So Cook divided third and fourth graders (none of whom could correctly solve an equivalence problem) into three groups. All the kids were taught to solve the problems. But one group was given a phrase to say aloud to help guide them. They were told to say, “I want to make one side equal to the other side.”
Cook didn’t tell the second group of kids to say anything. Instead, she told the second group to make a strange hand gesture as they solved the problem–they were to wave their hands on both sides of the equation as they totaled the sum. The third set of kids was taught to say the phrase and make the wave gesture.
Immediately after the training, the kids were tested to see how much they had learned. All of them had improved their ability.
Then, four weeks later, the children were in their regular classrooms when the teachers surprised them with a pop quiz of equivalence problems. Disaster struck. Of the kids taught to say the instructional phrase, 90 percent had forgotten how to solve the problems.
Amazingly, more than 90 percent of the kids who used the gesture in their training remembered how to solve the problems. Making the gesture helped encode the memory for long-term retrieval.
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