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There are two major routes in the neocortex that information travels into and out of to get to long-term memory (LTM). Each pathway makes up a separate system – the declarative and the procedural.
Declarative thoughts move from out working memory to the hippocampus and on into LTM in the neocortex when we show or tell students, step by step, what to do, or we explain facts or relationships, we are teaching them the information through their declarative memory systems. The declarative system is the learning system where students are (mostly) conscious of what they’re thinking about and learning. The second way of getting information to LTM is a backup system we don’t even have to think about consciously. With this latter, procedural learning system, information is sifted and shifted form what we see, hear, or feel into LTM through the basal ganglia and their associated structures.
The procedural system is the basis of habitual actions. This type of learning has often been thought of as very different from the type of material learned in school. The basal ganglia receive input from the entire neocortex and projects back to the neocortex, forming a giant loop. This loop enables you to learn sequences of actions and thoughts that you deposit as sets of neural links in LTM. These links in turn create brain states and actions related to thinking, language, and song. For example, if you reach out to touch a hot stove, the feedback you get is “That hurts!” so you learn more not to touch a stove. Working memory doesn’t create procedural sets of links. But it can grab them once they’re created.Once working memory grabs the procedural links, you can become conscious of them, or at least the essential aspects of them, if not the tiny details. An advantage for experienced teachers, however, is that they can become so versed with what they are teaching that their mouths can be going on automatic, procedural mode while their declarative working memory races ahead to read students’
faces and anticipate questions.

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The procedural system is no mental slouch. One reason humans are so smart is that they have unique genes that allow them to use their procedural system more easily. Information learned declaratively is flexible but slower to recall. Information learned procedurally can flow into use with almost uncanny swiftness but be inflexible.
Once each system learns the information, this knowledge becomes complementary: each way of knowing enhances your overall understanding of and ability to work with the material. It’s easier to understand declarative learning because we’re aware of it, at least in part. But we’re mostly not conscious of the procedural system, which may be why research involving this type of learning is not as advanced as research to do with declarative learning.
The procedural system watches and learns from what you are doing, seeing, and hearing to assimilate and internalise patterns – like the shapes of letter formations when you’re young. The declarative system, with its speedy way of learning, is often the first system to acquire information.
The procedural system follows slowly behind, learning the material, but learning very differently – through practice. Declarative learning gets students off the ground faster but with poorer overall performance.


An interesting twist on scaffolding of more advanced material involves a teaching methodology called concept attainment. In this approach, the teacher presents examples and non-examples of the concept.
The students figure out the common attributes of the concept and generate a potential definition. The teacher provide further examples for students to test their hypothesis and solidify their definition.
If students learn best when they learn through both the declarative and procedural systems, what’s the best way to teach if you want to enhance their understanding via a particular system.
The best approach to declarative learning is retrieval practice. Retrieval practice helps students focus deliberately (declaratively) on what they are trying to learn. Procedural learning, on the other hand, requires interleaving or spaced repetition
Interleaving is when students mix up their practice of a topic, rather than merely repeating virtually identical materials and questions all in one block of time. Interleaving may boost procedural memory because it gives students practice in picking up on patterns – that is, detecting the bustle difference between somewhat similar items or techniques.
When you first learn a concept, your brain is struggling to make the connections. It makes those connections. It makes those connections any way it can. Often, the connections aren’t necessarily the best configuration of neurons to capture the essence of what you’re learning.
The best way to allow those connections to rearrange themselves and make simpler, better, deeper, stronger connection is to take a break. Then return repeatedly to the concept.
This revisiting may even allow links created by the procedural system and other links created by the declarative system to find ways to connect if they relate to the same concept.

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Judicious amounts of homework allow students to reinforce their declarative understanding of the material, to enhance their self-regulatory skills and to develop their procedural understanding of the material.
When it comes to homework, less is more. It’s about the quality of your assignments, not necessarily the quantity.Short daily practice helps much more than longer sessions scheduled days apart. Other recommendations to consider include:
1.Always wait until the end of class to assign homework. When homework is written on the board at the start of class, the students may be tempted to start working on it during the lesson.
2.Have a plan to use key ideas from homework the next day during class
3.Make homework count toward the course grade by at least a small account
4.Have students start working on the homework a few minutes before the end of class.Students are more likely to finish what they have already started. Plus, these few minutes allow you to assist those students who may have additional questions.
5.Never use homework as discipline.
The parents’ attitude toward homework is critical. Students must be allowed to struggle and receive only judicious guidance and hits, rather than for parents to hover continually, control, and correct.


Teachers often think that if students can explain the concept verbally, it indicates a true conceptual understanding
of the material – that’s not necessarily true. Students can simply regurgitate a verbal explanation they have memorised
using their declarative system.
How you teach will elicit different ways of learning in your students. The brief explicit parts of direct instruction where
you offer a sequence of explanations, or even just draw attention to rules or patterns, can increase learning through the
declarative memory system. On the other hand, practice shifts the learning toward procedural systems


  • There are two major pathways the brain uses to store information in long-term memory: declarative and procedural.
    The declarative pathway is (mostly) conscious and fast to learn and store information. The procedural pathway is non-conscious and slow to learn and store information.
  • Once information is learned, the procedural system can put it to use much more rapidly than the declarative system.
    But procedural learning is much less flexible. Change a few keys on a keyboard and you are suddenly not such a fast typist.
  • It’s important, wherever possible, to ensure that students are acquiring information through both the declarative and procedural systems.
    This makes them flexible, adaptable, fast problem solvers.
  • The explanations and demonstrations teachers provide to students during the “I do” stage of direct instruction enhances students’ declarative learning.
    When that instruction is followed up with practice “We do”, students begin to activate their procedural pathway – which helps automate the learning.
  • The procedural system is strong in infancy and early child but then weakens. The procedural system is strong in infancy and early childhood but then weakens.
    The declarative system is weak in childhood and gradually strengthens as the child matures.
  • Interleaving is when a teacher mixes up their students’ practice by including confusingly similar aspects of a topic, rather than
    blocking their practice into specific, nearly identical repetitions of the same topic.
  • Desirable difficulties involve the intense mental effort of building a strong set of neural links to understand and remember a concept. Space repetition is
    when retrieval practice of the material is stretched out over days or months.
  • Both interleaving and spaced repetition are the best methods researchers know of to build learning through the procedural system.
    It’s more important that students demonstrate that they know how to apply a concept than that they demonstrate their ability to articulate it.