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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Improving Working Memory

Many people believe that one's Intelligence Quotient or IQ will define an individual's personal and academic achievement.  However, did you know that working memory is a stronger predictor of success than IQ?

What is working memory?
You are using your working memory right now as you read this article and encode the information. Working memory is our ability to comprehend, listen, take notes, and remember a sequence of events or steps in a math problem.  Examples of poor working memory are: 
  • A young student may read a word and forget it a few lines later.
  • An older student may be following a lecture until he is distracted by another student’s question and forgets what he has just heard.
It is important to know if your student (or even a spouse or employee) is ignoring directions/requests or if they have a weak working memory.

The Problem with Repetitive Instruction:
In her book, “Improving Working Memory: Supporting Students’ Learning,” Tracy Packiam Alloway states that in a recent study with students from ages 8-11, who received repetitive instructional support, that the participants were still performing at the bottom of the class two years later.  Drilling academics without improving working memory is like entering a bike race with flat tires.  If we don’t develop working memory skills (blow up the tires), the process of learning academics will be a very uncomfortable and bumpy ride.

How Can We Develop Working Memory?
Working memory can be increased with intensive cognitive training.   Let’s give our students the capacity to learn!  When I work with students, each session offers exercises that help learners understand what processing speed, working memory, and long term memory retrieval really feels like.  The following video begins with a basic processing exercise and then moves to a working memory exercise. Take a minute to watch this.  Improving Working Memory Video  

How did you do?

Some Other Options:
  • Now, take a deck of playing cards or the game Blink and simply see how quickly you can say the cards you see. I encourage you to time yourself on all of these exercises. This is your processing speed.
  • Now, alternate the cards and say the number of the first card, the color of the second card, and the shape (suit) of the third card as demonstrated in the video with the Blink cards. This is your working memory! Did you feel it?
  • Next, remove the face cards (K, J, Q, and A) and say the number you see on the first card (equal), then add +1 to the second card, and then subtract -1 to the third card.
How’d you do?

Keep Practicing:
As adults, most activities are simply routine or automatic. When students are holding two or more directions/steps in their mind and performing a task, they are using their working memory. Practice the exercises at home or at school every day for the next 8 weeks and watch your working memory improve!

By Carol Brown

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