Steven’s teacher gives the class an assignment to write a story about a pod of whales.  Steven begins to look for his journal in his desk, but can’t seem to find it among the other books and papers. His classmates have their journals on their desk, organizing their thoughts and have begun to write a story about a pod of whales.

In the corner of the classroom, Steven notices the pet hamster is drinking water and exercising on his squeaky wheel.  A friend has just dropped his pencil and Sally is raising her hand to ask a question.

Trying to ignore these distractions, Steven finally finds his journal and attempts to create and organize sentences to complete the assignment.  Sounding out words, stringing them into a sentence, and remembering correct spelling has always been a challenge for him.   Not to mention, remembering sentence structure and punctuation.  In only a few minutes, Steven is over-whelmed, slams his pencil on the desk muttering to himself, “I hate writing!”

Working memory limitations play a key part in Steven’s challenges.  Filtering out distractions, remember directions, organizing thoughts while focusing to get the assignment done require an effective working memory.

What is Working Memory?

“Psychologists use the term ‘working memory’ to describe the ability to hold information in our mind and mentally manipulate that information over short periods of time.” (Gathercole, 2007)

In other words, working memory can be thought as our mental “post-it note.” We make mental scribbles of what we need to remember in our brain and manipulate this information to complete a task. In addition to remembering information, we also use working memory to process information, ignore distractions and be organized.

Recognize Working Memory Challenges

  • Place-keeping errors in reading, writing and procedures
  • Difficulties remembering facts and directions
  • Slow Retrieval of Information (processing speed)
  • Poor attention to detail
  • Fatigues easily when reading or completing other school work.
  • Difficulty with controlling emotions and/or behaviors.
  • Challenges starting tasks/finishing tasks
  • Negative impact on academic skills

For some students, learning is like entering a bike race with flat tires. Without the support for their working memory, these students were not able to make much progress in their learning.  Fortunately, there is hope for struggling students!

Instructional Strategies for Working Memory Challenges

  • Reduce Memory Load – Break tasks into smaller chunks
  • Repeat and Review – Provide shorter/more frequent sessions throughout the day
  • Graphic Organizers – A pictorial way of organizing information https://www.eduplace.com/graphicorganizer/
  • Encourage the use of memory aids – Rhymes, songs, patterns, assistive technology
  • Motor Memory – A type of movement in which the muscles become familiar over time.  Linking learning to a muscle memory activity can enhance retrieval of that learning more quickly.
  • Color Coding –  Color code information can help trigger students’ to remember information

Working Memory Training

Over the years, there has been a growing interest in the possibilities of enhancing individual’s working memory through brain training.  In 2001, a neurologist named Torkel Klingberg from the Department of Neuropediatrics, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden was one of the first neurologists to used his knowledge of working memory to create a working memory training program called Cogmed Working Memory Training.

When selecting a working memory training program, make sure that the program meets SharpBrains (an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of neuroscience recommends) Brain Training Evaluation Checklist  “http://sharpbrains.com”/resources/10-question-evaluation-checklist/