School Psychology

Work For Your Memory

October 15, 2017

Short-term or Working Memory? I can’t remember.

Often the processing areas of short-term memory and working memory are used interchangeably, but there is an important difference.  Short term memory is the ability to hold information in your memory and immediately repeat it.  For example, if I tell you a phone number and you immediately repeat it back to me.

Working memory is part of short-term memory.  The first step is getting the information in your short-term memory, but when you process it in memory and then formulate a response it becomes working memory.

We all have a natural limit to the amount of information we can hold in our short-term memory AND the amount of time we can hold it there.  If a student has a weak working memory it can lead to difficulties processing complex material.  This student will need more time and energy to learn new information.  Information has to make it to working memory before it can ever go to long term memory.  Thus, it is vital for learning to occur.

Often people will stay they are a visual or auditory learner, but the truth is we use our entire brain and all senses when learning.  Current research supports utilizing multiple pathways through multisensory teaching.  This allows students to create multiple pathways in the brain strengthening connections and making it easier to recall information.

It is important to consider the limits of working memory because around 1 in every 10 individuals struggles with working memory.  So how can it impact academic achievement for these students?  Students may struggles to learn letter names, letter sounds, and identify words.  When reading long passages weak working memory skills can impair a student’s ability to remember all of the details.  In math, solving problems with multiple steps can be difficult.  In writing, a weak working memory can have a negative impact on spelling, formulating thoughts, and sequencing.  These students may struggle with following directions given orally, not due to defiance or lack of motivation, because of their difficulty to remember the information.  It can also impact their ability to verbally express information and their thoughts.

If you read the comprehension knowledge post last month you know that’s an area that can grow.  However, unlike comprehension knowledge research has not found any method to increase working memory.  However, there are several strategies and accommodations that can support children who struggle with working memory.

For example, writing information down, making it meaningful, and making it memorable are key components.  These students need to practice more and have information repeated more often.  They will need information broken down into manageable tasks as well as to spend more time with it.  Anytime you can create a hands-on experience or personalize information it will be more meaningful making it memorable.  Thoughtfully placing the student in an area with minimal distractions can help them focus their attention.  Make sure you have the student’s attention before giving directions.  Break down directions into steps that are given orally and in writing.  You can have the student paraphrase the directions back to you to ensure understanding.  A peer helper can repeat information or explain directions to the student.  Highlight or underline key information in text for struggling students. Providing students with copies or notes rather than requiring them to write notes or copy from the board. An alternative is to use a cloze method and have student fill in the blank in provided notes.  Use a song or rhyme to help a student remember rote information.  These strategies will help your students get the most out of their memory.

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