So now exams are over and the Christmas holidays have begun, what better time to start blogging again. I’m annoyed at myself for my lack of posts last semester however with work and the constant reminder that we had an exam looming, updating my blog was pushed right to the back of my mind. With that said, I learned a lot during this semester which I aim to reflect upon in my future, and more regular posts.
Within 2CM5, our Education Studies module, we studied three topics of psychology – Attribution theory, Intelligence and Memory. I found the topic of Memory to have the most influence on my understanding and also educational psychology so found myself reading more and more into this field. Learning and memory, and the relationship between these, is a topic of psychology that has been researched for several decades. Spregner (1999) stated, “The only evidence we have of learning is memory” and this demonstrates that the two subjects go hand in hand. Recent research has identified that poor memory is linked to poor academic attainment and therefore it is of significant importance for teachers to be able to apply their knowledge of memory to intervene effectively to raise attainment.
Ebbinghaus was one of the first theorists who considered human memory. He started a tradition of research that became the dominant paradigm for the study in this field. Later, in 1968, Atkinson and Shiffrin proposed a new model of memory that reflected the ideology of Ebbinghaus. The terms short-term and long-term memory had been discussed throughout this period, however Atkinson and Shiffrin “crystallized these ideas into a precise theory” (Anderson, 2000). Short-term memory was created as new information was retrieved from the environment and through rehearsal it could either be entered into the long-term memory or disposed of. Although this theory has been proven to have some flaws, Atkinson and Shiffrin provided a basis for our understanding of memory today.
The terms short-term memory and long-term memory are still present today however and these will be discussed as two separate entities. Short-term memory refers to the situations in which an individual has to store material. Short-term memory is also linked to working memory, as the individual applies or manipulates the stored material, within a short period of time. Gathercole (2008) describes working memory as “a mental workspace or jotting pad that is used to store important information in the course of our everyday lives.” Working memory is a system of interlinked memory components that are located in different parts of the brain – verbal and visuo-spatial, which exist as short-term memory components, and the central executive that controls focus and is involved in the higher-level mental processes required to manipulate material for working memory. The amount of information that can be held in working memory for even a short period of time is strictly limited and if this limit is exceeded, we will forget at least some of what we are trying to remember. There is a personal limit to working memory, with each individual having a relatively fixed capacity. Forgetting information from working memory is very different from forgetting, for example, where you parked your car. In this case you can mentally retraced your steps to aid memory however when information in the working memory is lost, it is gone for good. The loss of material within the working memory, known as working memory failure, has a detrimental impact on education and this will be discussed later in this post.
Long-term memory is the memory of past experiences and knowledge gained over long periods of time. According to Gathercole (2008) there are four types of long-term memory – episodic memory, autobiographical, semantic and procedural memory. Episodic memory stores memories for specific events in the recent past – it is best at retaining the most important or notable features of events. Unless discussed or reflected upon, these mundane routinely tasks are generally forgotten unless they were a non-routine event that may be stored in a more permanent system – autobiographical memory. Autobiographical memory stores two main kinds of information – personal facts and the nature of major lifetime periods. Autobiographic memory also retains memory of significant and sometimes emotional experiences from our life. The stored knowledge, or facts, that we have acquired about the world is held in semantic memory. The final type of memory, procedural memory, is skills or actions that have been learnt through practice and become automatic.
Research developed by Dr Susan Pickering using the Working Memory Test Battery for Children demonstrated that it is working memory capacity in general that limits children’s abilities to learn. The reason that this occurs is due to the overloading of the working memory which will impair learning as the child is either forced to guess, a strategy that will more than likely lead to errors, or abandon the task before it is completed. Assessment of children’s working memory abilities very early in their school career provides a highly effective way of identifying individuals who are at risk of making poor academic progress. “Early identification is important, as it allows the opportunity for prompt intervention that can minimise the adverse consequences of poor working memory capacity on learning” (Gathercole, 2008). Recent research proved that only 25% of teachers picked up early warning signs of Working Memory failure, which would inevitably have detrimental consequences. Assessments such as the AWMA test are available to assess children’s working memory however Elliott and Gathercole (2008) created seven principles to aid children with poor working memory that will in turn allow, “learning to take place within a rich network of support that compensates for poor working memory capacity”.
Firstly they highlight the need for teachers to recognise working memory failures. Warning signs that the working memory load should be reduced include incomplete recall, failure to follow instructions, place-keeping errors and task abandonment.
Monitoring and Evaluating
Furthermore the teacher should monitor the child by assessing warning signs discussed previously and by communicating with the child using questioning and prompts – “What are you going to do next?” The practitioner should evaluate the working demands of learning activities such as the length, content and level of challenge of the task. Consider how much you are asking/expecting the child to remember such as a set of lengthy instructions or unrelated lists and break these into chunks to aid the child.
Reduction and Repetition
If necessary the teacher should reduce the working memory load. Ways in which the teacher can do this include reducing the amount of material to be stored, increasing meaningfulness and familiarity, re-structuring multi-step tasks into separate steps and provide memory aids. The teacher should be prepared to repeat instructions.
Finally the teacher should encourage the use of memory aids and develop the child’s own personal strategies for managing their working memory. Memory aids include number lines, teacher notes/instructions on the whiteboard, wall charts and well thought out classroom displays. However children should be able to practice using these tools with minimal working memory load before they apply the skill on more demanding tasks.
On reflection I wish I had read more about this in first year prior to my placement. Naively I expected the children to remember all of my instructions and provided them with activities that exceeded all pupils’ working memories. In future practice I will always write step-by-step instructions on the whiteboard, provide memory aids such as number squares or words lists and ensure displays aid learning.
Have a look at my Working Memory Pinterest board where I will be pinning materials that I think are useful for Working Memory. How would you assess and combat poor working memory? Have you seen any good strategies during placement to aid memory?
References and Additional Reading:
Anderson, J. (2000) Learning and Memory: An Integrated Approach. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley
Gathercole, S. & Alloway, T. (2007) Understanding Working Memory: A Classroom Guide. Available at: https://www.york.ac.uk/res/wml/Classroom%20guide.pdf [Accessed: 21/12/15]
Gathercole, S. (2008) Working Memory and Learning: A practical guide for Teachers. London: SAGE Publications
Alloway, T. (n.d) Alloway’s Guide to Working Memory. Available at: http://junglememory.com/ckeditor_assets/attachments/67/JM-Booklet-3.pdf