A Resource for Teachers, Clinicians, Parents, and Students by the Brain Injury Association of New York State.
Problem: The student appears to be forgetful, forgetting homework, forgetting newly learned information, and the like.
Cognitive/Self-Regulatory Possibility:
Superior Involuntary (Incidental) Learning

Step 1: Organize observations relevant to the problematic behavior/issue

  • Who is reporting the problem?
  • When does it occur? (Include time of day, activities etc).
  • Where does it occur?
  • What tends to precede the problematic behavior/issue?
  • What tends to follow the problematic behavior/issue?
  • What is the age and functioning level of the student?
  • Previous documentation/charts?

Step 2: Identify possible contributors to the problematic behavior/issue

In many cases, there are several contributors to the student’s identified problem. These contributors may interact with each other, therefore, it may be necessary to combine tests from different categories of possibilities. The existence of several interacting contributors may become obvious as you proceed through individual intervention experiments.

Superior Involuntary (Incidental) Learning: Some students have difficulty with memory/retrieval because they are confused by the instruction to try to learn or remember. They learn more effectively when simply oriented to a concrete task with the to-be-learned information presented within the context of the task – but not as a learning task.

Relevant Observations: The student may remember information that was processed when the student was engaged in an interesting activity (e.g., playing a game), but routinely fail to remember when told to remember at the time the information is presented.

Useful experiments for assessment and intervention:

  1. Systematically compare the student’s ability to remember when (a) told to try to remember as much as possible when the information is first presented versus (b) engaged in an interesting activity and the to-be-learned information is presented as critical to the activity (but without an instruction to remember it).
  2. If memory/retrieval is systematically better under (b) conditions, then the student probably has superior involuntary learning abilities (relative to deliberate or strategic learning abilities) and should be taught in a way that capitalizes on this superiority. (See Tutorials on Memory.)

Possible referrals: School psychologist for memory assessment; instructional support specialist for instructional strategies

A program of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

Copyright 2006, by
The Brain Injury Association of New York State
10 Colvin Avenue, Albany, NY 12206 - Phone: (518) 459-7911 - Fax: (518) 482-5285

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