The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Thanks for the Memory

I’m enjoying a wee smug moment just now.

Before Xmas, I went on a course to train as an Adult Literacies volunteer tutor, which means I’m now able to help adults to improve their reading and writing skills.

Having said that, I’ve been helping my first learner (I’ll refer to him as ‘J’) with his memory for the past 3 months or so. We weren’t given any training for that, but the principles are the same and teaching isn’t new to me.

The first thing J wanted to work on was how to remember people’s names. I had to stifle a groan as this is one of those things that I’ve never been that great with. However, I read books, used the internet, made use of my kids game of “Guess Who” and over a few weeks we both made remarkable progress.

Shopping lists followed using the journey method, where you visualise the items on a well-known route. To recall the list, you just picture the route in your head and you’ll see the items. The stronger you create the image, the easier it is to recall

Next up J wanted to remember telephone numbers. I’m usually pretty good with numbers, but the techniques I use personally were no good for him, so I had to come up with a different strategy. Firstly he created visual associations with numbers (in his case they were items that were shaped like the numbers: so a soccer ball for 0, a swan for 2, a snowman for 8 etc), then we placed the items around a person’s body, starting from one foot, going up to the head and down the other side. So if the number starts with, say, 01812, then J pictures the person with a football at the foot, a walking stick hanging off the belt loop, a snowman in the hand, another walking stick hooked over the arm and a swan crapping on the shoulder. When it comes to recalling the number, you pull up the image of the person and follow the images around the body. Amazingly it seems to work very well for him.

Anyway, the latest thing I’ve been trying to figure out for J is directions. At his work he’s often given them when it’s impossible to write them down, and this causes all sorts of difficulties. Over the past few months I’ve found numerous techniques for remembering names, numbers and grocery lists, but none on how to remember directions.

So what we did this evening was combine a couple of techniques again. A few weeks back, we set up the association of the colour red to represent left and blue for right, as a primer (and delaying tactic) while I tried to figure out what to do next. By combining it with the number sequence he already has in place and a planned pathway through his house I think we’ve conquered it.

For example, suppose he’s got a sequence such as 1st right, 3rd left, 2nd exit at the roundabout, 1st left. He now pictures a blue walking stick at the door, a pair of red handcuffs (open handcuffs look like the number 3, ok? - don’t question this too closely) in the dining room, then a swan standing on a football (the roundabout) in the kitchen, followed by a red walking stick in the living room.

It might sound strange, but it worked a treat. We’ve plotted out a simple 10-stage journey through his house and with a combination of red swans, blue walking sticks and footballs J can now recall quite complex sets of directions.

So despite the fact that I couldn’t get any help from the usual sources, I’ve still managed to create a system that works for J. Therefore this evening I’m allowing myself a wee smug moment.


Rhonda said...

You deserve a smug moment, Kim. And, a kudos for being a good teacher.

Charlie said...

The solutions seem much more complex than the problems. Using your systems, if I wanted a can of soup at the grocery I would end up being run over in the roundabout screaming my telephone number in pain.

But hey, if it works for you and J, good work.

Binty McShae said...

They seem more complex to you, Sam, because of how your brain works. Everyone is different.

If you and I walked into a room and were later asked to recall the first thing we noticed you would probably say something along the lines of the colour of the walls or the size of the TV. I would tell you how many light switches there were.... Yep, I'm a bit weirdy myself.

Gyrobo said...

I went to school with dozens of people I'd consider my friends. And yet the whole time, I never knew their names. I got around it by saying "Hey, uh..." and "Hey, dude..."

I'm planning to market that strategy and make record profit.

Binty McShae said...

I struggle with my students names, not least because they have English ones that they use to describe themselves and Chinese / Thai / Korean / Indonesian ones on the official forms and computer system. And my pronounciation sucks big time! Oh, how they laugh...

...until I pick on one to stand up and spell my name on the board. That shuts 'em up!

(and, no... McShae is not my real name...)

Kim Ayres said...

Rhonda - thank you. I'll now allow myself a 2nd one...

Admiral - and that smug moment has now just vanished in a puff of smoke.

Binty - light switches?

Gyrobo - And I though robots had a great memory capacity!

Binty - well anagrammatically Binty McShae = "Means Bitchy", so I'm not surprised if you give your students a hard time

SheBah said...

In a work capacity, I remember everyone's names easily - in my private life I can't remember people I met yesterday. WTF's that all about, eh.

Charlie said...

To all: I apologize if my above comment appears flippant. In the grand "tradition" of current American politics, I did not mean what I said.

