EDS 103 Module 3C: Folderize your brain! (and how to teach categorization)

Do you have an imaginary number line in your head to help you do mental math? Do you have boxes that store the different phyla of the animal kingdom that helps you remember that the centipede is not in the same phylum as the segmented earth-worm, and that an octopus is a mollusk? Do you have folders in your head?

This is the first time that I have revealed that the above exists in my thoughts, because until now, I did not know that a few many cognitive psychologists have explicitly drawn much conclusion that there is such an organizational memory structure (Huitt and Lutz, 2003) in human brains that help us with memory retrieval.

Jerome Bruner (1998) was one of the first thinkers to articulate this idea explicitly in his constructivist theories that touched on memories and memory formation. Eliasmith’s (2001) definition of memory, according to Lutz and Huitt (2003), implied that there is such a mental structure that organizes our new memories in a fashion that makes sense to us.

This being said, I am now sure that I am not the only one who has a structured computer hard drive – like manner of remembering things. But as cognitive theorists would suggest, the importance of an organized and structured prior knowledge would elicit a resounding agreement. What are its benefits?

For one, categorizing knowledge we perceive thru the senses (sensory memories), that translated into working memory, and then made its way into our long term makes it easier to retrieve for future use (Atkinson and Shiffrin, 1968). Imagine if new memories are not given due attention and was left “lying there in the brain” as it was perceived, then our brains would be too cluttered to form new ones, and to assist in other much harder cognitive processes, or “brain jobs”, such as planning, reflection and metacognition.

Priming is based on prior knowledge and is necessary to make new memories thru the use of previously encountered date, to form associations, and so are a whole lot of learning endeavors. The use of a top- down (Miller et al, 1960) and the bottom- up information processing uses organized prior knowledge. Establishing connections to previous memory is necessary for learning to occur (Lutz and Huitt, 2003).

So now we see how valuable organizing, sorting and labeling the different “folders” in our head, how do we attempt to teach that to our students? One way could be teaching discrimination and identifying similarities. Making distinctions between the things and concepts that are around us can help students form their own ideas of what could be classified together and what cannot be grouped. Teaching thru priming can also build mental associations that eventually lead to a rich, diverse, adn then sophisticated network of ideas that encourages open- mindedness and tolerance to others (making cultural associations).

Cognitive organization helps teach expertise (Schraw and McCrudden, 2013) as memory and prior knowledge becomes more and more vivid, and then powerful. So go ahead, whip out the label- maker and start folderizing your thoughts like a crazy obsessive person (because it works).

Lutz, S., & Huitt, W. (2003). Information processing and memory: Theory and applications. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/papers/infoproc.pdf

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