Working Memory in School

Working Memory in School

This section looks at the close relationship between Working Memory and grades. The better the Working Memory, the better the Grades.

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Will it be an A or a C?

Working Memory is so important to learning that it determines their grades. In a longitudinal study over 6 years . . .

In a longitudinal study over 6 years, Working Memory scores at 5 years of age predicted grades in Reading, Spelling, and Math when students were 11 years old. This means that Working Memory is so important to learning, that by knowing how good your student’s Working Memory is, we know what grades they will get. In this study, students with good Working Memory received higher grades while those with poor Working Memory received lower grades.

Reference: Alloway, T.P. & Alloway, R. G. (2010). Investigating the Predictive Roles of Working Memory and IQ in Academic Attainment. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 106, 20-29.

Abstract: There is growing evidence for the relationship between working memory and academic attainment. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether working memory is simply a proxy for IQ or whether there is a unique contribution to learning outcomes. The findings indicate that children's working memory skills at 5 years of age were the best predictor of literacy and numeracy 6 years later. IQ, in contrast, accounted for a smaller portion of unique variance to these learning outcomes. The results demonstrate that working memory is not a proxy for IQ but rather represents a dissociable cognitive skill with unique links to academic attainment. Critically, we find that working memory at the start of formal education is a more powerful predictor of subsequent academic success than IQ. This result has important implications for education, particularly with respect to intervention. ARTICLE

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From Kindergarten to College

Working Memory determines learning at all ages. Over 20 studies have found . . .

Over 20 studies have found that Working Memory determines early learning skills in kindergarten to SAT scores in college students. This means that Working Memory plays a huge role in your students’ scholastic career. Whether they are learning how to learning to read or how to write a college research paper, Working Memory determines how well they will do.

Reference: Alloway, T.P., Gathercole, S.E., Adams, A.M., & Willis, C., Eaglen, R., & Lamont, E. (2005). Working Memory and Other Cognitive Skills as Predictors of Progress towards Early Learning Goals at School Entry. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 23, 417-426.

Abstract: This study investigates whether working memory skills of children are related to teacher ratings of their progress towards learning goals at the time of school entry, at 4 or 5 years of age. A sample of 194 children was tested on measures of working memory, phonological awareness, and non-verbal ability, in addition to the school-based baseline assessments in the areas of reading, writing, mathematics, speaking and listening, and personal and social development. Various aspects of cognitive functioning formed unique associations with baseline assessments; for example complex memory span with rated writing skills, phonological short-term memory with both reading and speaking and listening skills, and sentence repetition scores with both mathematics and personal and social skills. Rated reading skills were also uniquely associated with phonological awareness scores. The findings indicate that the capacity to store and process material over short periods of time, referred to as working memory, and also the awareness of phonological structure, may play a crucial role in key learning areas for children at the beginning of formal education. ARTICLE

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1 of 10

In a line of 10 children, at least 1 will stand out with poor Working Memory. Psychologists tested over 3000 children . . .

Psychologists tested over 3000 children and found that, 10-15% of students in a mainstream classroom had poor Working Memory. Common difficulties included forgetting lengthy instructions, missing out letters or words in a sentence, and struggling to remember and process information at the same time. 

Reference : Alloway, T.P., Gathercole, S.E, Kirkwood, H.J., & Elliott, J.E. (2009). The Cognitive and Behavioral Characteristics of Children with Low Working Memory. Child Development, 80, 606-621.

Abstract: This study explored the cognitive and behavioral profiles of children with working memory impairments. In an initial screening of 3,189 five- to eleven-year-olds, 308 were identified as having very low working memory scores. Cognitive skills (IQ, vocabulary, reading, and math), classroom behavior, and self-esteem were assessed. The majority of the children struggled in the learning measures and verbal ability. They also obtained atypically high ratings of cognitive problems/inattentive symptoms and were judged to have short attention spans, high levels of distractibility, problems in monitoring the quality of their work, and difficulties in generating new solutions to problems. These data provide rich new information on the cognitive and behavioral profiles that characterize children with low working memory. ARTICLE

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Class, Open Your Math Book

Students with poor Working Memory struggle to follow a teacher’s instructions. When a teacher asks them to . . .

When a teacher asks them to open their put away their lunch boxes, take out their math book, and open to page 167, the students with poor Working Memory forgot the instructions and couldn’t keep up with their class. From the very beginning, they were playing catch up. By the time they found the right page, the teacher had already moved on to the next activity. Because Working Memory is critical to remembering the instructions and carrying out the task, those with poor Working Memory are easily overwhelmed, and can give up before they’ve begun.

Reference: Gathercole et al. (2008). Working Memory Abilities and Children's Performance in Laboratory Analogues of Classroom Activities. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22; 1019-1037.

Abstract: Laboratory analogues of classroom activities on which children with low working memory skills have been observed to perform very poorly were developed and employed in two studies. In Study 1, 5- and 6-year-old completed one task involving recalling spoken sentences and counting the numbers of words, and another task involving the identification of rhyming words in spoken poems. Poorer performance of low than average working memory children was obtained on the recall measure of both tasks. In Study 2, 5- and 6-year-old children heard spoken instructions involving the manipulation of a sequence of objects, and were asked either to perform the instructions or repeat them, in different conditions. The accuracy of performing but not repeating instructions was strongly associated with working memory skills. These results indicate that working memory plays a significant role in typical classroom activities that involve both the storage and mental manipulation of information. ARTICLE

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How Do You learn?

Working Memory helps you leapfrog any Learning Style limitation. It doesn’t matter if your student is a Wholistic . . .

It doesn’t matter if your student is a Wholistic or Analytic, Verbalizer or Visualizer. Learning style refers to how your student thinks about information. Wholistic learners prefer to organize information into wholes; while Analytic learners break them down into parts. But this research shows that it doesn’t matter how they learn as much as how good their working memory is. High schoolers with good Working Memory were able to quickly adapt to and excel whether or not the lesson matched their learning style.

Reference: Alloway, T.P., Banner, G., & Smith, P. (2010). Working Memory and Cognitive Styles in Adolescents’ Attainment. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 567-581.

Working memory, the ability to store and process information, is strongly related to learning outcomes.The aim of the present study is to extend previous research on early learning and investigate the relationship between working memory, cognitive styles, and attainment in adolescents using both national curriculum tests and teacher-based assessments.A group of 164 13-year-olds from a school in England were recruited.They took tests of working memory and cognitive styles. The school provided the attainment scores.Working memory was found to be the predictor of learning outcomes in English, Maths, and Science, as well as all teacher assessments. There was also a significant interplay between working memory, styles, and attainment. For students with high working memory, their style preference does not impact attainment. Students most at risk were analytics with low working memory as they performed worse in the most subjects.The findings suggest that the interplay between working memory and cognitive styles can be useful in developing suitable interventions to support students. ARTICLE

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