I already posted my Easter thing so this is just a bunch of questions from the reading for both Teaching Writing and Brain Class (Human Cognition and Learning).
Brain class. I kind of punted on the last three questions. I really should hold off on cracking open the celebratory beer until I’m actually done with homework.
Terry (2006) Chapter 7, Human Memory: Conceptual Approaches
1. What is Dual-Store Theory and how does it explain memory?
The Dual-Store Theory states that memory is divided into short- and long-term memory, and each of these types of memory exhibit different traits. Short-term memory, as indicated by its name, is very brief and is limited in capacity. Once an item or series of items have been stored in STM, they may be displaced by additional items that follow, such as when attempting to remember a string of numbers or words. LTM does not suffer from these shortcomings and has no discernible limits on storage capacity or length of recall. For example, it would be difficult for another person to remember this string of numbers: 71839111402569103070. I, on the other hand, stored these numbers years ago in my long-term memory as the respective birthdates of my father, mother, sister, and brother. STM and LTM may be separate in the way they function, but STM does serve the purpose of encoding information into LTM (Terry, 2006, p. 196-197). Glanzer & Cunitz (1966, as cited on p. 197) also found that the primacy effect was enhanced when words were presented at a slower pace, allowing for more rehearsals in STM which led to better LTM encoding. Terry also noted that the recency effect of the serial position curve disappears over time but the primacy effect remains (p. 197). Most teachers are probably already aware that delivering lessons slowly is more conducive to learning than speeding through them, but Glanzer & Cunitz’s study serves as a reminder that pace can be an important factor in the classroom.
2. What variables affect the stages and the process of memory and how can they be used for better memory and learning?
One of the factors affecting the process of memory is depth, or quality, of processing. Maintenance rehearsal, a practice frequently seen in students who are attempting last-minute cramming before a test, carries with it little depth and therefore will likely result in lower retention. Conversely, elaborative rehearsal involves some sort of analysis of information that is deeper and more meaningful, thus resulting in more sustainable recall (Terry, 2006, p. 210). These types of rehearsals and their differing levels of depth are elements of Craik & Lockhart’s (1972, as cited on p. 210) depth of processing theory which hypothesizes a single memory system as opposed to the dual-store theory. Deeper, or more meaningful, processing may be achieved through drawing associations between knowledge being learned and knowledge already stored, mental imagery, and mnemonic devices (p. 210-211).
Another theory that attempts to make sense of the stages of memory is the transfer-appropriate processing theory which posits that memory retrieval is reliant on “(reinstating) the cognitive operations that were used at encoding” (Terry, 2006, p. 212). When studying for a test, for example, if an elaborative operation such as an image association is used to commit something to memory (encoding), that same image association would be needed in order to answer the question correctly when taking the test (retrieval).
What these theories have in common is that they both place emphasis on how information is processed at the encoding stage. Simply telling a student to memorize a fact without adding some type of context in which to process it is a recipe for failure. Like most brain functions, memory and learning are aided by forming associations, and if meaningful associations are made while encoding, there should be more success in retrieval.
3. What are the basic principles of connectionist models and how do they combine to explain the process of learning and forgetting?
Terry (2006) lays out the principles of connectionist models as follows:
1. Each hypothetical neural unit in the model has the potential to be connected to many other neural units and may be used in multiple types of knowledge.
2. Connections between neural units are strengthened when they are paired and weakened
when they operate independently of each other.
3. A network of neural units can be activated and then gradually revert back to its resting state, much like an individual neural unit.
4. Activation of a specific neural unit may require input from multiple neuronal units.
5. Neural units may exist in multiple layers with the outer units being observable while the inner layers remain hidden and are collectively activated by units in the previous layer (p. 214-215).
The common thread in each of these principles lies in the connections between neural units. Connections equate to activity which strengthens those connections, and it would appear that this is where learning occurs. Forgetting is the product of the weakening of those connections from a lack of activity. I can see the relationship between connections and learning (and forgetting) each time I attend a Korean language class. There was a period of time when I was faithfully studying material learned in class for several days after the class had ended, and in doing so I was keeping those neural connections active, strengthening them, and this resulted in learning what had been taught. More recently, I haven’t had the time to study in between classes. I still attend every Saturday, but the material that was presented on the previous Saturday has been lost due to my failure to maintain those connections after they were made and strengthen them with activity. In fact, I have also lost a lot of what I previously learned due to not using or continuing to study those words and grammar structures. The only “learning” that has stayed with me has been the type that I’ve had the occasion to use in authentic settings, and allowing the activation of other neurons to fade back to their resting state has resulted in forgetting. Nonetheless, the connections have been made and they still exist; it is up to me to strengthen them and, whenever possible, help my students to strengthen the connections they’ve made in the classroom.
