Understanding Working Memory – A Classroom Guide

Click on the image for the full report but here is a brief summary of Working Memory and why it is important. The guide offers solutions to classroom issues.

What is Working Memory?

Psychologists use the term ‘working memory’ to describe the ability we have to hold in mind and mentally manipulate information over short periods of time. Working memory is often thought of as a mental workspace that we can use to store important information in the course of our mental activities

When do we use working memory?

We typically use working memory as a sort of mental jotting pad in situations when there is no other external record such as written notes or a calculator.

Why is working memory crucial for learning?

Working memory is important because it provides a mental workspace in which we can hold information whilst mentally engaged in other relevant activities. The capacity to do this is crucial to many learning activities in the classroom. Children often have to hold information in mind whilst engaged in an effortful activity. The information to be remembered may, for example, be the sentence that they intend to write while trying to spell the individual words. It could also be the list of instructions given by the teacher while carrying out individual steps in the task.

Why is working memory important in classroom learning?

Many of the learning activities that children are engaged with in the classroom, whether related to reading, mathematics, science, or other areas of the curriculum, impose quite considerable burdens on working memory. Activities often require the child to hold in mind some information (for example, a sentence to be written down) while doing something that for them is mentally challenging (such as spelling the individual words in the sentence). These are the kinds of activities on which children with poor working memory struggle with most, and often fail to complete them properly because they have lost from working memory the crucial information needed to guide their actions. As a result, the children may not get the learning benefit of successfully completing an activity, and this slows down their rates of learning.