Working Memory

The concept of feeling overwhelmed by a lot of new information can occur because of overload in a special sort of memory that is typically termed ‘working memory’. It refers to the relatively small amount of information that one can hold in the mind, attend to and use when needed. Cowan, described the working memory as ‘an activated part of long-term memory.’

The part of the brain that specialises in processing visual, spatial, auditory, phonological, tactile and kinaesthetic information is called the Focus of Attention. This is in the activated section of long term memory and is governed by external events, e.g., a sudden noise that makes you turn your head or goal – directed behaviour like reading a book. The Focus of Attention is located in the parietal lobes, this is interesting because one of the main functions of the parietal lobes is the integration of sensory information. This is significant for learners, as new skills need to be taught in different senses simultaneously, for instance in a multisensory way. A good analogy for learners with a working memory deficit is a heavy school bag. The learner packs everything they think they may need for the day, the week and even the term so they don’t forget anything. This is exhausting for the student as they struggle to hold it all together!

A significant problem for a child with a poor working memory is learning their times tables, remembering letter to sound correspondence and comprehension. This is why structure is needed for the learner – to provide a framework in which the relevance of information is clear. Knowing how the facts are inter-related enables the student to remember them as part of a connected whole.

To help with this memory splashes need to be made, greater the splash the more likely it is that the information will be retained. Success can be achieved through using a variety of methods and strategies to practice and use the information for retrieval. The more synapses that can fire and seeing information in a variety of places and modes help make a more significant memory splash.

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