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Eight Tips To Understand and Remember What You Read — Especially As You Read Nonfiction

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Despite Insta­gram, YouTube, Face­book, Twit­ter, and tele­vi­sion, (or per­haps pre­cise­ly because of all of them) tra­di­tion­al read­ing is still an impor­tant skill. Whether it is mag­a­zines, pro­fes­sion­al man­u­als or fas­ci­nat­ing books, peo­ple still need to read, now and in years ahead. And much of it is non­fic­tion mate­r­i­al, where it’s impor­tant to real­ly under­stand and then remem­ber what you are read­ing.

An unfor­tu­nate rea­son why many peo­ple don’t read much these days is that they don’t read well. Read­ing, for them, is slow, hard work and they don’t remem­ber as much as they should. They often have to read some­thing sev­er­al times before they under­stand and remem­ber what they read.

Why? You would think that every­one learns how to read well at school. Schools do try, but I work with mid­dle-school teach­ers and they tell me that many stu­dents are 2–3 years behind grade lev­el in read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy. Some of the blame can be placed on fads for teach­ing read­ing, such as phon­ics and “whole lan­guage,” which some­times are pro­mot­ed in shal­low ways that don’t respect the need for both approach­es. And much of the blame can be laid at the feet of par­ents who set poor exam­ples and, of course, on the young­sters who are too dis­tract­ed by social media and tele­vi­sion to learn how to read well.

Now the good news. For any­one who missed out on good read­ing skills, it is not too late to improve now. I sum­ma­rize below what I think it takes to read with good speed and com­pre­hen­sion. Read the rest of this entry »

8 Tips To Remember What You Read

Horizontal Stacked BooksDespite tele­vi­sion, cell phones, and Twit­ter, tra­di­tion­al read­ing is still an impor­tant skill. Whether it is school text­books, mag­a­zines, or reg­u­lar books, peo­ple still read, though not as much as they used to. One rea­son that many peo­ple don’t read much is that they don’t read well. For them, it is slow, hard work and they don’t remem­ber as much as they should. Stu­dents, for example,may have to read some­thing sev­er­al times before they under­stand and remem­ber what they read.

Why? You would think that schools teach kids how to read well. Schools do try. I work with mid­dle-school teach­ers and they tell me that many stu­dents are 2–3 years behind grade lev­el in read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy. No doubt, tele­vi­sion, cell phones, and the Web are major con­trib­u­tors to this prob­lem, which will appar­ent­ly get worse if we don’t empha­size and improve read­ing instruc­tion.

Some of the blame can be placed on the fads in read­ing teach­ing, such as phon­ics and “whole lan­guage,” which some­times are pro­mot­ed by zealots who don’t respect the need for both approach­es. Much of the blame for poor read­ing skills can be laid at the feet of par­ents who set poor exam­ples and, of course, on the young­sters who are too lazy to learn how to read well.

For all those who missed out on good read­ing skills, it is not too late. I sum­ma­rize below what I think it takes to read with good speed and com­pre­hen­sion.

  1. Read with a pur­pose.
  2. Skim first.
  3. Get the read­ing mechan­ics right.
  4. Be judi­cious in high­light­ing and note tak­ing.
  5. Think in pic­tures.
  6. Rehearse as you go along.
  7. Stay with­in your atten­tion span and work to increase that span.
  8. Rehearse again soon.

1) Know Your Pur­pose

Every­one should have a pur­pose for their read­ing and think about how that pur­pose is being ful­filled dur­ing the actu­al read­ing. The advan­tage for remem­ber­ing is that check­ing con­tin­u­ous­ly for how the pur­pose is being ful­filled helps the read­er to stay on task, to focus on the more rel­e­vant parts of the text, and to rehearse con­tin­u­ous­ly as one reads. This also saves time and effort because rel­e­vant items are most attend­ed.

Iden­ti­fy­ing the pur­pose should be easy if you freely choose what to read. Just ask your­self, “Why am I read­ing this?” If it is to be enter­tained or pass the time, then there is not much prob­lem. But myr­i­ad oth­er rea­sons could apply, such as:

  • to under­stand a cer­tain group of peo­ple, such as Mus­lims, Jews, Hin­dus, etc.
  • to crys­tal­lize your polit­i­cal posi­tion, such as why a giv­en gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy should be opposed.
  • to devel­op an informed plan or pro­pos­al.
  • to sat­is­fy a require­ment of an aca­d­e­m­ic course or oth­er assigned read­ing.

Many of us have read­ings assigned to us, as in a school envi­ron­ment. Or the boss may hand us a man­u­al and say Read the rest of this entry »

What You Can do to Improve Memory (and Why It Deteriorates in Old Age)

After about age 50, most peo­ple begin to expe­ri­ence a decline in mem­o­ry capa­bil­i­ty. Why is that? One obvi­ous answer is that the small arter­ies of the brain begin to clog up, often as a result of a life­time of eat­ing the wrong things and a lack of exer­cise. If that life­time has been stress­ful, many neu­rons may have been killed by stress hor­mones. Giv­en theImprove Memory Bill Klemm most recent sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, reviewed in my book Thank You, Brain, For All You Remem­ber. What You For­got Was My Fault, dead neu­rons can’t be replaced, except in the hip­pocam­pus, which is for­tu­nate for mem­o­ry because the hip­pocam­pus is essen­tial for mak­ing cer­tain kinds of mem­o­ries per­ma­nent. Anoth­er cause is incip­i­ent Alzheimer’s dis­ease; autop­sies show that many peo­ple have the lesions of the dis­ease but have nev­er shown symp­toms, pre­sum­ably because a life­time of excep­tion­al men­tal activ­i­ty has built up a “cog­ni­tive reserve.

So is there any­thing you can do about it besides exer­cise like crazy, eat healthy foods that you don’t like all that much, pop your statin pills, and take up yoga?

Yes. In short: focus, focus, focus.

Chang­ing think­ing styles can help. Research shows that Read the rest of this entry »

Try Thinking and Learning Without Working Memory

 

 

Imag­ine dial­ing a phone num­ber by hav­ing to look up each dig­it one at a time in the phone book. Nor­mal­ly, you look up the num­ber and remem­ber all sev­en dig­its long enough to get it dialed. Even with one dig­it at a time, you would have to remem­ber each dig­it long enough to get it dialed. What if your brain could not even do that! We call this kind of remem­ber­ing, “work­ing mem­o­ry,” because that is what the brain works with. Work­ing mem­o­ry is crit­i­cal to every­day liv­ing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Update: Use It and Improve It

Here you are have the bi-month­ly update with our 10 most Pop­u­lar blog posts. (Also, remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive our RSS feed, or to our newslet­ter, at the top of this page, if you want to receive this digest by email).Crossword Puzzles Brain fitness

In this edi­tion of our newslet­ter we bring a few arti­cles and recent news pieces that shed light on what “Use It or Lose It” means, and why we can start going beyond that to say “Use It and Improve It.”

The Neu­ron, The Brain, and Think­ing Smarter

Read the rest of this entry »

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