As a former homeschooling mom and current learning center owner, I am constantly watching out for different learning strategies to be used with students. I stumbled across an article describing the connection between learning, focus, behavior and working memory and I became excited! The article stated that learning, focus and behavior could be improved by strengthening working memory skills for students (and adults). Since that time, I have been on a journey to discover more about working memory. Here is what I have learned so far…
A Little Background About Working Memory
Working memory is a basic mental skill that is important for learning. It allows us to hold on to new information in our mind, so we can turn around and use it in some way.
Our current understanding of working memory is a relatively new one, proposed by United Kingdom scientists Baddeley and Hitch (1974). They discovered an alternative form of short-term memory, which they called working memory.
Our working memory also helps us process information quickly (processing speed), ignore distractions (focus) and self-regulate (control behavior).
How is Working Memory Important for Learning?
One way to think of working memory is to picture it like the brain’s “post-it notes.” We make mental scribbles of what we need to remember.
For instance, we use working memory when we read. Our ability to understand and remember what we have read (comprehension) is dependent on an effective working memory.
We use working memory when we write. While thinking about a topic, we need to sequence details, craft multiple sentences and remember punctuation to complete the assignment.
We use working memory to solve math problems. Our working memory allows students to “see” the numbers as symbols, remember the sequence for completing long division problems and hold information in our minds while we solve word problems.
Why is Working Memory Important?
Students need a strong working memory for effective and efficient learning.
Students with small working memories often struggle to learn because they are unable to hold in their minds sufficient information to allow them to complete the task.
When working memory becomes overloaded, students are likely to struggle to achieve normal rates of learning and academic progress.
For some students, learning is like entering a bike race with flat tires. Without the support for their working memory, students are not able to make much progress in their learning.
According to Tracy Alloway in a 2009 study, it was found that students with poor working memory scores could not fully absorb information taught in the classroom and this inability to learn continued the cycle of academic/behavioral struggles.
Why Have I Not Heard About Working Memory and Learning?
The link between working memory and learning is a rather new field in America.
Many current teachers and educational professionals were not trained in “Educational Neuroscience,” as it is not offered in many American universities However, in the United Kingdom, Educational Neuroscience is considered mainstream and educational professionals are well versed in accommodations and working memory training for their students.
Can Working Memory be Improved?
Absolutely! There are two approaches to helping students with their working memory skills: accommodations (how the information taught and presented) and working memory training (tasks to promote rewiring of the brain.)
Reduce the student’s working memory load
- Break tasks into smaller chunks
- Provide written directions
- Keep information brief and to the point
Encourage Memory Aids
- Use graphic organizers
- Provide multi-sensory instruction
- Help the student make lists
- Color-code when introducing new information
- Use highlighters for important learning
- Use color-coded sticky notes as a way to organize
Repeat and Review
- Provide opportunities to repeat information
- Have the student teach the information to a parent/sibling
- Use short instructional sessions
- Implement sorting actvities
For additional accommodation resources:
Working Memory Training:
Another option to improve working memory is to participate in working memory training.
Currently, the most researched working memory training program is Cogmed. Commonly provided through the professionals in the medical community, Cogmed Working Memory Training is now available through select educational practices.
Cogmed Working Memory Training is an online training program that is completed at home on the family’s computer. During the training, there are 25 training sessions to be completed over a 5 week period. Once the initial training has been completed, an additional 100 maintenance sessions are provided.
For some students, improving working memory skills has been the missing piece to a challenging learning/behavior puzzle. Helping children (and adults) strengthen their learning, focus and behavior is now at our fingertips!
For additional working memory training resources
What is the future of Educational Neuroscience and Working Memory?
The sky is the limit!
According to the Stanford Report, “As methods of imaging the brain improve, neuroscientists and educators can now identify changes in children’s brains as they learn, and start to develop ways of personalizing instruction for kids who are falling behind.”
“These new imaging techniques will ultimately let researchers see how those connections change as children learn. “This is going to be very well established in a few years,” said McClelland, the director of the Stanford Center for Mind, Brain and Consumptio
Carleen M. Paul, M.S., ET/P is the ‘Working Memory Mentor’ and owns Skills for Success Leaning, a Cogmed Certified Practice. She and her staff specialize in assisting families of children with academic and behavioral challenges, as well as, adults through improved working memory skills.