Retaining information is a key requirement in the learning process. When retention occurs we can bring back stored information so we can use it later on in life. We can also build upon this retained information so we can systematically learn more complex skills.
Educators understand the importance of retention. As educators, we have seen students thrive when they can retain the information they had been given and struggle learning new skills when they have not. As educators, we would prefer to see that each child has retained previous skills, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.
By understanding more about how the process of retention occurs we become more capable in providing efficient instruction in our classrooms.
One of the most important pieces in the retention process is sleep. When we sleep our brains begin sorting through all the information we have received through the day, identifying what is important to remember and what isn’t. Our brains then transfer all the information it finds to be useful from our short term memory into our long term memory and stores it there for use at a later time. The information is organized throughout various regions of the brain to allow for the most adequate storage and efficient retrieval of the stored information. All the information our brains find not to be important is discarded.
As educators this understanding can help us in a few ways:
First, it can help us understand “the why” behind a student who is unable to recall information they had just demonstrated the day before. We can infer that something may have affected this transfer of information from the student’s short term memory to long term memory. This may have been caused by inadequate sleep, the brain being unable to find an adequate storage place during the sorting process, or the brain determining the information is not important and discarding it.
Second, it can help us as we organize for instruction. It can help us to remember to provide information in manageable chunks. These manageable chunks increase the likelihood that the information we have taught will be stored during the sorting process. It can also help us to remember to cumulatively provide these manageable chunks over the course of multiple days. Providing these chunks over multiple days allows the information we have taught to build upon previous knowledge, and increases the efficiency of our instruction.