. 23 April. DOI: 10.1177/0956797614524581. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/22/0956797614524581

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Memory Athlete Gimmicks for Memory Wimps. Tip 3: SVO

"Moon Walking with Einstein" is the title of a recent memory improvement book written by Joshua Foer, a reporter of memory championships. Foer became so entranced by watching astonishing memory feats in the contests that he decided to learn the secrets. After talking to memory athletes, he started practicing the techniques and within a few years became a memory champion himself.  You could do that too!

Memory athletes are those seeming freaks of nature who enter contests to see how fast they can memorize the sequence of four shuffled decks of cards or how long a string of digits they can memorize. But memory athletes are not freaks. They are ordinary people like Foer, you, and me who have learned some gimmicks that make possible the seemingly impossible.

Here, I will describe the simplest and easiest gimmick to use. I call it SVO, which stands for SUBJECT (or actor or agent), VERB, and OBJECT. This is the intuitive way we think with our language. Usually the subject is a person, which is why others call this technique POA for person, object, action). But animals or inanimate things can do things too. The trick is to visualize, using lots of imagination, an actor doing something relating to an object … as in moon walking with Einstein. Memorization is made easy because the images are so bizarre and vivid. 

I will illustrate the principles with Foer's method for memorizing the sequence of a deck of cards. He didn’t explain his method completely, deliberately I think, because he probably did not want to be “drummed out” of the elite memory athlete club to which he had been initiated. Not knowing his particular scheme, I will conjure an illustration of how all cards can be visualized. For example, the suits might be as follows:

·         Spades: Batman (black, darkness)
·         Clubs: Tiger Woods (re: golf clubs)
·         Diamonds: Diamond Jim Brady (diamond tie stud) or Za Za Gabor (who famously said, “Daaahling, always wear your diamonds, even to the grocery store. You never know who you will run into”).
·         Hearts: Somebody you love

Then, to associate the card number with the suit, you could use the number code, which is another tip that I will explain later. But as an illustration, the number four is coded as “rye,” which can be a picture of a field of grain or a bottle of rye whisky, whichever you prefer. Thus, for example, the four of clubs would be visualized as Tiger Woods (SUBJECT) teeing off (VERB) on a bottle or rye whisky (OBJECT), instead of a golf ball. What does one do with the face cards? They can be converted to numbers too, Jack = 11, Queen = 12, King = 13, Ace = 1 (Or 14; the number code for one is “tie” and you don’t want to get confused if you are using Diamond Jim Brady as your code for diamonds.

Finally, Foer did mention that he clusters three sequential cards into one image, so that he only has to memorize 17 items, with one item left over, instead of 52.

Well most of us aren’t going to enter memory contests or card-count in Vegas (they catch on to you pretty quick). So, how do we apply this to everyday life? You could use this SOV approach to play a better game of bridge. But many events in daily life are better remembered this way.

First, a simple illustration:

·         Capital of Arkansas (Little Rock): most people know Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. Visualize Clinton (SUBJECT) throwing (VERB) a little rock (OBJECT) at Noah's ark (…ansas)

Now, here is a more complex example where you can string together multiple items to be remembered:

·        Harvey’s discovery of the circulatory system: Everybody knows that the heart is key, because it pumps blood. See the heart (SUBJECT) as pumping (VERB) blood (OBJECT) out on to the main traffic artery, like a freeway. Imagine you as an image of Harvey (like Harvey the rabbit in the movie) riding in a boat in the blood river. See the boat slow down and start to back up as it leaves on the off ramp. Maybe you want think of the boat going through a hole (“ole” for arteriole) to get to the off ramp. Then see the boat stop at the stop light (covered with baseball caps … capillary). Then, on green the boat goes back up on the access road (because Harvey had gotten off too soon, in vain (vein). This schema also helps as a metaphor for associating function at the various locations.

While all this seems bizarre, it works with great power. Facts and concepts memorized this way are robustly encoded and readily consolidated into lasting memory because humans are visual animals. We have far more brain area devoted to vision than we do any other sense.
Another way to make the point is with the age-old phenomenon of fairy tales. Fairy tales often carry a moral that we want our children to remember. A few fairy tales are even for adults, with the political protest embedded as a metaphor. In any case, a fairy tale is easy to remember because it is visually vivid, with people acting on or with things.

SVO is perhaps the most flexible memory device. Use it for simple memory tasks or for truly demanding memory challenges.


The publisher of Dr. Klemm's "Memory Power 101" book has now made it available as an audio book at Amazon. Also, you can read multiple reviews at http://03908f9.netsolhost.com/thinkbrain/book-reviews-of-memory-power-101/