Children and Effective Learning Strategies
Sometimes learners engage in effective long-term memory storage processes (elaboration, organization, visual imagery, etc.) without intentionally trying to do so. For example, if I tell you that I used to live in Colorado, you might immediately deduce that I lived in or near the Rocky Mountains. In this case you are automatically engaging in elaboration (my statement made no mention of the Rockies, so you supplied this information from your own long-term memory). If an image of pointy, snow-capped mountains comes to mind, then you are using visual imagery as well.
At other times learners deliberately use certain cognitive processes in their efforts to learn and remember information. When learners intentionally engage in certain cognitive processes to help them learn and remember something, they are using a learning strategy.
Even infants show some ability to organize their experiences, and by age 4, children may intentionally organize a set of objects in an effort to remember them. (Behl-Chadha, 1996; DeLoache & Todd, 1988; Quinn, 2002). In the preschool years children elaborate on their experiences as well. (Fivush, Haden, & Adam, 1995). But for the most part, children don’t intentionally choose particular learning strategies until they reach school age. Rehearsal typically appears first, perhaps between ages 5 and 7, and children use it with increasing frequency and effectiveness—at least for things they need to remember for only a few minutes—as they progress through the elementary and middle school grades. (Cowan et al., 2006; Gathercole & Hitch, 1993; Kunzinger, 1985; Lehmann & Hasselhorn, 2007; Pressley & Hilden, 2006). The ability to use visual images effectively to encode and remember information also improves over the course of elementary and middle school. By the upper elementary grades, children also begin to organize information to help them learn it, and their organizational structures become more hierarchical and abstract as they move into the middle and high school grades. As an intentional learning strategy, elaboration appears fairly late in development (usually around puberty) and gradually increases during the teenage years. Even so, many high school students rely largely on rehearsal, rather than on more effective strategies, to study and learn academic material.
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