Memory Aids: Trend or Necessity?

Key Takeaway

Memory aids are being used as accommodations more often than before, and the question of whether they are actually necessary or if they are depriving students of learning effective study and retrieval strategies—leading to an extended dependence on unnecessary accommodations—is arising. —Shekufeh

Are Memory Aids Fair? 

Memory aids have been gaining popularity in schools as an accommodation for students who need cues to enhance memory recall. In their article, Harrison, Holmes, and Pollock (2021) raised some questions on whether this is a tool that can continue to be used in an equitable manner at a post-secondary level or if it is depriving students of the opportunity to learn effective study skills and recall strategies. 

“Memory cues enhance memory functioning of all individuals,” and providing these cues “to only a few individuals in a class would raise significant issues of reverse discrimination and accommodation fairness.”1 Memory aids “should be provided only in very specific and limited circumstances.” 

However, in practice, this accommodation appears to be recommended more and more frequently in the K-12 school system. As Roberts (2012) notes, “accommodations are meant to level the playing field . . . not tilt it to the student’s advantage, or act as insurance against failure.”2

Does a Student Need a Memory Aid? 

In order for a student to qualify for the accommodation of a memory aid, a clinician would need to determine the following:

(a) the student actually learned the information that was taught;

(b) despite trying their hardest, they failed to remember this learned information; 

(c) they could remember the stored information when given cues; and 

(d) that the difference between their spontaneous recall and cued recall is significantly larger than for most other students.

Long-term memory disorders are “extremely rare in children or young adults.”3 Kibby & Cohen (2008) elaborate that “even children with severe learning or attention problems fail to have impaired long-term recall of previously learned information.”4 To document the need for a memory aid, one must first establish that retrieval of information from long-term memory is faulty. Therefore, it should be quite rare to require memory aids at either the level of school or beyond, unless the student has a documented severe neurological disorder. 

One recent ruling concluded that “the purpose of granting accommodations . . . is to ensure that test-takers with disabilities are neither disadvantaged nor advantaged in comparison with non-disabled test-takers.”5 However, in school environments, the focus is on maximising a student’s learning by accommodating any potential disabilities that student may present with. 

Adolescents or young adults in school often mistakenly believe they have “long-term memory problems when, in fact, they never paid attention to or learned the information in the first place.”6 It may feel like a memory problem to them (or to others who interact with them) when in fact the problem is one of an initial attention deficit, as you cannot remember that to which you did not pay attention.

Summarized Article:

Harrison, A. G., Holmes, A., & Pollock, B. (2021). Memory Aids as a Disability-Related Accommodation? Let’s Remember to Recommend Them Appropriately. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 36(3), 255-272.

Summary by: Shekufeh - Shekufeh believes that the MARIO Framework builds relationships that enable students to view the world in a positive light as well as empowering them to create plans that ultimately lead to their success. 

Additional References:

  1. Duchnick, J. J., Vanderploeg, R. D., & Curtiss, G. (2002). Identifying retrieval problems using the California Verbal Learning Test. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 24(6), 840–851.
  2. Roberts, B. (2012). Beyond psychometric evaluation of the student—task determinants of accommodation: Why students with learning disabilities may not need to be accommodated. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 27(1), 72–80.
  3. Majerus, S., & Van Der Linden, M. (2013). Memory disorders in children. In O. Dulac, M. Lassonde & H. B. Sarnat (Eds.), Handbook of clinical neurology, Volume 111: Pediatric neurology part 1 (pp. 251–255).
  4. Kibby, M. Y., & Cohen, M. J. (2008). Memory functioning in children with reading disabilities and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A clinical investigation of their working memory and long-term memory functioning. Child Neuropsychology, 14(6). 525–546.
  5. Cohen v. Law School Admission Council, 537 CANLII. (HRTO 2014). https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onhrt/doc/2014/2014hrto537/2014hrto537.html
  6. Watson, J. M., & Strayer, D. L. (2010). Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17, 479–485.

Researcher Allyson Harrison participated in the final version of this summary. 

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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