To clarify, I should have said, "In my case, the solutions seem more complex than the problems."

I am lucky to have never had a learning disorder, and so the "helps" seem foreign to me.

With that in mind, Kim, you are quite ingenious.


Kim Ayres said...

Sexybeauty - the first trick is to decide that you are going to remember the names. That sets you up concentrating in the right way before you begin

Admiral - don't apologise! Your remarks made me laugh.

Attila The Mom said...

That's wonderful, Kim. Good for you!!

Sven said...

Well done!

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Very cool, Kim. I'm all right on numbers but whenever I ask for directions I get my 3rd lefts mixed up with my 3rd rights so visualising directions as a series of red/blue might help me too. But actually maybe not: I live in America where I can never get used to the party on the right being red and the one on the left being blue. Rats! Got any more?

I think it's fascinating how we all think and learn differently. I have an American friend who has almost perfect auditory recall. She has always learnt best from just listening to lectures and not taking notes, as opposed to reading a book. Another friend is a teacher for kids with learning difficulties of all sorts and she says she has kids that have an enormous facility with language but no numerical skills and vice versa. Some people are better absorbers of information than they are assimilators, and as many again that can repackage the information to suit different situations better than their peers. I guess we're all on a scale somewhere for each different factor.

It's really cool you take the time to do that. You ought to thoroughly enjoy the fruits of what you've sewn.

Binty McShae said...

Come on, Kim... anagrams are soooo yesterday!

I'd not cottoned on to that one though... nice!

And not just lightswitches... I'm a regular autistic stylee freakoid!

Kim Ayres said...

Atilla & Sven - thank you.

Sam - welcome to my ramblings! The party on the left is red, not blue - like the red flag for communism. It is fascinating how we all learn in different ways. But what is common is that the more pathways we create in our brain, the more likely we are to remember something. So if instead of just saying a word, you see an image, hear the sound and feel the texture, then you will recall it much more easily.

Binty - As soon as I see websites I notice what they've done wrong and how they could be improved. That's just a side effect of having spent several years as a web consultant though

SafeTinspector said...

Smug's better than smarmy.

Well known fact.

I find your nemonic(sp) methods challenging, and I struggle to understand. I'm riddled with ADHD and could use such a think.

Charlie said...

Kim: Both you and Sam are correct.

Kim says, left=red, right=blue. Correct.

Sam is referring to the last American travesty of an "election":

left=red=Democrats=a blue state win
right=blue=Republicans=a red state win

I am confused.

Monstee said...

Smug away Kim. You deserve it! Anyone who takes the time to help those of us with... different working brains am representative of the best kind of teacher. Believe it or not, me also suffer learning disability. It am called dysgraphia, which am kinda like the inverse side of dyslexia.

Me had teacher like you in college. He take time with me and it totally change me life. For example, me was always getting lower case "b" and "d" mixed up. He tell me to slow down and always think of word "bed." Me knew how to spell that, but when me write it sometimes come out "deb." He say if me slow down and think, me would see that "bed" kinda looks like little bed with two headboards and lumpy mattress. That was all me needed. Something so simple that no one ever take time to help me with before. Since then, me never get me "b"s and "d"s mixed up.

So me say, good for you Kim. In you own small way you am changing the world and making it a more happy place for us different brains.

OH, and Binty... When me first enter room me have to keep track of how many steps each person take while we all in room. Its totally a numbers thing. Me am always first person to suggest we all go out and see the garden or something, cause when we get back, it not me first time in room and me no need to count. How's that for weirdy?

Binty McShae said...

Hell, Monstee! Its a numbers thing with me too... I see all sorts of algebraic equations everywhere I go, which is weird indeed when you consider I'm an arty farty guy not a mathematician.

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTinspector - The way I did things with J isn't the way I would necessarily do them with anyone else. I worked with him to find a method that worked for him. The whole approach is to work with the strengths of the individual rather than impose a given system.

Admiral - can't say it makes much sense to me.

Monstee - Wow - I'd never heard of Dysgraphia before. At least it doesn't affect your sense of humour if your contributions on the Blunt Cogs site is anything to go by.

Then again, maybe it does. i've found that when the brain is wired slightly differently you often see connections that most people miss, which is where a greate deal of creativity comes from.

While I would make no claim to be dyslexic, there are occasions when the letters will leap about a bit, sometimes with quite amusing outcomes. I wrote about one example here: First Pig Suicide Bombers

Binty - I'd not have figured you as a closet mathematician - live and learn!

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