The frustration of talking to children where information goes “in one ear and out the other” is common to both teachers and parents. But for children with a poor auditory memory, this statement is pretty close to the truth.
Auditory Working Memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing
the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension
Can you add together 23 and 69 in your head?
When you ask for directions somewhere, can you get there without writing the instructions down?
Such tasks engage working memory, the memory we use to keep information immediately “in mind” so we can complete a task.
Some children find this relatively easy. Others try to carry out the instructions, but lose track of the details along the way.
Auditory Working Memory involves:
- Taking in information that is presented orally and Listening actively in order to rehearse what we have because this information rapidly decays after one or two seconds.
- Attending Selectively in order to repeat the information to ourselves. Research has shown that if short term memory is low, we have a hard time selecting what we wish to hear. In other words, selective attention doesn’t work so well when auditory memory is poor.
- Processing that information for meaning
- Storing it in your mind
- Recalling what you have heard.
A “breakdown” in auditory memory can occur at any point in the pathway
Auditory Memory Pathway
In the classroom, teachers may describe these children as
- Easily distracted
- Forgetting what they have learned,
- Forgetting instructions
- Makes place-keeping errors (skipping or repeating steps)
- Not completing tasks,
- Making careless mistakes,
- Difficulty in solving problems
If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you are right!
A great deal of research in the last few years has shown that low auditory working memory is indeed associated with ADD/ADHD. Some research has shown that stimulant medications can enhance one’s auditory-verbal and visual-spatial working memory. However, there is no long term benefit. In other words, the working memory is improved only as long as the medication is in the system.
However some auditory memory weaknesses of students can easily go undetected by a teacher especially when there are no signs of ADD or ADHD.
Often children with auditory memory problems appear to be trying very hard to listen.
Their eyes are focused on the teacher and they appear to be attentive.
The teacher assumes that the child has heard all that is being taught. However, in reality, they often absorb and make sense out of very little of what is being stated by the teacher.
As a result, these students recall only a small amount or none of what is being said. They might remember a word here or there, or parts of a thought, but often do not truly understand much of the information presented orally to them.
The ability to learn from oral instructions and explanations is a fundamental skill required throughout life.
The following difficulties may arise because of poor auditory memory.
Poor Comprehension of Orally Presented Directions:
- Often the child thinks that he has understood directions for completing an assignment, when actually he has understood very little. As a result, assignments are often completed incorrectly.
- The child may only be able to take-in and think about only three or four words at a time so they only hear three or four words.
- Subconsciously he stops listening in order to process the information.
- Then he listens again.
- As a result, the child loses a word or two from every phrase. The information no longer makes sense and becomes confusing, boring, and hard to pay attention to.
While some children can recall a lengthy sentence well, they may not be able to process and recall a short passage that is presented orally. These students may be able to answer a specific question about the information that has been presented to them orally or that they have read, but are not able to grasp the whole paragraph.
The child thinks that he knows what he has heard or read orally, when actually, he has processed and recalled very little of the material.
Sometimes parents and educators assume that children have understood an entire passage when they answer a specific question about the passage, yet, that specific information might be all that they have gleaned from the passage!
It is therefore important that when reading stories to children, they are encouraged to retell the story with the main idea and supporting details, in order to demonstrate that they have total comprehension.
Difficulty Copying from the Board:
As mentioned in the first example, a child with auditory memory difficulties can often only remember one or two words at a time. He therefore needs to constantly look up at the board, down at his paper, up at the board, down at his paper. Copying from the board is a tedious task for him whereas other children can remember a sentence at a time.
Difficulty Taking Notes:
In order to take notes you need to:
- Listen to the teacher.
- Hold what you have heard in memory while writing it down.
- Continue listening as the teacher continues with the next sentence.
- If you are not writing verbatim what the teacher says, you must also use logic and reasoning to form your own thoughts about what’s being said, while writing, while listening.
If your auditory memory is poor, auditory processing, processing speed, or logic and reasoning, note taking could be practically impossible.
Phonics (sounds) is an auditory learning system and it is imperative to have a sufficient auditory short term memory in order to learn, utilize and understand reading using phonics. The ability to hold speech sounds in memory is needed for tasks such as comparing phonemes, relating phonemes to letters, and sounding out words.
