What do you remember?

                          memory 4

This week’s post is all about memory. I have encountered many students lately that struggle with memory, so I thought I would  provide some suggestions on how to cope with memory struggles.

Did you know there are different types of memory?  

The general types are long-term memory, short-term memory, and working memory. (There are many more sub-types, but we won’t go into that here!) What is the difference?

  • Long-term memory: Long-term memory is our brain’s system for storing, managing, and retrieving information.

  • Short-term memory: Short-term memory is the very short time that you keep something in mind before either dismissing it or transferring it to long-term memory.

  • Working memory: Working memory is  an even shorter time that our brains hold on to information long enough to use it on a task being presented to us.

For today’s purposes… we are going to focus on Working Memory.  This is a very important part of how we learn AND how we use what we learn.

The following information is taken from the research of Dr. Tracy Packiam Alloway  and Understanding Working Memory: A Classroom Guide .

A good example of an activity that uses working memory is mental math.

  1. Imagine trying to multiply 43 and 27 together that is  spoken to you by another person, without being able to use a pen and paper or a calculator.

  2. First of all, you would need to be able to hold the two numbers in working memory.memory 3

  3. The next step would be to use learned multiplication rules to calculate the products of successive pairs of numbers, adding to working memory the new products as you go along.

  4. Finally, you would need to add together the products held in working memory, resulting in the correct solution.

  5. Without working memory we would not be able to carry out this kind of complex mental activity in which we have to manipulate information in our minds while processing other material. 


What impacts working memory skills?

  1. Distraction. An unrelated thought springing to mind, or an interruption such as a telephone ringing or someone speaking to us, can be sufficient to divert attention from the contents of working memory so that its contents are quickly lost.

  2. Trying to hold in mind too much information. There is a limit to how much information can be held in working memory. For example, most of us would not be successful in attempting to multiply the numbers 739 and 891 in our heads, simply because the amount of information that has to be stored in the course of this calculmemory 5ation exceeds the capacity of most people’s working memory.

  3. Engaging in a demanding task. Activities that require difficult mental processing, such as applying the rules of multiplication during mental math, reduce the amount of space in working memory to store information. This can result in a loss of other information that is already held.

    Once information has been lost from working memory it is gone for good. The only possible way forward is to start the process of entering information into working memory again.


So what happens if you don’t have efficient working memory skills?

  • Typically, children with poor working memory:

    • are well-adjusted socially

    • are reserved in group activities in the classroom, rarely volunteering answers and sometimes not answering direct questions

    • behave as though they have not paid attention, for example forgetting part or all of instructions or messages, or not seeing tasks through to completion

    • frequently lose their place in complicated tasks that they may eventually abandon

    • forget the content of messages and instructionsmemory 1

    • make poor academic progress during the school years, particularly in the areas of reading and mathematics

    • are considered by their teachers to have short attention spans and also to be easily distracted.


What can we do to help?

1. Recognize working memory failuresmemory 6

  • Working memory failures typically manifest themselves in frequent errors of the following kinds:

    • incomplete recall, such as forgetting some or all of the words in a sentence, or of a sequence of words

    • failing to follow instructions, including remembering only the part of a sequence of instructions, or forgetting the content of an instruction (for example, the child correctly remembers to go to Mrs Smith’s classroom as instructed by the teacher, but once there cannot remember the content of the message to be given)

    • place-keeping errors – for example, repeating and/or skipping letters and words during sentence writing, missing out large chunks of a task

    • task abandonment – the child gives up a task completely.

  • If these types of activity failure are observed, it is recommended that the working memory demands of the task are considered and if believed to be excessive, the activity should be repeated with reduced working memory loads.



2. Monitor the child

  • It is important to monitor the child’s working memory regularly in the course of demanding activities. This will include:

    • looking for warning signs of memory overload

    • ask the child directly – for example, ask for memory 7details of what s/he is doing and intends to do next.

    • In cases when the child has forgotten crucial information:

      • repeat information as required

      • break down tasks and instructions into smaller components to minimize memory load

      • encourage the child to request information when required.


