Why memory matters
A recent post by Smart Speech Therapy highlighted a number of issues about the importance of working memory and the ramifications of difficulty in this area.
I have written on auditory memory before, but I thought that this area deserved another mention since there is now an additional factor that can impact on auditory memory. Namely, technology.
Auditory memory can be classified into long term memory and short term memory or working memory. The ability to recall something that happened earlier in the day or even a long time ago, is part of long term memory. This is often where confusion arises. Children often are able to recall the minute details of a birthday party or outing that they have been on, yet they have difficulty with working memory.
Working memory is the term used for temporarily storing and manipulating information so we can perform a particular task. Instead of all information going into one single store, there are different systems for different types of information. Working memory is vital because it underlies abilities in many other areas such as reading, reasoning, learning and comprehension.
In the classroom environment there are a number of activities that may rely on working memory.
a) Reading and Reading Comprehension
Early reading skills rely on the ability to connect speech sounds (phonemes) to the letters of the alphabet (graphemes). Phonological working memory also plays a key part in this. Phonological working memory refers to a process of receiving, analyzing and processing of sound elements in language. In simple terms, this is the ability to understand the the word /stop/ is made up of four sounds /s/-/t/-/o/-/p/. Children who have difficulty accessing this phonological information spend so much time decoding the words, that they have difficulty comprehending what they have read.
b) Copying information from the board
The ability to copy information from the board relies heavily on working memory. A child who is only able to copy one or two words at a time without looking up at the board again, may write down inaccurate information. Their work pace is often slower because of this, and these children are also easily distracted because they are continuously looking around.
c) Following Instructions
Children with poor working memory also have problems following lengthy instructions, because they forget the instruction before the whole sequence of actions has been completed. As a consequence, the child will often not engage properly with the normal pace of ongoing classroom activities. Often it appears that the child has not paid attention, when in fact they have simply forgotten what it is that they have to do.
There is a limit to how much information we can store in our memory and the thing about working memory is that it Within the classroom there are also a number of factors that lead to a disruption in working memory.
Distraction An unrelated thought springing to mind, or an interruption such as noise or someone speaking to the child. This results in attention being diverted and the child forgets what has to be done.
Too much information There is a limit to how much information can be held in working memory. This ranges between 3 to 5 ‘chunks’ of information. Once our memory reaches the point of ‘overload’ all the information is lost and you need to start over.
Overload Activities that require difficult mental processing, such as applying spelling rules in a dictation activity. Often the child is able to spell the words individually, but when they have to integrate this new information into a long sentence, it results in loss of other information that is already held.
The introduction of technology into teaching and learning has introduced an additional element that may impact on memory. The use of touch screen technology and apps can either reduce cognitive overload and enhance learning or contribute to cognitive overload and result in distraction. There are a number of principles identified by Mayer (2003) that should be considered when using apps particularly when working with children who have memory difficulties.
What can you do?
I addressed some strategies in my post how to improve your memory.
In addition the following strategies can be employed within the classroom:
- Keep instructions brief and simple
- Break information or instructions into individual steps.
- Ask the child to repeat the instruction.
- Reduce the complexity and length of written information.
- Encourage use of memory strategies by practicing using them with the child.
- Provide difficult to spell words or unfamiliar vocabulary on the child’s desk rather than on the board.
- Reduce the processing load when using technology by ensuring that apps follow the guidelines above
- Encourage the child to ask for help.
Difficulties with working memory are closely associated with learning deficits, as well as daily classroom activities. Without early intervention, memory deficits cannot be made up over time and will continue to compromise a child’s likelihood of academic success.