University of Edinburgh

Improving Memory Skills in Deaf Young People

Presented on Tuesday 26 January 2010

Practical strategies in helping deaf children to remember

Isabel Gibson & Angela Cordingley

Our objectives:

By the end of the day we want you to feel:

  • you have more knowledge about what deaf children can remember;
  • you are able to plan more effectively from a deaf child's perspective;
  • you can support writing - the permanent record of experiences;
  • inspired!

I will start by telling you a little bit about myself.

How much of what I have just said can you remember?

  • Now - 100% ,75%?
  • This evening - 100% ,75%, 50%?
  • On Friday morning - 100%, 75%, 50%, 25%?

Would these percentages be the same for deaf children? You can remember well
because you

  • can hear and process language effectively;
  • have secure language which enables recall;
  • are interested and motivated at this stage;
  • use strategies to help you to remember things that are important, eg; rehearsal

Short-term memory is short in all of us.

It's that brief period of time we need upon getting information to fix it (commit it to long-term memory) so that we can recall it later.

It's that 'getting information' which is the problem. If deaf children don't hear information accurately so that it can be processed, however can it be 'fixed',
that is, made retrievable.

If auditory memory is weak we must consider the role visual, kinaesthetic, olfactory, articulatory and phonemic memory play in retaining information. (In plain English we need to use our other senses more)!

As we know all children are unique, with their own learning styles.

Some initial assessment of this might be useful, that is, how do the children in my group best remember things?

The Way Forward

With secondary children we use some tests which can be administered by teachers, FE practitioners, staff with NVQ 3 or above.

  1. The WRIT (Wide Range Intelligence Test)
    This will give you a general IQ, but more importantly gives you separate scores for verbal and visual IQs.

  2. The WRAT (Wide Range Achievement Test)
    Again can be used by teachers, etc, to look at word reading, sentence comprehension, spelling, maths computation. This test can be used to assess progress over time.

    More information can be found at Association Magazine May 2008 p12-13

Teaching and Learning

What does research tell us about memory and the deaf which has significance for us as practitioners? Here are some findings I think are important

  1. Rehearsal is a key strategy in remembering.
    It is not a cognitive tool of choice indeaf children because of the effort required.

  2. Mnemonics are a useful tool to assist memory functioning but only if they are meaningful. Children need to be assisted in devising them.
    They may be visual.

  3. Familiarity with material is directly proportional to remembering which suggests we must use repetition, reflection and rehearsal.

  4. It may be important to encourage children to read aloud and/or sign what they are reading, as a support for memory.

  5. There are merits in bi-modal presentations, for then the child will use its own preferred mode of encoding a particular stimulus.

  6. Practise in the repetition of unfamiliar phonological forms is useful.

  7. Simple black and white line drawing are more easily remembered than colour photographs.

  8. Memory will improve with an increae iin speech and or sign rate.

  9. Fingerspelling is useful for some children in assisting recall.

  10. Deaf children need to be trained in the strategies of remembering.

Rehearsal, repetition and reflection.

In the early years or stages of language development games are crucial.

Practice makes perfect.
They are enjoyable and have a competitive dimension.
New vocabulary must be fixed - practised and said again ... and again ... and again.

Games are often a way of doing this - eg; Pairs, I went to market, Kim's Game, What's in my bag? Simon says, vocabulary skittles, number bingo, etc.

There are many games/activities available for the interactive whiteboards which can be used.


They must be devised by the children and practised.

Can be used for learning difficult spellings eg; The connective 'because' -
Betty eats cakes and uses six eggs
is one a pupil of mine finds helpful!

How about
Cats have itchy legs, dad runs every night!

Here's a visual mnemonic

visual mnemonic

Familiarity with material is important.

  • This is why the same materials/experiences must be presented again and again in novel
    and interesting contexts.
  • First hand experiences (visits) alone, might not be enough for a child to remember very much!
  • The use of digital cameras/whiteboards are brilliant to reflect ... see it hear it, touch it, etc.
  • This has implications for curriculum planning.

Encourage children to read aloud and/or sign.

Though some deaf children may sub-vocally rehearse, the movement of jaws and hands
(articulatory and kinaesthetic memory) are important.

Bi-modal presentation: Sign and voice will allow pupils a chance to decode in their own preferred way.

Teaching Strategies

Practice in the repetition of unfamiliar phonological forms (sound bites) will support the memory in relation to reading. Can be done as games. Small boards are useful for this - they engage children via participation.

The ALK (Active Literacy Kit) is a structured programme originally devised for dyslexics that seems to work well with the deaf to learn phonemes.

Training in the strategies of remembering

Memory blocks to recall sequences are fine - you can begin with 2 or 3 and increase to 4 5 or 6. We can teach children how to chunk information. Spelling charts are also very useful!

Mind maps, writing frames, drafting and editing are useful.

ICT can assist in developing memory skillsthrough appropriately structuring materials to facilitate effective learning and revision.

One of the key challenges for deaf children is writing. Some benefit from a visual pattern
to support the written structure.

This will be the focus of this afternoon's session

If we want our deaf children to learn,we must know how difficult it is for them to rememberand plan and deliver lessons that use strategies which support the retention and recall of information, events and experiences.