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Spiral Review Research: 3 Memory Processes

Memory is made from three processes: encoding, retention, and recall. In this quick spiral review research, we look at these brain processes and see how they relate to learning in your classroom.

Your choice of instructional activities in the classroom may or may not have an impact on student learning. Have you ever heard, “We taught that, but they do not remember!”

Let’s look at how the brain learns and remembers, and how what we do in class affects the two types of memory: short-term (working) memory and long-term memory.

1. Encoding Information as Memory

The first memory process is encoding – the act of turning learning experiences into understandings in the brain. Encoding is an active process that students must do. It does not happen by simply doing an activity or being in the room!

Here are a few ways to make encoding happen:

  • Ask students to recall what they heard, saw, or read.
  • Students talk to each other about a question or what they are learning.
  • Students actively write during the activity.
  • Dual-encoding: Activate two encoding senses during learning (i.e. hands and ears, visual and auditory)
  • Students make decisions during the learning process.
  • Active comparing and contrasting such as a word sort, genre comparison, or make text connections.
Encoding is the active process of turning learning experiences into understandings in the brain. Click To Tweet

2. Retention of Information

Here’s the tricky part, and often debated – do students retain what they learn? Retention is the process of storing and organizing “stuff” they’ve encoded from their short-term memory to their long-term memory.

How can you make retention occur in the classroom? That should be a key question behind curriculum planning and lesson planning for every teacher.

Here a few retention techniques that you can use in your instruction:

  • Repeated review
  • Mass a few practice sessions together and then repeat after a few days
  • Spiral back on previously learned information before “too much” time has passed
  • Use familiar visuals and sounds during spiral review sessions
  • Ensure at least 6 spiral review sessions for most students
  • Ensure at least 20 spiral review sessions for intervention

Here’s an example scope and sequence that handles the spiral review for you.

Retention is the process of storing & organizing ‘stuff’ they’ve encoded.Click To Tweet

3. Recall, Can Students Remember?

This is what we assess- can students remember and apply what they previously learned? It’s the third memory process, and arguably the most important to be able to do well.

Multimedia learning occurs when a learner builds a mental representation from words and pictures that have been presented. Mayer, 2002.

It’s the recall that we want in our classrooms, but it’s not going to happen with first having effective encoding and retention. If your students had ample high-quality encoding and retention opportunities, then these recall strategies will work well for you:

  • Ensure plenty of multimedia learning experiences
  • Use plenty of drawings, photos, moving graphics, or animation
  • Use familiar sounds to link one spiral review to another of the same content
  • Use familiar (non-academic) triggers after weeks have elapsed
  • Consistently have students listen, speak, write, and read academic vocabulary that holds/carries information

Here are a variety of ways to give students high-quality encoding and retention opportunities. Click To Tweet
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Amin H, Malik AS. (2013). Human memory retention and recall processes. A review of EEG and fMRI studies. Neurosciences (Riyadh). 2013 Oct;18(4):330-44. Review. PubMed PMID: 24141456.
Mayer, R.E. (2002). Multimedia learning. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 41, 85-139.

How well do you teach for maximum learning and memory?

Take this 6 Question Quiz to test your understanding of brain-based learning strategies!





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