3. Evaluate the working demands of learning activities

  • Activities that impose heavy storage demands typically involve the retention of significant amounts of verbal material with a relatively arbitrary content. Some examples of activities with working memory demands that are likely to exceed the capacities of a child with working memory deficits include:memory 9

    • remembering sequences of three or more numbers or unrelated words (e.g. 5, 9, 2, 6 or cat, lion, kangaroo)

    • remembering and successfully following lengthy instructions (e.g. Put your sheets on the green table, arrow cards in the packet, put your pencil away, and come and sit on the carpet)

    • remembering lengthy sentences containing some arbitrary content to be written down

    • keeping track of the place reached in the course of multi-level tasks (e.g. writing a sentence down either from memory or from the white board)


4. Reduce working memory loads if necessary

  • In order to avoid working-memory-related failures, working memory loads in structured activities should be decreased. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including:

    • reducing the overall amount of material to be stored (e.g. shortening sentences to be written or number of items to be remembered)

    • increasing the meaningfulness and degree of familiarity of the material to be remembered

    • simplifying the linguistic structures of verbal material (e.g. using simple active constructions rather than passive forms with embedded clauses in activities involving remembering sentences, and in instructions)

    • reducing processing demandsmemory 10

    • re-structuring multi-step tasks into separate independent steps, supported by memory aids if possible

    • making available and encouraging the use of external devices that act as memory aids for the child; these include ‘useful spellings’ on white boards and cards, providing number lines, and printed notes to store information that needs to be remembered.


5. Be aware that processing demands increase working memory loads

  • Although children may be capable of storing a particular amount of information in one situation, a demanding concurrent processing task will increase working memory demands and so may lead to memory failure, as illustrated in the two examples below of children with working memory deficits.memory11

    • Example 1: The children in Nathan’s class were asked to identify the rhyming words in a text read aloud by the teacher. They had to wait until all four lines had been read before telling the teacher the two words that rhymed: tie and fly. This task involves matching the sound structures of a pair of words, and storing them. Nathan was unable to do this, although he was able to remember two words under conditions where no concurrent processing was required.

    • Example 2:  An activity in Jay’s class involved the teacher writing number sequences on the white board with some numbers missing. She counted the numbers aloud as she wrote them, and asked the class what numbers she had missed out. In each case, there was more than one number missing (e.g. 0, 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8). In this activity, the child has to use his/her number knowledge to identify each missing number, and store them. On all occasions, Jay was unable to identify the missing numbers. In such cases, steps should be taken to modify the learning activity in order to reduce working memory loads.


6. Frequently repeat important information

  • It is good practice when working with children with working memory deficits to regularly repeat information that is crucial to ongoing activities. This will include:memoy 12

    • general classroom management instructions

    • task-specific instructions (what the whole activity consists of, broken down into simple steps)

    • detailed content intrinsic to an activity (e.g. the particular sentence to be written) Children should also be encouraged to request repetition of important information in cases of forgetting.


7. Encourage the use of memory aids

  • A variety of tools that support memory are in common use in classrooms – these include:

    • number linesmemory 13

    • Unifix blocks and other counting devices

    • cards

    • personalized dictionaries with useful spellings

    • teacher notes on the class white board

    • wall charts.

  • These tools can help in several different ways to reduce working memory loads – they may reduce the processing demands of the activity (e.g. useful spellings and Unifix blocks), and they may also reduce the storage load of the task and so help the child keep their place (e.g. number lines). However, many children with working memory problems often struggle to use such tools, possibly because of the initial cost of mastering the new skill. It is therefore recommended that children are given practice in the use of memory aids in situations with minimal working memory demands in order to establish mastery of the basic skill, before their use in more complex activities with higher working memory loads.


8. Develop the child’s use of memory-relieving strategies

  • Children with working memory deficits are typically aware of when they have forgotten crucial information, but often do not know what to do in such situations. An important role for the teacher is to encourage the child to develop strategies for overcoming memory problems. These will include:

    • use of rehearsal to maintain important informationmemory 14

    • use of memory aids

    • organizational strategies – breaking tasks down into component parts where possible

    • asking for help when important information has been forgotten.:





Hope you found something useful in today’s post!

Have a great week!
🙂 Cindy


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