Schemas and Memory
Inside every educators' head are subject schemas — the meaningful connections of individual facts. If we want students to develop such schemas, why not show them as part of our teaching?
‘Schema’ was once only a specialised topic of conversation; now this psychological term is seen as not only relevant but central, in the context of the growing focus on knowledge and memory.
This advice piece concentrates on how every educator’s power of explanation holds the key to developing their students’ own schemas.
If knowledge is more than the mere collection of isolated facts — and if teachers have these facts neatly connected into personal schema — then why hide them from students? Now that teacher explanation is being recognised for its premier role in teaching, the transmission of subject schema is a pedagogy whose time has surely come.
The original research by Allan Paivio (see here) on dual encoding has been replicated again and again since the 1970s. Simultaneous processing in the two channels (visual and auditory) means more information can be absorbed without causing any cognitive overload.
The message for teachers is clear: support your explanations with relevant conceptual images.
Providing students with a visual schema gives them a framework for speaking and listening. Simply seeing the connections that link the facts together prompts and structures their explanations. This forging of meaning strengthens students’ personal schema. It also serves as a practical rehearsal for any future writing on the topic.
The meaning created by the previous elaboration activity was, at the same time, strengthening the memory of the schema. Indeed, instead of being opposites — as many teacher contend — these are actually one and the same thing!
Redrawing the visual schema will strengthen it still further. Repeat the redrawing exercise at increasing time intervals to ensure it stays firmly lodged and accessible in long term memory.
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