reflection RD

The challenge of this E Portfolio has been to select highlights from what I’ve learned over the course of this semester; there have been so many topics from the text, from classroom discussion, from classmates postings and from lectures that have been important and (or) have affected me and my intellectual growth, that it was difficult to stay within the established guidelines for the assignment.

 I did, however, find a common thread that ran though most of my learning; the effects of aging on cognitive abilities especially as it pertains to memory.

My learning goals (Learning Goals Essay, July 2011-assignment) briefly mentions my thoughts on the aging process in relation to learning:

“My lifelong learning goals are to continue to learn – until I can no longer hold a book or press a button on a computer! I enjoy school and know that as the aging process starts, its best to keep the brain active and exercised like a muscle to prevent deterioration.” 
Memory issues became a focal point for me; as I learned new material, this focus became inextricably intertwined with all Lifespan Development topics.

I began with trepidation and my goals were tempered by my anxiety over taking an abbreviated course; as an older student, I feared trying to remember new material. Faced with the daunting task of attending a shortened summer course and needing to adapt and learn quickly, while attending class with students some 20 years younger than myself, I worried that I would not be able to keep up nor retain all the new material. The technique presented in “Memory and How to Read a Chapter Effectively” was the most helpful document I’ve received in years of attending college! It’s hard to imagine, with only six easy steps that involve reading the table of contents, headings, first sentences of each paragraph, looking at tables, charts and photos, and reading summary and review questions – all before reading the chapter itself– something so simple yet logical could make it so much easier to retain new material.

As explained in the document (Devine, R., Memory and How to Read a Chapter Effectively), “Memory involves construction of a framework within which to remember, that’s why this is so important.” Even thought the text suggests that the brain is capable of overcoming some declines found in late adulthood, “…In several studies, growth of neural fibers in the brains of older adults unaffected by illness took place at the same rate as in middle aged people. Aging neurons established new synapses after other neurons degenerated.” (Berk, L, Exploring Lifespan Development, 2010, pg 447) I still felt at a disadvantage. I wish that I had been given the technique years ago – I could have learned new material so much more easily and effectively!

And as classmate (anon)  points out in his post (Before Class Forum 1) dated July 28, 2011, stress can be a contributing factor for memory issues: “Inability to manage stress can lead to onset of depression, anxiety, heart disease, cancer, gastrointestinal problems, eating disorders, pain, sleep disturbances, sexual and reproductive dysfunction, and memory and concentration problems to mention but a few.” 

Because stress can affect memory, I was interested in (anon) After Class Forum post (3), “Stress Tools to use chapter 15”, on July 29, 2011, about a great table in the text that she learned from:

 “I looked over chapter 15 to realize there is a great guide to go by on page 407. I think sometimes we react to quickly regardless of our age. The guide on page 407 gives good strategies and descriptions of how to manage stress. Reevaluate situations – learn to differentiate normal reactions from those based on irrational beliefs. View life as fluid (my favorite one on this guide) expect change and accept it as inevitable; then many unanticipated changes will have less emotional impact. That comment is so true and definitely something to live by.” [sic]

After reviewing her post, her comments helped drive the point home that there may be strategies that we can learn to help us manage the stress in our lives, to combat the health issues caused by stress and the importance of seeking them out and incorporating them into our days. Her favorite tip from the text – “View life as fluid, expect change,” is now, also, my favorite.  

From classmate (anon)  in an effective exam question (1) suggestion dated July 28, 2011, I also learned that memory strategies of organization and elaboration, which requiring linking new information to old information, diminishes with age:

“Q: Memory strategies of ______________ and _______________, which require people to link incoming information with already stored information, are also applied less often and effectively with age.

A: Organization and Elaboration. Ch. 15 pg. 412”

It is this “linking” technique that forms the basis of “Memory and How to Read a Chapter Effectively” and explains why and how it works.

 I was surprised and heartened to learn that classmate (anon)  in her Before Class Forum post (2) dated July 28, 2011 believed that  “age reduces one’s memory ability is a stereotype. This inadvertently lead people to attribute absentmindedness to aging. It is probably true to some but there is also that preconceived idea.” [sic]

This was a gentle reminder that aging does not necessarily lead to major declines in cognitive abilities and not everyone buys into aging as the sole factor for the decline in memory. Sometimes we all need encouragement and a different point of view to turn our own thinking around to be more positive. 

