me kay cooke

Recall Strategy Performance

How does your child answer their exam paper?

Does s/he answer in the style of ‘I know OR I don’t know’?

This style of learning and recall is certainly encouraged within an educational system that gets funded or rated based on the quantity of pass marks.


Perhaps your child answers with a creative evaluation of information that synthesises knowledge to create new levels of understanding, with expanding applications to the world in which we live? An expansive line of thought for all.

I recently worked with a teenager who, despite having an awesome ability to think creatively, and to work his mind through abstract forms, had learned not to value this imagination, beyond the notion of ‘silliness’. After many years of learning to suppress his vivid imagination, he was now operating through compliance and following procedure.

The ‘problem’ that surfaced, hence his reason to see me, was his relatively poor marks during a series of mock exams where he appeared to underperform.


Actually, it was only his recall strategy that was underperforming, because instead of opening his mind to explore many possibilities when answering an in-depth exam question, he was using a digital type response; he either did or didn’t know the answer and his brain had habituated stopping at that first yes/no junction.


Accessing information from the deeper structures of memory is a bit like switching a flashlight on to retrieve information and the teenager in question used only a first derivation. He searched and found a chunk of relevant information that immediately fuelled a feeling of relief, signalling (premature) completion.


His retrieval strategy was too short – a single unit of enquiry.


So I worked with him to switch the feeling of relief, to one of curiosity that broadened his options to explore new and novel pathways to more information, and look beyond the initial ‘find’.


To do this we explored a subject he was familiar with on the white board where he generated a mind map of words, phrases and key facts. Very soon he had written enough to be satisfied, yet nowhere near enough to reveal his true depth of understanding,


I explained that by learning the ‘language’ of his deep structure memory, he would be able to recall faster, easier and more knowledge. I asked him if he would like to learn that language, which starts with imagination, pictures and stories. It also includes, rhythm, associations, and feelings.


He began to draw pictures to illustrate each arm of the mind map so far. This process helped his ‘mind’s flashlight’ to illuminate beyond the first on/off switch towards additional paths of knowledge.


He then began recalling a new layer of information that we added to the mind map, coded in specific colours.


I asked him to teach me something about subject, a strategy to keep his (metaphoric) flashlight illuminated. He became animated in his teaching role, laughing and stepping into the shoes of an expert. And while feeling confident and having fun he remembered a whole new level of information, the application of which he further clarified through past times, through the present time and into the future.


We joked (great brain chemistry to open minds) about something unrelated, yet it instigated a tangential thought trail, that led to another idea about the original subject, and then another. This process is called ‘chaining information’.


His ability to build ‘association’ to the subject became even more self-evident as he recalled in great detail one teacher’s story about another man’s experience. This nugget of detail had been strongly imprinted through sensory-based imagination, and expanded the limits of his thinking abilities beyond operating a digital and linear strategy.


Imagery is the language of the mind’s deepest structures.


A reminder for teens, parents and teachers:


  1. The more creative revision sessions, the more ‘lateral’ parts of a mind are engaged, by
  2. Having someone teach the subjects involves several layers of retrieval, first to assimilate the information, then to understand it, and then to articulate it. Each retrieval makes information more accessible over time.
  3. Colour helps separate and link/code subjects or themes.
  4. Drawing activates powerful visual-kinaesthetic channels.
  5. Stories and anecdotes are very useful to encode new information – the more sensory channels are involved the simpler the encoding.
  6. Many teenagers need to move to think. And whilst they may not be able to do this during exam times, they will be able to remember moving around during revision sessions. For example, utilise different rooms or locations for different aspects of a subject.
  7. Questions are the best way to quickly reach the deeper structures and help expand depth and breadth of knowledge, e.g.
  • What else do you know about this?
  • Is there anything else about this, I wonder?
  • What if you were close up/next to/inside?
  • How is X different to Y?
  • How is X similar to Y?
  • How is that thought related to the subject?
  • What’s missing here?
  • Like what?
  • What kind of X is that?
  • What else / what if?
  • How might this specific point be useful to you in the future?


My client loved comic strips and cartoons and I invited him to draw a cartoon of a specific chain reaction within a nuclear generator, which happened to be the subject he was revising with me. I wondered also, how much fun he might have helping his siblings shine their internal flashlights into the depths of their memory banks. What else … What if …

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