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Demonstrating the Benefits of an Advance Organizer Concept


Read a series of sentences to students that seem random, and ask them to remember as many as possible. The sentences should be challenging and seem random, but unbeknownst to the students they should have a familiar "story" underlying them. Here, for example, is a series that works well:
  1. With hocked gems financing him, our hero bravely defied all scornful laughter that tried to prevent his scheme.
  2. "Your eyes deceive," he had said. "An egg, not a table correctly typifies this unexplored planet."
  3. Now three sturdy sisters sought proof forging along, sometimes through calm vastness yet more often over turbulent peaks and valleys.
  4. Days became weeks as many doubters spread fearful rumors about the edge.
  5. At last from nowhere welcome winged creatures appeared signifying momentous success.

After reading this sentences, have students try to write down as many of them, or parts of them, as they can. Take a poll of students' level of success. Usually it is usually fairly low, since the sentences seem random and therefore relatively "difficult." Discuss why performance was low and what students could, in principle, do to improve their scores on this sort of test.

Then suggest that some sort of advance organizing idea (also called simply an advance organizer) might help. For example, all the sentences relate details of the classic story of "Columbus Discovering America," and collectively the five sentences could be considered a version of this story.

- Seifert Seifert Nov 8, 2010

Demonstrating the Serial Position Effect


The serial position effect refers to the tendency to remember the first and last items of a random list of terms better than the items in the middle of the list. The phenomenon can be explained in either behaviorist or information processing terms. The following activity demonstrates the phenomenon and includes links to explanations for it that may help you and students in a discussion that follows the demonstration:

Phase 1: Remembering a Random List
  1. Read a series of about 12 words to students that arranged in a random way, but that potentially could be organized intro logical groups. Read the terms at the rate of about one per second.
  2. Here is one possible list that works well:
    Honda
    Chickadee
    Pear
    Banana
    Ford
    Apple
    Volkswagen
    Owl
    Blue jay
    Orange
    Robin
    Toyota
  3. After you finish reading the list, ask students to write down as many of the terms as they can remember.
  4. Take a tally of the class of how frequently students remembered each term. If the basic serial position effect has occurred, then the first few and last few items should have been remembered better than the items in the middle of the list.

Phase 2: Remembering an Organized List
  1. After doing the exercise described in Phase 1 above, do it again using the same terms, but with the terms organized in some way.
  2. One possible way to organize the list used in Phase 1 is to group terms by type of object. Since the items include cars, birds, and fruit, for example, you could read the items in this order:
    Apple
    Banana
    Pear
    Orange
    Ford
    Honda
    Volkswagen
    Toyota
    Robin
    Chickadee
    Owl
    Blue jay
  3. After the students are finished writing down the terms this time, take a tally again of their recall of terms. It will likely be much better than the first time.

Phase 3:Questions to Discuss
  1. In Phase 1, why would the first and last items tend to be remembered better than those in the middle? Relate students' ideas to the behaviorist ideas of proactive interference and retroactive interference.
  2. In Phase 2, why would overall recall be better than in Phase 1? Relate students' ideas to the ideas of chunking, and of a superordinate, organizing concept that serves the executive function of guiding students' classification of terms.
  3. How much might the improvement in Phase 2 happen simply because students have practiced the list an additional time? How much because they were making more effort than before? Relate students' ideas to the information processing ideas about memory strategies.

- Seifert Seifert Dec 8, 2010