Many poor-spellers depend on memory for spelling and so they don’t do very well. Even someone with a superior memory can only “remember” the spelling of a few hundred words. Spelling is actually an auditory and a visual skill.
You must be able to hear the sounds within the words and to visualize. How often have you spelled a word and recognized, “No, that doesn’t look right?”
Children who memorize spelling words often forget the words soon after the spelling test. The brain says, “I don’t need that anymore,” and dumps the words to make room for next week’s spelling list.
Children may experience difficulty developing a good understanding of words, remembering terms and information that has been presented orally, for example, in history and science classes. These students will also experience difficulty processing and recalling information that they have read to themselves.
When we read we must listen and process information we say to ourselves, even when we read silently. If we do not attend and listen to our silent input of words, we cannot process the information or recall what we have read. Therefore, even silent reading involves a form of listening.
The good news is that auditory memory is trainable and like any muscle the more you exercise it, the more it will improve.
The not so good news is that the capacity for auditory memory appears to have a genetic basis and if you have a poor auditory memory the chances are that you won’t be able to rely on someone in your family for help.
Children are miraculous! They are born with an innate knowledge of language. BUT children are not born with an innate knowledge of reading.
They need to be taught that text is read from left to right and that words are separate from images.
Although learning to talk and read are two distinct domains, they are also intricately related.
Early language skills are linked to later successful reading.
Young children need a variety of skills to become successful readers. Research indicates that children who enter school with more of these skills are better able to benefit from the reading instruction they receive when they arrive at school.
The following core skills have been identified as being crucial to the development of later reading.
Knowing the names of things is an extremely important skill for children to have when they are learning to read.
Help develop your child’s vocabulary by reading a variety of books (both fiction and nonfiction), and by naming all the objects in your child’s world.
2. PRINT MOTIVATION
Print motivation is a child’s interest in and enjoyment of books.
A child with print motivation enjoys being read to, plays with books, pretends to write and asks to be read to.
Encourage print motivation in your child by
• Shared book reading a special time, keeping books accessible, and letting your child see that you enjoy reading.
• Explain how reading and writing are used in everyday life, for example shopping lists, newspapers, TV guides, and computer screens.
A fun activity is to read through the TV guide with your child and bookmark a favourite programme to watch or record.
3. PRINT AWARENESS
Print Awareness includes learning that writing in English follows basic rules such as flowing from top-to- bottom and left-to-right, and that the print on the page is what is being read by someone who knows how to read.
An example of print awareness is a child’s ability to point to the words on the page of a book.
Your child’s print awareness can be encouraged by
- Pointing out and reading words everywhere you see them – on signs, labels and the supermarket.
- Going shopping with young children. This can be challenging, especially with all the sweet temptations within the child’s direct line of sight. I know that it is easier to leave your child at home when you go shopping, but try to make a point of taking your child with you at least once a week.
Something to keep your child occupied in the supermarket is to send him ahead of you in the aisle to try to find a certain brand of crisps/cereal/tomato sauce.
Use items that your child is motivated to buy 🙂
Drawing your child’s attention to prices also creates print awareness.
4. NARRATIVE SKILLS
The ability to understand and tell stories and describe things is important for children in order to understand what they are learning to read.
An example of a narrative skill is a child’s ability to tell what has happened at a birthday party, or a class outing.
Help your child strengthen his narrative skills by
- Asking him to retell a well-known story. Encourage your child to predict what might happen next in the story. Facial expression can create excitement about what might happen.
- Encourage your child to tell you about things he has done that have a regular sequence to them. For example, having a bath.
5. LETTER KNOWLEDGE
Letter Knowledge includes learning that letters have names and are different from each other, and that specific sounds go with specific letters.
An example of letter knowledge is a child’s ability to know that the letter B makes a /b/ sound.
- Playing games like “I spy” will develop phonemic (sound) awareness.
- Focus your child’s attention on the letters in the words and highlight the letters that are in your child’s name.
- Encourage your child to pay attention to the shape of letters and trace them with his finger.
6. PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS
Phonological Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the smaller sounds in words.
Phonological awareness includes the ability to hear and create rhymes, to say words with sounds or chunks left out, e.g. monkey without /mon/, and the ability to put sounds together to make a word.