Banich (2004) Chapter 10, Memory
1. What is amnesia and what does amnesia tell us about how memory may work?
Amnesia is a loss of memory that can typically be described in terms of physical or psychological causes or a timeframe within memory retrieval that has been affected. It may be caused by some type of head trauma or infection and it can be brought on by a scarring, traumatic experience. Amnesia will then manifest itself by affecting memory of events before the cause (retrograde) or after it (anterograde) (Terry, 2006, p. 219-220). Case studies of subjects like H.M., a man who still shows profound memory loss in very specific areas following the removal of portions of his medial temporal lobe in 1953 (p. 323), has shown researchers that we have different types of memory. According to Banich (2004), “memory must be thought of as a collection of abilities” that are dependent on a set of systems that contribute different brain functions. Normal memory operates with the cooperation of different cognitive systems that are each responsible for certain capabilities (p. 324). The fact that H.M. can’t remember past events in his life but is able to solve a crossword puzzle not only supports, at least in part, the dual-store theory of long-term and short-term memory, but it also reveals the existence of a type of memory that is specific to learning. The notion of learning being a specific type of memory is also evidenced in the research that has been done on repetition priming which shows performance enhancement after receiving exposure to stimuli. Amnesia leaves skills learned intact as well as the ability to learn new skills even if the formation of new memories is hindered (p. 332-333). Memory is critical to learning, of course, and the evidence that learning, STM, and LTM can all operate independently of each other as an indication of how differently they all must function. Learning itself is difficult, but to create enough connections for that learning to make it to LTM is also a challenge. Metaphorically speaking, if neural connections are bridges, repetition and rote exercises would be cheap building materials of questionable integrity while context and meaning would be materials that are more difficult to acquire but, in the long run, much more durable and reliable.
2. What is working memory and what do we know about it?
Working memory is what allows us to remember small amounts of information for short time periods (Banich, 2004, p. 342). Many use the terms “working memory” and “short-term memory” interchangeably, but Banich draws a distinction between the two in noting that working memory includes processing of those bits of information whereas short-term memory is simply conceptualized as a place where it is stored temporarily (p. 346). Processing is facilitated by buffers such as the input phonological buffer which holds auditory-verbal information while the brain makes sense of it. The output phonological buffer keeps soon-to-be-uttered speech at the ready. Visual-verbal working memory enables reading, and Baddeley (1986, as cited on p. 344) describes a visuospatial scratch pad which holds and processes nonverbal information. Deficiencies in any of these very specific areas will leave the others intact, suggesting that they all operate independently of each other (p. 344). Another important part of working memory is the involvement of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Where information is stored in the DLPFC or the PFC depends on the type of information being stored. Baddeley proposed his own view of working memory as a relationship between a “central executive” unit and a number of subsystems that manage the storage of memories. The two main subsystems controlled by the central executive are the visuospatial scratch pad and the phonological loop which, as implied by its name, manages auditory verbal information. In this model, the central executive is the manipulator of information while the subsystems are responsible for maintaining it (p. 346). As has been well established, memory is critical to the learning process; it may be true that amnesics have demonstrated the ability to learn despite being unable to remember how learning occurred, but students are generally not amnesic and their learning process still begins with working memory. Students need time to process incoming stimuli, and their buffers are likely working overtime in certain class settings. As teachers, we need to be careful to pace our lessons so that those buffers aren’t overloaded to the point where students suddenly find themselves lost.
3. What are some of the different types of memory?
The two major types of memory are declarative and procedural. Declarative memory encompasses the “what” of the world we live in; without it, we would be at a loss to recall facts, events, people, places, and how events are related to one another. Procedural memory, on the other hand, is more concerned with “how;” this is where skill learning is stored (Banich, 2004, p. 349). Declarative memory very neatly stores different types of information in relevant places with visual-processing areas that store visual elements, language-processing areas that store linguistic elements, and so on. Procedural memory functions in a similar fashion but storage is domain-specific, meaning that motor skills are stored in sensorimotor areas, language skills are stored in language areas, etc. (p. 351, 354). Because amnesia does not affect procedural memory, amnesics are able to function and speak as they did before the amnesic event until declarative memory is required. Tulving (1972) also delineates the roles performed by episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory tells us who we are by recalling personal events and other details that are specific to ourselves as individuals. Semantic memory is concerned with knowledge that may be shared by the masses, such as how plants reproduce or what political forces are at work in our society (as cited on p. 349). In the classroom, we are mainly concerned with procedural memory when grammar and usage are the focus, but declarative memory is also required for areas such as vocabulary learning.
4. How do different parts of the brain work together to help form the system of memory?
The main parts of the brain that form the system of memory are the hippocampus, the frontal areas which include the prefrontal cortex and the left parietal cortex, and the amygdala. Each plays a vital role in memory. The hippocampus, which seems to be the area of the brain that is most often devastated by amnesia, is heavily involved in memory at all stages from encoding to retrieval (Banich, 2004, p. 356). In the frontal regions, the PFC plays a large role in the acquisition and encoding of long-term memory and, Banich speculates, it is a part of organizing, selecting, monitoring, and evaluating memories at both encoding and retrieval (p. 358). The left parietal cortex, meanwhile, participates in memory retrieval regardless of the content, and the amygdala is at the center of the brain’s ability to connect memories with emotions (p. 359). The way all of these components of memory are partitioned from each other reminds me of the way large seafaring vessels are designed in sections for the purpose of mitigating the severity of damage the ship might sustain. If one part of the ship is compromised, the remaining ship sections remain unaffected and can keep the ship afloat. The brain’s compartmentalization of memory functions, although not entirely segmented, appears to be an evolutionary symbol of how critical memory is to our very survival.
Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. Oxford [Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press.
Banich, M. (2004). Cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology (2nd Edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Craik, F. I., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 11(6), 671-684.
Storm, T., & Caird, W. K. (1967). The effects of alcohol on serial verbal learning in chronic alcoholics. Psychonomic Science, 9(1), 43-44.
Terry, W. S. (2006). Learning and memory: Basic principles, process, and procedures (3rd Edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Tulving, E. (1972). Episodic and semantic memory 1. Organization of Memory. London: Academic, 381(e402), 4.
Teaching Writing class.
1. What is the major claim that Friedlander wishes to make?
The goal of Friedlander’s (1990) study is to show that L2 writers can write more effectively when they plan their writing in the language with which the topic information has been acquired. In other words, if a Korean ESL student were to be tasked with writing about Korea’s Chuseok holiday in English, that student would be able to produce better content and a better overall text if they are allowed to plan for this writing in their first language of Korean. Likewise, if that student has studied overseas in an English-speaking environment and is asked to write about that experience, that planning would best be done in English as that is the language with which that experience was acquired (p. 112). I have given past students writing topics that were culturally tied to Korea because I believed that they would have more background knowledge to support such a writing task. Having read Friedlander’s study and his notes about Lay’s (1982, as cited on p. 110) experience with her subjects (p. 111), I now realize that giving young students such familiar topics was not necessarily the best course of action since those exercises were very informal and no planning was involved. It is true that I might have gotten better results from asking students to write about a situation that they experienced in an English-language environment, but students of that age do not always have such experiences to draw from.
2. What theory is this claim based on?
The hypothesis presented by Friedlander (1990) is based, in part, on the argument that advanced English learners have developed their L2 skills to a point where L1 usage should not have a negative effect on their ability to write English texts; their writing should improve by first using their native language to plan a piece written in English. Novice learners, on the other hand, should use English as much as possible in order to facilitate language acquisition. Friedlander’s hypothesis also leans heavily on Lay’s (1982, as cited on p. 110) study in which she details situations where L1 usage was beneficial in various situations, such as the process of retrieving information on certain topics. Lay also pointed to possible benefits of having students write in English about topics where experience was gained in an English-language setting (p. 111-112).
3. Does his data support his hypothesis? Explain.
The data collected in this study does appear to support the hypothesis Friedlander (1990) set forth. His aim is to demonstrate that students can plan more effectively in the language that is associated with a given topic and, as a result, write more effectively in L2. The students who wrote in the match condition outperformed that mismatch condition in nearly every category including details, plan quality, essay length, and essay quality. They did require slightly more time than the mismatch group, but the difference was not significant (p. 116). The match condition group also provided more details when writing about the Qingming Festival and they produced a greater volume of writing. Friedlander attributes these results to more complete plans that contained more information that would guide the writing that followed (p. 115). The match condition allowed for planning in Chinese which gave the students a greater pool of knowledge to draw from than the mismatch condition that wrote their plans in English (p. 116-117). He also points out that the Qingming Festival is a cultural topic while the CMU topic is not. The contrast of short, keyword-based planning for Qingming and more extensive full-sentence planning for CMU on the part of both groups indicates that cultural topics may lend themselves to planning with shorter cues that reference a wealth of L1 background knowledge (p. 119). This observation also supports the hypothesis in that most, if not all, culturally-based topics will have deep L1 roots that writers can draw on more readily than experiences in L2 environments that have not been so deeply ingrained. Planning for such a culturally-based topic in the writer’s first language would most certainly seem to be beneficial.
4. What are some of the teaching implications of his study?
The study by Friedlander (1990) shows that topic selection in the classroom can be a significant factor in the quality of student writing, as can be the decision on whether or not to allow or even encourage L1 usage when planning to write. I get the impression that most ESL teachers and most ESL school administrators have been conditioned to adopt a strict English-only policy in the classroom, and this research shows that students at higher levels can, indeed, benefit from using their first language in certain situations. Such a practice would need to be tightly controlled so as not to allow students to use their first language on a regular basis, but it should be recognized that writing is a process that can sometimes benefit from a bit of language switching.
Friedlander, A. (1990). Composing in English: Effects of a First Language on Writing in English as a Second Language. In B. Kroll, Second Language Writing: Research Insights for the Classroom (pp. 109-125). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Lay, N. (1982). Composing Processes of Adult ESL Learners. TESOL Quarterly, 16, 406.