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Learning with an ABI fact sheet

Learning and remembering with an acquired brain injury

How do I know if my student is having difficulties with learning and memory function?

Working memory (i.e., the ability to hold and manipulate information in mind for a short period) is often difficult for young people after a brain injury. Students with working memory difficulties may find it hard to recall lengthy instructions (e.g., might recall the first or last instruction, but forget others), multi-step tasks or problems (e.g., if given a number of steps to follow in science), key points or ideas when taking notes, or completing tasks such as mental arithmetic. Students with a brain injury may also take longer to learn new information and find it more challenging to remember information over time or remember to do things in the future (e.g., handing a note to mum).

What can I do to help my student with their learning and memory difficulties?

Supporting students with memory difficulties is best achieved through the use of memory aides – both internal and external memory aids. Internal memory aids involve teaching the student to use strategies such as mnemonics, to help in their learning of information. External memory aids, include the use of technology and traditional pen-and-paper task to help students remember information. The following strategies have the best evidence for their use in students with brain injury.

Teaching Approaches

  • Where possible, regularly repeat and summarise key points and information. It might also be helpful to have the student repeat the information to ensure they have heard and understood what is required.
  • Try to present new information in a multi-modal format. For instance, showing a student what to do while telling the student the steps in a task. Have the student do the task.
  • Link new information with previously learnt concepts.
  • Introduce one new concept at a time.
  • Limit instructions to 1-2 step instructions. If more instructions need to be given either have the student write them down, or come back to you for more instructions.
  • It might be helpful to use an errorless learning approach (i.e., an approach that prevents the student from making and therefore learning errors) when teaching student new concepts. This approach involves teaching the student one new concept (e.g., spelling the word “yacht”) by pairing the word with the teacher stating the word, which the child immediately repeats back. Then gradually increase the complexity by providing the student with only the first part of the word (e.g., yach_”) and so on. If the student is unsure, encourage them to say “don’t know” rather than guessing.
  • Provide the student with prompts and cues (such as multiple choice questions) to help them retrieve information from their memory.

Internal Memory Aids

  • Teaching the student to use mnemonic memory strategies may be help them to recall tasks that occur in a specific sequence or specific rules. For instance:
    • Using rhyme – “I before E except after C or when sounding like “A” as in neighbour.
    • Using first letter mnemonics to remember a sequence. For instance, “Dear King Phillip Come Over For Good Soup” could be used to help remember the order of taxa in biology (Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species).
    • Using acronyms such as “Roy G Biv” to remember the colours in the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet).
  • When learning new information, it might be helpful to have the student use elaborative encoding strategies to help improve their learning. This might include, putting the information into their own words, thinking up their own examples, relating the information to themselves, drawing or mentally visualising illustrations or images, and answering question about the topic.
  • Encourage the student to repeat information to themselves.
  • Encourage the student to mentally retrace their steps or imagining themselves at the time of learning, might help jog their memory for things already learnt.

External Memory Aids

  • Teach the student to use checklists or write down instructions when a number of steps need to be completed.
  • Encourage the student to use technology to help them recall important pieces of information. For instance:
    • Taking photos of key concepts (e.g., from the board, books), key social activities they would like to recall, or faces of people they need to remember.
    • Encourage the student to use an electronic organiser (on phone, iPad, computer) to help recall important events and tasks. Where possible, have them pair this information with a reminder (e.g., phone alarm) to check their diary.
    • To aid in recall of social events and activities, it might be helpful to work with the student to teach them to take photos and notes (possibly in a diary format) on an iPad.
  • Allow for audio/ video recording of information so the student can refer back to it later.
  • Teach the student to use paper based calendars, diaries, and notebooks to help keep track of information.

Contact us

Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
Level 6, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 2950
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
f: 07 3068 3909

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Developed by the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service, Children’s Health Queensland. Updated: October 2017. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.