It’s a new year and it’s time to make some resolutions!

The topic I want to discuss is one I resolve to focus on in my teaching this semester (or trimester as my school year is divided). It was inspired by something I overheard while my roommate listened to a talk online about memory.  The speaker referred to a study where a group of people were asked to remember a man and his name, Baker.  Another group was asked to remember there was a man, and he was a baker.  The chance the subject would recall this information later improved, if s/he were told to remember the man was a baker, rather than named Baker.  Why? Most people have some association with the profession of baker.

We have sights, smells and tastes conjured when we hear the word.  We may have a personal relationship with someone who is a baker by trade, or just someone at home who would bake.  The chances each of us knows someone by the name of Baker are much slimmer.  The conclusion?  If you can’t connect a fact to something personal to you, you are less likely to remember it. This brings us to the topic,

Resolving To Be Memorable.

When something is personal it carries meaning, importance, and retrievable sensory input.  It results in greater investment in the learning, greater chances of retention, and, I would argue, greater chances of connecting to other learning.  So, one thing we can do to improve our teaching, deepen the learning of our students, and make learning more memorable is find a way to make learning personal and relevant.  If we help students find a way to make a personal connection to learning, they have a tool they can use for the rest of their lives.

One way is a word association like in the example described above.

If students needed to remember a man’s name was Baker, you could encourage them to ask what the word baker brings to mind. This helps them connect those sensory memories conjured to the man named Baker.  In addition, another way is through analogies.  For any learning, whether facts, a process, an event, or concept, if one can create an analogy to something, one is more likely to understand and remember.  If students study the Revolutionary War, they can think about a conflict in their own lives resulting in a fight with a friend, a sibling or a parent.  What little things led to the fight?  How are they similar to and/or different from the events leading up to the Revolutionary War?  This can be expressed through an art piece, or through discussion with a partner.

Art may be intimidating to people whether it be visual art, theatre, dance, music, literature or poetry.  To make it more accessible, start with the personal.  How does the art piece make you feel?  What does it make you think of or of what does it remind you?  Why?  Finding a personal connection may give the perceiver access to the piece.  Once a personal connection has been made, the experience and the piece is already more memorable.

Creating Life-Long Learners

Whether teaching art, an arts integrated lesson, or even another area of curriculum combining objectives from both disciplines, guiding learners to make a personal connection makes for a more meaningful and memorable experience.  If this becomes a consistent approach you utilize in your teaching, it can become a tool for the students to use. This allows them to be more effective and engaged life-long learners.