I’ve been doing some crochet again recently; something that I pick up from time to time when my fingers are idle from a keyboard.
Whilst I would often quietly congratulate myself on the neatness of my stiches, the choices of wool colour and the fact that the (usually very small) finished article looked like it did in the pattern’s photo, I had become increasingly frustrated that I had never really learnt how to crochet. It’s true, I had made a lovely little bag for my daughter and most of an amigurumi cat (I’ve never been much of a finisher), but if I was just given a hook and a ball of wool and asked to dc2tog, ss or yrh I wouldn’t know where to begin. I can watch a video of a complicated crochet stich and copy it well, but I realised that was doing no more for me than a well-meaning adult in the class writing out a sentence for a child to go over; it looks like you’ve achieved but you are still no closer to doing it independently, or understanding the connection between what you are doing and what you are achieving.
There was nothing about the way I was learning crochet that was ever going to move my technique beyond short term memory. My frustration came from knowing that I couldn’t find a way to unravel this ball of tangled wool in my head and an understanding that this feeling is replicated by so many children of all ages in classes across the country.
As a teacher, it can look like you’ve done all the right things to enable the children in your class to embed their learning. You’ve planned pre-learning for some; overlearning within the task; multiple modalities – visual prompts, tactile resources and mini quizzes as plenaries, but still at the start of the next lesson, a few blank faces greet you. What was I missing in my own learning journey that might help a child recall their knowledge and skills when next called upon to do a similar task unaided? How could my understanding of working memory help me to apply my knowledge to improve and embed my crochet skills?
Working memory, generally stimulated from the areas in the hippocampus of the brain, is a cognitive system that holds information and allows us to process and manipulate the information in a variety of ways. Our working memory enables us to process the language we hear as well as our perception of the information we are receiving. This allows us to plan, reason and problem solve for example.
In addition, if our working memory is working well in an area, it means that we can remember a small set of instructions and recall them after a brief period of thinking or doing something different. Working memory allows us to focus attention, particularly when there are other distracting or competing demands. This system also supports the regulation of our emotions.
So why can I use muscle memory to repeat a stich over and over again across a pattern, when I can’t describe, or even demonstrate what that stich looks like if I was asked what a ‘grit stich’ is? It appears I am only storing the information relating to crochet in my short term memory, which is a bit like filing all your documents on your computer with no folders to help you retrieve them. Its fine if you want to open them up again shortly after you filed them, but little chance of finding it again after you’ve saved hundreds more files! Working memory is often described as a ‘sticky note’ which makes it easier to spot and refer to at the moment it will be useful to you. But perhaps my problem with really understanding how to crochet, is that I don’t know what information would be useful to put on my sticky note in the first place.
Other aspects that occur to me:
So how can I use my working memory more effectively? I need to be able to process the code and the language of crochet; to have a good knowledge of a range of crochet stiches; an understanding of how those two aspects of learning relate to each other and, most importantly for me, to be able to recall my learning appropriately when I next read a new crochet pattern, or decide to design my own.
It is not without irony, that writing this piece has already helped me to understand the gaps in my learning in relation to crochet and begin to put in steps to amend this. I know that I need to concentrate more effectively so that I can translate a stich name into the means by which that stich is made. Perhaps that is the first set of sticky notes I write myself ss = slip stich = hook in a stitch, yarn round and pull yarn through and on through the stitch already on the hook. I may even draw a diagram.
The real gleam of light here is that I have recognised that I know that I don’t know and that I need to do something about that. I now have agency and motivation. Supporting a child to recognise the aspect of a task that they don’t know, but which would make a difference to them moving forward, is an important first step. Within a supportive learning environment, with good relationships, accessible language and a culture of all mistakes being an opportunity to learn, all children can use more effective strategies to access their working memory and reduce their learning frustrations.
Useful resource: Supporting Students with Working Memory Challenges
Julie Greer Feb 21