All Alone With the Memory

♫ Of my days in the sun ♫

I remember very well our classroom when I was in Kindergarten and Grade 1. It was a small and cozy room, with blue carpeted floors and three large whiteboards affixed to the walls of the room. At the entrance were are our little cubbyholes, small wooden shelves marked with our name that was our own little space for our items. To the left of the entrance was the bathroom. Walk a little further inside and desks are neatly arranged in the right side of the room facing the whiteboard and to the left is an area full of large wooden building blocks. At the back was a play-area full of toys for us to entertain ourselves and a long shelf full of books we chose from during reading time. I remember a lot of activities during that time. First, was our reading time – once a day for an hour, we would settle down on the floor with our pillows with the lights out and either nap or engage ourselves in a book of our choice. Second, we used to have different stations set up around the classroom – a listening station (you can listen to a story through headphones and cassette tape), an arts and craft section where you can create any art, and others which I can’t recall. We would rotate the activities as a pair or as a group after a while, and I remember distinctly creating a greeting card.

That was two decades ago. It took me quite a while to retrieve this memory from my long-term memory storage and it was tied to myriad of senses and experiences of the place and the people in the classroom that had allowed me to recall. As Lutz & Huitt (2003) wrote, memory is the combination of all mental experiences and is multi-faceted and multi-staged system of representations that embody our lifetime accumulation of perception.

♫ If you’ll touch me… ♫

Some cognitivist theorists would posit that our memory works and processes information like a computer and its hard-drive. We have limited capacity at different points in the process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information and that there is a type of control system for dealing with stimuli. However, the drawback of likening our mental processes to the processes of technology seems to reduce our humanity. We are not computers that can accurately retrieve and spew information. Case in point, my memories of Kindergarten and Grade 1 may have been inaccurate to some extent but that shows the very nature of our memory and humanity. Winn & Snyder (as cited in Lutz & Huitt, 2003) said that memory is somewhat inaccurate and is retained, manipulated, and modified when new knowledge is acquired.

There are many factors that influence my ability to remember information. For one, I learn best while doing, manipulating or emulating; I memorize best when listening and visually absorbing new information. In other words, experiences or information that I have prior knowledge to or have produced or reinforced positive/negative memories mostly stick with me in the long-term, while unrelated information which does not connect to any of my existing schema is stored in the short-term for use until its ready to be discarded . For example, back in college we had an exam about behaviorist theories which discussed all those theories in the first module of EDS 103. Of all the information I memorized back then for that exam, the one that stuck with me until now was Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory because I can relate it to my previous concepts (dog, food, saliva) and process their relationship (conditioning). The more grounded it is in my experience (actual or observed), the more it is retained and referred to in the future.

Well, five years later and my learning strategies and goals haven’t evolved that much. For one, I am a perennial procrastinator and much of the information stored in the short-term memory has been used and disposed of. However, the construction and modification of schemas since elementary have contributed well into my ability to have a deeper understanding of new information or to connect old but familiar information so that it is more codified into a “usable” nugget of memory. Again, learning by doing and seeing its application in the real world makes learning easier so that I do not have to resort to rote memorization for single use.

♫ You’ll understand what happiness is ♫

So now what? What are the implications of cognitivist theories on teaching practice, learning strategies and instructional design? Memory is a complex mental construction and knowing how our minds work can help us design lessons and structure activities that facilitate the processing of information so that it can be combined or modified in relation to existing schema. From there, learners will be able to have a deep sense or understanding of what we teach them so that they can apply it or use it in real life.

Memory connects us yesterday to today to tomorrow, so as long as we live there is always a chance to learn. As Barbara Streisand sung:

♫ Look a new day, has begun… ♫

Touching the Future

Every day is a new learning experience when you’re a parent, particularly if you have a toddler who is raring to explore the world around her. However, this constant learning on how to parent and to be a good parent instantly becomes different when theories on learning are introduced. It is like a chain of seemingly abstract ideas connect and materialize right before your eyes and the living evidence is none other than you and the people around you.

Just this week, I was able to connect the theory of unlearned and learned behavior with my toddler’s behavior, as she exhibits both. While she is in the process of biological maturation, she is refining her coordination (walking) and motor skills (grasping) or unlearned behavior. At the same time, she has learned behavior from us and her environment: she uses non-verbal (pointing, facial expressions) and verbal communication (babbling, words) to let people know what she wants or needs. Not to mention that her keen eye for detail and curiosity help facilitate imitation. Just by observing, she is able to open containers with caps, peel off stickers, flip through pages, turn on the television, tap/swipe a phone, among many things. Just by watching how people interact, she shows the same reactions and emotions towards different stimuli and people. This makes it all the more challenging as me, the parent/learner, and my partner must also be good parent/teachers for her!

Yet moving past the observable behavioral changes caused by learning, what I consider the most important is that learning is a constant change in state, whether through the acquisition of a skill or through a new understanding of the world (Roberts, 2013). I could relate very well to the concept of surface learning and deep learning, as most of my college days were spent through selective learning and rote/memorization! However, what I learned in the classroom made an impact on my decisions and/or my behavior if it could be related to my prior experiences/knowledge; if it piqued my interests as a student; and if it was applicable or useful to me in the future. Yet what struck me the most was how much I learned outside of the four walls of the classroom: the “hidden curriculum” behind societal expectations and decorum. When I came to study in the Philippines, I had to make a big adjustment from what I was used to in Saudi Arabia (I was born and had lived there for fourteen years), from the language to behavior to social mores.

Looking back at my experience as a student and as a parent, I would like to become a teacher (both formal and informal) who is able to effectively guide her learners in achieving their maximum potential. After all, we are not blank slates or tabularasa who sit passively to absorb information, skills or knowledge. Rather, I would like to be the facilitator of learning so that my learners can make informed decisions and act with their own agency. The concepts of informal and non-formal learning appeal greatly to me (owing to my own experience in learning) and I hope to improve skills in facilitation and teaching since I have no formal experience in the classroom yet.

So for the meantime, I will continue to learn through being a parent. After all, the teachers are said to be the second parents of the children. They are given the task of making an impact on the learners and subsequently, the future of society. So as Christa McAuliffe said, “I touch the future. I teach.”