Strengthen phonological awareness by
- Exposing your child to songs and rhymes.
- Encourage them to “make up” silly rhyming words
- Say words and sounds with a pause between the syllables and have your child guess what word you are saying. E.g. um—bre—lla
The environment and daily routines in your home can be one of the best teaching tools to help children develop pre-reading skills. A print-rich environment helps foster skills needed for reading. By surrounding your children with print in your home and talking to them about what it means, they will learn more every day. As your child points, labels, makes nonsense words, and tells you outrageous stories, they are practicing to be literate. The next time you hear the word “again p-l-e-a-s-e!” remind yourself that you are laying the foundation for life-long literacy. So with the same enthusiasm you’ve demonstrated one hundred times before, “READ IT AGAIN” as if it were the very first time!
In an era where children spend more and more time in front of televisions, computers and video-games, it is important not to forget how important stories are!
Hearing stories regularly allows pre-readers become familiar with narrative patterns, speech rhythms, and the flow of language.
Knowledge of story structure contributes to a child’s understanding of how the world functions, facilitating the ability to
– Predict actions and consequences
– Understand cause and effect
An understanding of narrative structure reduces the processing load and facilitates the use of prediction to aid comprehension and word recognition
The ability to comprehend and express stories is an integral part of life and academic success:
- It allows the child to sequence ideas or information
- It promotes reasoning skills such as inferential thinking and problem solving.
- It encourages the use of complex sentence structure and vocabulary and correct grammar.
- Reading stories helps with the development of listening skills and memory.
- Storytelling fuels the imagination and allows children to develop mental imagery.
- Stories help children adapt to new experiences
Narrative language skills in pre-school and early primary school are excellent predictors of literacy skills in later primary school.
How do children develop story telling/narrative skills?
Children as young as 20 months, have elements of storytelling in their play. However once verbal language develops it can be classified into developmental stages.
Stage 1: Heap Stories (2 years)
Heaps consist of labels and descriptions of events or actions. There is no central theme or organization. There is no real high point.
Stage 2: Sequence Stories (2 -3 years)
Sequences consist of labeling events about a central theme, character, or setting. There is no plot. The events could be listed in any order without changing the meaning.
Stage 3: Primitive Narratives (3 – 4 years)
Primitive narratives contain three of the story grammar elements: an initiating event, an action, and some result or consequence around a central theme. There is no real resolution or ending to the story.
Stage 4: Chain Narrative (4 – 5 years)
Chain narratives include four of the story grammar elements: an initiating event, a plan or character motivation, an attempt or action, and some result or consequence around a central theme. There is usually either cause-effect or temporal relationships, but the plot is weak and does not build on the motivations of the characters.
Stage 5: True Narrative (5 years +)
True narratives have a central theme, character, and plot. They include motivations behind the characters’ actions and include logical and/or temporally ordered sequences of events. Stories at this stage include five story grammar elements: an initiating event, a plan or character motivation, an attempt or action, a consequence, and a resolution to the problem.
Why do children like the same story?
The “Read it again,” phase that preschoolers go through is perfectly normal. Children love the sense of power that comes from knowing what’s on the printed page, and since they cannot read it for themselves, the next best thing is to memorize it. To do that they need to hear the story read over and over.
Toddlers love repetition because that the way they learn best. Hearing something many times helps them remember information for increasing periods of time. Hearing a story over and over helps children better understand the characters and the important events in the story. Children get an idea of story sequencing, as in beginning, middle and ending of a story. It also helps children understand some of the standard story “language” such as “once upon a time” or “happily ever after
Once your child has learned something, he’ll enjoy repetition because he can anticipate what comes next. After many readings of a familiar book, your child may even remember it well enough to add the endings to most of the sentences. This accomplishment means that he can participate more actively in story time. This is also why simple songs and nursery rhymes have such an impact on a toddler: Not only can your child practice his speaking skills and vocabulary by singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” nine times in a row, but he also has the satisfaction of feeling he’s added something concrete to his repertoire.
During the extraordinary early learning years, stories, songs and rhyme plant the seeds of sounds and language. So talk, sing and tell stories, and don’t give up on “reading again.”