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The Sequential Memory Exercise

Starting in fifth grade (sometimes sooner), children learn how do complex math problems such as long division and pre-algebra. They should already have their math facts stored in long term memory and to be able to manipulate numbers well. For some children, they reach a glass ceiling that they feel is impossible to overcome in learning math. While they did well in math before, they find themselves unable to progress in math when introduced to long division and algebra. This is usually caused by deficits in sequential memory.

Sequential memory is the ability to remember steps or sequences. The steps of a complex math problem have to be remembered in the correct order. Rules have to be remembered and applied in solving complex math problems. Sequential memory is what helps children remember steps and the proper order of these steps. The following exercise will develop sequential memory in children who have adequate long term memory but are lacking in sequential memory. If long term memory has not been developed, work on long term memory first (e.g., the multiplication tables) and then progress to sequential memory.

Materials Needed. Symbols Handout and a cover or shield (e.g., Kleenex box, empty bank check box).

Preparation. Download Symbols Handout. Make multiple copies of the sheets and then print them out. Card stock works best, but regular copy paper is sufficient. Cut up each sympol into same size squares so that you have about 100 total squares. You do not have to use all 7 symbols, you can use less of them to make it easier. Divide up the squares into two equal piles with each pile containing the same number of each symbol. Obtain a small divider or cover so that the participant can not see you work when setting up the sequence (a large tissue box is usually ideal.

Step by Step Instructions.

1. At a table, sit across from the participant (the participant should be older than 10 years old).

2. Give the participant one stack of math symbols from the preparation above.

3. Keep the second pile for yourself.

4. Behind the cover or shield or small box (e.g., tissue box), place squares of different math symbols where the participant cannot see the symbols. Place the symbols in a straight line touching each other. The symbols should make a straight line dividing the table between you and the participant.

5. Expose the symbols (usually a second for each symbol, longer if necessary).

6. Cover the symbols and have the participant use their symbols to make a duplicate of what is covered. Make sure their reproduction is in the same order and same orientation as the three symbols that you put down.

7. Expose the symbols again and allow the participant to make corrections if necessary.

8. Cover up the symbols and have the participant put their symbols back in a pile.

9. To the three symbols that you put down, lay two more symbols down (notice that you will be laying down the symbols from right to left and the participant will be laying symbols down from left to right. If you want, you can ask the question: If I put two more symbols down, how many will we have? (the answer will be 5 symbols)

10. Expose the 5 symbols (for about 5 seconds, longer if necessary).

11. Cover the symbols and have the participant put down five symbols in sequential order and going left to right.

12. Expose your five symbols and allow the participant to make corrections if necessary.

13. Cover the symbols and have the participant put up their symbols in their pile making sure that they mix up the symbols or the participant puts the symbols into stacks of identical symbols. Do not let the participant arrange the symbols so that they can do the next trial without using their memory.

14. Add two more symbols to the covered line of symbols. If you want, you can ask the question: If we add two more symbols, how many symbols will we have? The answer should be 7.

15. Continue steps 12 through 14 adding two more symbols each time.

16. When you get to 8 symbols, put the 8th symbol right underneath and touching the 1st symbol. (from the participant's perspective it will be on top of the first symbol).

17. Continue steps 12 through 14 adding two more symbols each time until you have 21 symbols. Note that the 15th symbol is underneath the 8th symbol(or from the participant's perspective on top of the 8th symbol).

18. At first you may have to quit the exercise at the 13th symbol, because of the participant's level of frustration. It may take a while before you will be able to advance past the 13th symbol. Always push the student towards more and more progress without getting them so frustrated that they start to cry or withdrawal. Try to keep this exercise in a pleasant atmosphere and game like. Keep it as fun as possible.

19. The game is started the next day or session with different symbols and different order.

20. Mastery is reached when on a consistent basis, the participant is able to put 21 symbols in sequential order without making mistakes, following this procedure.

Exercise: The Sequential Memory Exercise.

Time: Time: about 45 minutes at first, less time as ability improves.

Recommended Frequency: once a day, 5 or 6 days per week.

Pretest Assessment: participant is unable to do long division and has moderate difficulty with algebra problems. The participant does know their math facts (e.g., multiplication tables). If the participant does not know their multiplication tables, work on long term memory first until they can master the multiplication tables. After mastery of long term memory, then work on sequential memory.

Mastery. Mastery is achieved when the participant is able to consistently remember the correct order and sequence of 21 symbols placed on a table using the above described procedures.

Recommended Refresher Frequency: Repeat this exercise every year at the beginning of the school year. Usually once sequential memory is mastered, it does not have to be refreshed.

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    written by Daniel T. Moore, Ph.D. copyrighted 2013-2017