Mnemonic instruction is a strategy that provides a visual or verbal
prompt for students who may have difficulty retaining information. In this way, children whose learning modalities are primarily visual or verbal are able to create a picture, word, rhyme, or sentence that is attached to an idea they already have. This strategy enhances access to the general education curriculum by building on what students already know or have experienced.
Mnemonic instruction follows the premise that as children learn, they are building a web of knowledge. Learning something new is like adding a thread to the web. For students with memory challenges or processing disorders, mnemonic devices become the tools to build threads from new to old ideas. Because of their ability to create and retain connections made by their typically developing peers, these students are then able to participate in the same curriculum.
Evidence of Effectiveness
Mnemonic instruction "has been well researched and validated for students with high incidence disabilities, particularly students with learning disabilities, as well as for general education students in elementary and middle school" (DLD/DR Current Practice Alerts, p.1).
According to Swanson (1999) and Forness, Kavale, Blum, and Lloyd (1997), the use of mnemonic strategies have helped students with disabilities significantly improve their academic achievement. Mnemonic strategy was first used in a general education setting by college undergraduates learning foreign language vocabulary (Uberti, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 2003, in Atkinson, 1975). Later research extended the use of such instruction into classrooms of younger students and among students with learning disabilities. In a recent study, college students used a mnemonic strategy to study and recall painting-to artist matchings. All four experiments of the study repeatedly showed that those students who used mnemonics substantially outperformed those who did not use them on tests that required recall of artists and their paintings (Carney & Levin, 2000). Two recent studies on using mnemonics for social studies instruction showed not only test improvement among all students but also marked improvement among students with disabilities (Mastropieri, Sweda, & Scruggs, 2000; Uberti, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 2003).
Mnemonics instruction has also been shown to be an effective strategy for increasing student comprehension test scores. On average, students who have been trained in mnemonic instruction outperform students without training on comprehension exams. It is important to remember that mnemonic instruction is a memory-enhancing strategy and is not designed specifically to enhance comprehension. Researchers suggest that the reason comprehension scores are higher for students using mnemonic strategies is that the strategy increases their ability to recall the factual information needed to answer a topical comprehension question. For example, a student could understand the concept of landforms, yet be unable to remember the names of the oceans and continents. Through the use of mnemonic strategies, it is more likely that the student will be able to remember this factual information, answer the question, and demonstrate comprehension. However, remembering factualinformation requires that a student understands the concept of landforms. Students who need help understanding the concept will benefit from instruction in comprehension strategies (Mastropieri, Scruggs, & Fulk, 1990; & Scruggs, Mastropieri, McLoone, Levin, & Morrison, 1987).
Caution should be used when teaching mnemonic strategies. Students who may benefit from the use of mnemonic instruction may not be able to construct their own mnemonics effectively. For example, in one study mnemonic instruction was used to teach general education middle school students about 18th, 19th, and 20th century inventions and their corresponding dates. This study found that the students had difficulty using mnemonic strategies independently; that is, they were unable to effectively apply them and create mnemonics on their own (Hwang & Levin, 2002). Thus, keyword mnemonics can either be provided by the teacher or created by the student. However, it may be more effective for the teacher to provide the keyword mnemonics to the students (King-Sears et al., 1992; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1992).
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