On the same topic of aging and memory, I was reminded by  (anon) After Class Forum post (1) on July 27, 2011, of a class discussion during which another classmate talked about her grandmother and the physiological effects of “clean living”: 

“As a class we discussed long living Ch.16. I found it interesting to hear about Bibian’s great grandmother living over 100 years old, and still having great memory at that age is amazing. It’s concerning to know that now in days our way of living is much more stressful, our diets and habits are poor and we struggle to live a healthy life as we get older.” [sic]

Anecdotal evidence is important, I believe, because we can apply it to our own lives. Where my concern regarding aging and the loss or decline of cognitive function – especially memory – I feel we can learn from our peers who have true stories to share that provide examples of how we may be able to control or reverse some conditions or situations.  By hearing relatable information, we can incorporate and assimilate it easier.

By writing about the cognitive aspects of Life Span Development in Quiz #1, on July 20, 2011, I was able to solidify my learning further, by using an example about Middle Adulthood and once again bringing the topic – memory – into the example:

“Cognitive aspects of life span development include changes and growth (or decline) and specific milestones of all brain functioning including memory, learning, reasoning, perception, decision-making and comprehension across the lifespan.

For example, during Middle Adulthood, consciousness of aging increases, “crystallized” intelligence increases, (skills that depend on accumulated knowledge) while “fluid” intelligence declines (basic information processing skills, speed of analyzing information and capacity of working memory).

In Middle Adulthood, “…humans are experts at problem solving, although they begin to experience some signs of decline with speed in processing and recall…” (http://www.ehow.com/about_5591211_human-lifespan-development.html)

The ability to divide and control attention declines as well as the amount of information that can be retained in working memory. “
(Berk, L., Exploring Life Span Development, 2010, pages 409-410, 440-441)

Classmate  (anon)  in her Before Class Forum post (3) on August 1, 2011, regarding Chapter 15 of our text, indicated that with all the physical changes noted, that it seemed to be an explanation of midlife crisis: “The prospect of facing these changes and becoming more aware of the fact that we are mortal and will die some day is quite overwhelming.”

(Agreed!) Learning from classmates has an added advantage because they have shared personal thoughts on key learning – opinions that can validate our own feelings and join us to the group in a non-threatening way that enhances learning. If you feel understood and that you’re part of a group of like-minded individuals, it becomes easier to learn because you’re less afraid to share and ask questions.

Another post by (anon) in the After Class Forum (2), “Importance of understanding adolescence,” on August 3, 2011, mentions the concept of Imaginary Audience as discussed in Chapter 11 (Physical and Cognitive Development in Adolescence): 

“I was very interested in the imaginary audience. I think this is something that many kids do. I think that even as adults this sticks with many of us.”

To break from the topic of memory and the effects of aging on cognition, this post gave me another perspective on dealing with teens and where their self-centeredness may come from. But the comment that struck me was the mention of adults employing the same thought process! It made sense when examining behaviors of certain adults I know; another new element to reference when exploring behaviors that may not make sense at first. This was a good memory cue that personality may change very little over the course of a life span and there are recognizable traits that I learned about (but better still, remembered) by writing an exam question dated July 26, 2011:

 “Q: What are the “Big Five” Personality Traits and how does an identifying trait(s) change or adapt during development?

A: The “Big Five” Personality Traits are neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Studies have shown that traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness increase from the teen years through middle age, whereas neuroticism declines. Extroversion and openness to experience change very little or decrease slightly.  Studies have also shown that the “big five” traits are highly stable, however, across the lifespan.”  (Berk, L., Exploring Life Span Development, 2010, pg 427)

Writing exam questions was incredibly helpful in learning material. As far as the memory process involved, reading the material, writing questions about it and checking answers, is very beneficial due to the “linking” that is necessary to create the memory.  Besides typing questions, I found it beneficial to hand write them. There was something in the process of making my hand form the words in my head that helped with my memory.  

And finally, though the topic of my E Portfolio is primarily the effects of aging on cognitive abilities especially as it pertains to memory, I found learning with a group of very diverse individuals made me very aware of personality. Each person in the class was an individual, very different from the student seated next to him or her. What makes me an individual is the quality of my personality, defined in the text as “hardiness.”  I rose to the challenge of the Summer Semester course, hunkered down, worked hard, learned and REMEMBERED and didn’t quit. The qualities of hardiness were expressed in an exam question I wrote:

“Q: Hardiness is made up of three personal qualities; ___________, ___________, and ____________.

A. Control, commitment, and challenge.

(Berk, L., Exploring Lifespan Development, 2010, pg 417)

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