Monday, 7 September 2020

Working Memory - A key to learning and academic performance


The integral part of learning has always been the working memory. Working memory plays a huge role in dealing with unknown (new) problems and situations. It comes in handy at times to block out irrelevant information and to precisely retrieve information from long-term memory. Working memory is equally important in learning new skills that will eventually be automated, like reading and writing. Children’s achievement in reading, writing, and mathematics go hand in hand with working memory. It helps in identifying working memory deficits in children to facilitate learning as early as possible.


Experts say that the right age for working memory to develop is between 5 to 11 years. A four-year-old can repeat an average of about three digits that have been read aloud with the undeveloped working memory pertaining to his age. Whereas a twelve-year-old is capable of reproducing about six digits. Significant changes happen until the age of 15. After 15 he/she approaches an adult ́s working memory capacity and builds basic skills such as processing speed and controlled attention, in addition to increased use of strategies such as repetition and chunking. Around the age of 26 the working memory reaches its peak. 


A student’s academic performance is immensely characterized and influenced by the working memory. This is because many academic tasks involve multiple steps. These steps include intermediate solutions and these intermediate solutions are to be remembered by the students to proceed through the forthcoming tasks.


An important fact is that low capacity leads to overload of working memory. A given task becomes tough or stressful when working memory is overloaded. If this happens frequently, it may lead to total inability. No new knowledge is available when a working memory task is not completed as no new information is stored in the long-term memory. As there isn’t any form of natural construction of knowledge bank to retrieve from, learning disability becomes significant. This becomes a major obstacle in confidence building in kids. When the frequency of learning opportunities is limited, one’s learning ability suffers.



First up, recognizing letters and their phonemes is important. Secondly, kids should know how to make phrases out of them according to the rules of the language. Thirdly, they must understand and create meaning out of the individual words in relation to one and another thereby making meaningful sentences. Finally, they understand the whole text by understanding how these sentences relate to each other. The main purpose here is understanding the text. The more working memory capacity that must be devoted to processing the words the less is left to make meaning of what has just been read.


The exact same thing applies to mathematics too. If the basic operations on numbers is familiar to you, more complex tasks can be handled. Learning digits and using strategies to facilitate arithmetic learning becomes a struggle for children with working memory difficulties. Some strategies, like counting with fingers, can increase the burden on working memory in the long run as doing so takes a lot of resources mentally and is a very slow process.


Recent studies have shown that, if working memory is actively engaged through cognitive training, it helps train your kids memory. For cognitive training to be effective:


(i)           The training should be adaptive.

(ii)          The kid should be trained regularly and over a sufficient period of time.

(iii)        The right tools for improving working memory.

(iv)        The right coach to maintain motivation and provide continuous support.


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