A Resource for Teachers, Clinicians, Parents, and Students by the Brain Injury Association of New York State.
Problem: The student rarely generates ideas – or new ideas – in academic or other domains; the student appears to lack creativity.
Cognitive/Self-Regulatory Possibility:
Memory/Retrieval Impairment

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.

Memory/retrieval impairment: Some students may have difficulty generating ideas as a result of difficulty with memory/retrieval (See Tutorials on Retrieval; Word Retrieval)

Relevant Observations: The student seems to do better when somebody else starts an answer, or when he is given choices (e.g., multiple choice test), or when he comes up with a response on his own rather than being asked a direct question. The student frequently struggles to find words or information in his head. There may be comments like, “Wait... I know it...It’s in there...” There may also be frequent use of empty words like “thing”, “stuff”, “whatchamacallit” and the like.

Useful experiments for assessment and intervention:

  1. Observe and record the frequency and/or intensity of the problem behavior when a new teaching strategy or support is being implemented versus when it is not being implemented.
  2. Possible retrieval-related teaching strategies or supports (See Tutorial on Memory/Retrieval): Systematically compare the student’s performance when asked questions that require free retrieval of information (no cues or supports) versus questions that require only recognition of the correct answer (e.g., multiple choice or true-false questions). Look for a substantial improvement with the recognition memory tasks.
  3. If the frequency and/or intensity of the targeted behavior decreases during intervention, it may be that this student’s problem behavior is in part a result of retrieval problems. (See Tutorials on Retrieval; Word Retrieval)

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.

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The Brain Injury Association of New York State
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