In this reflection, I would like to discuss memory and retention, as it pertains to students with hearing loss in my Speechreading classes. In addition to short-term and long-term memory as discussed by Barkley (2010) in our textbook, it is important to remember the role of sensory systems as the precursor of the memory and retention process. For the Speechreading students, each of these entities is important to consider when thinking about motivation, active learning, and engagement.
It is unfortunate that there is a bottleneck in the learning process for students with hearing loss. They know it, and it definitely has an impact on their motivation and engagement in the classroom. In fact, it has an impact of whether they take the leap to even put themselves in this role. It is frustrating for my students to put themselves in the potentially intimidating role of learner, to be motivated and involved, and yet to struggle to cross that first hurdle of merely understanding what was said. They live in a hearing world and are faced with these obstacles both in and out of the classroom. My students have reported: “I just don’t remember things like I use to”, “It’s hard for me to be a student, because I just don’t learn like I did before”, “It’s exhausting to sit in a classroom and listen”, and “I feel like I’m not as smart as I use to be”.
I need to address many of these issues before the class even begins. There is pressure to reassure them with details of the supportive and inclusive class, the practical learning objectives, and accessibility-focused classroom setup. I need to understand these implications, accommodate challenges, focus on strengths, and help the students learn the skills that will help to overcome the communication obstacles they face in their daily lives.
A classroom is a place where we have the opportunity to take in new information, new perspectives, new insights. There are many ways to access those opportunities, but for most of us, it is typically done through listening, discussion, and collaboration. We know retention is greater when we are involved in active learning; when new material makes sense and it is deemed meaningful by the student, learning is more successful and retention is greatly improved (Barkley, 2010). This is where hearing loss is often a significant detriment.
“When we want to remember (or learn) something we have heard, we must hear it clearly because memory can be only as clear as its original signal…muddy in, muddy out.” Doidge (2011, p.68). There are additional implications, one of which can be explained by an effortfulness hypothesis (McCoy, Tun, Cox, Colangelo, Stewart, and Wingfield, 2005). Simply put, the more effort a person must use to hear and understand the message, the fewer processing resources available to transfer that information to short and long-term memory for later retrieval. It’s no wonder students with hearing loss are aware of changes in their efforts and outcomes.
Students in my Speechreading class have long complained about having more trouble remembering things than they use to have: names, details from conversations, information from classes. It makes sense to me. I explain it to them: the more mental resources used to perceive and comprehend what is being said, the less resources available to process and remember. If the speech is degraded or the environment unfavourable, their brain is working harder to merely process the sounds. If the information cannot be accessed by the sensory memory, it complicates (or obliterates!) the processing that would occur in the working memory. When this occurs, what happens to comprehension, memory and the effort put forth? I usually explain this concept by talking about capacity. If you have a certain capacity and more of it is depleted to understand the message, storing that information for later retrieval might not be possible. Does that mean those with hearing loss aren’t capable of being good students? Of learning? Of course not. This is a problem we can address.
What does this mean to adult learners who have hearing loss? I think it means that the issue needs to be acknowledged and addressed from multiple angles. The instructor, the course material, and the student need to take this into consideration.
In my classroom, I think most of this responsibility falls to me. Here are some choices I can make to address this issue and reduce the impact of hearing loss on memory, retention, and learning:
- ensure potential students are comfortable and have any questions answered before the course begins. A calm and relaxed student will likely hear and understand better.
- be an effective communicator throughout the course. Speak slowly, clearly, and with appropriate intonation and pauses. Use my microphone consistently. Set a good example and be an exemplar of what can happen when the input is not effortful.
- encourage and support all students to be effective communicators. They should face one another, speak as they wish to be spoken to, and use the tabletop mics.
- provide a hearing-accessible teaching environment. The tables and chairs should be arranged for maximum viewing, in a quiet room, with one speaker at a time.
- ensure the content is relevant and practical. This is always important, and even more vital here.
- arrange learning opportunities that do not rely only on audition, if possible, to reduce the effort to comprehend (less lecture, more activities), e.g. focus on lip reading, facial expressions, or body language.
- provide handouts for topics covered in class and provide handouts prior to class for those who have significant speech discrimination problems. If they have pre-read the material, they will be more familiar with the concepts.
- ensure that I explain the concepts discussed in this reflection to be students (e.g. memory, effortful hypothesis, retention). They appreciate knowing the physiology and neural explanations of what they are experiencing. This allows them to understand what is happening to them and explain it to others.
- research neural plasticity to find a level of explanation appropriate for the Speechreading students. Our brains are changing in response to our learning. Lifelong learning is good for our brains and our bodies, and how we hear (or don’t hear) plays role in this.
- encourage sharing of resources about all aspects of hearing loss and learning. More often now, students are coming to class and wanting to discuss books like The Brain that Changes Itself (Doidge, 2011).
- ensure that the instructional activities I choose are helping the students to attach the new information to past experiences and what they already know. This promotes retention and may be a good reason to promote reflection journals or introduce learning logs.
- ensure the material is understood and sufficient opportunities to practice the learned behaviours occur.
- use assessment and feedback to promote learning, with an emphasis on being authentic and formative.
- teach metacognitive skills to give students an appropriate framework to make sense of and remember new information. For example, addressing the organization of prior knowledge and providing a consistent framework for new material within the Speechreading course (e.g. Environment, Speaker, Listener, Message is a common mantra in my course).
- As discussed in Barkley (1993), try to involve body, heart, and mind in learning. Acknowledge the impact of motivation and engagement and recognize that students are more likely to remember information when they have an emotional investment in it and/or psychomotor or procedural memory for it.
These choices and decisions have a significant impact on the level of engagement and the retention of learning in the Speechreading courses. While the list is extensive, ensuring these conditions are met is mutually beneficial. Working with an informed student allows us to highlight factors that are beneficial and talk realistically about expectations and challenges. A collaborative approach to this problem makes the course more effective and enjoyable for all involved.
Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: a handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Doidge, N. (2011). The brain that changes itself. Australia: SBS.
Mccoy, S. L., Tun, P. A., Cox, L. C., Colangelo, M., Stewart, R. A., & Wingfield, A. (2005, January). Hearing loss and perceptual effort: Downstream effects on older adults’ memory for speech. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 58(1), 22-33. doi:10.1080/02724980443000151