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How Teachers Can Support Working Memory

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Skills

Working Memory

How Teachers Can Support Working Memory

A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.
— Colin Powell

Working memory helps you hold multiple bits of information in short-term memory (about 15-30 sec) so you can apply them during multi-step tasks. It is sometimes referred to as the mind’s mental scratchpad.

When It Matters

Students use working memory when they do mental math, need to remember the details of a conversation, follow multi-step directions, or translate in a foreign language. They might understand what they need to do, but don't always have the information at their fingertips to do the task. Supporting students' working memory can help them follow directions and problem solve, so they have the key information they need when they need it.

What To Keep In Mind When Supporting Your Student

  1. Students with weaker working memory may think they dont understand the material when the real problem is they are having a hard time juggling the information they need to do the work.
  2. Knowing and understanding that working memory is the source of this problem is very important in helping students maintain self-confidence and persevere through the challenge. Help your student recognize what they do understand and that specific strategies will help them keep the information they need at their fingertips.
  3. Note that stress, anxiety and depression can interfere with working memory. Supporting your student with strategies will be even more important during more stressful times.

Top Go-to Strategies

  1. Make sure your student is focused on one task at a time. Multi-tasking puts a large strain on working memory.
  2. Encourage your student to get into the habit of always using scrap paper. If students write down the steps they took, they can easily back up if they don't remember, as well as catch potential mistakes.
  3. Teach students how to double check their work and use checklists to remember what to look for. Remind them that double checking is always easier if they have written notes.
  4. When writing, encourage your student to first get all ideas down. They can worry about grammar, spelling, or details later.
  5. While reading, teach students to stop and summarize if they are forgetting what they read. It might need to be after a few lines, after each paragraph or after each page depending on the student and the text.
  6. Memorizing and having automaticity with vocabulary, formulas, and facts will put less stress on working memory.
  7. Allow students to use reminders, a page of facts or a calculator when they need. This could include specific dates when answering history questions or a list of transition words when writing an essay.
  8. Ultimately, it is most important that your student begins to recognize and adapt when a weaker skill is interfering in learning. Middle or High School students can use this checklist to become more self-aware of their working memory.
  9. Find additional ideas for a student who has an IEP or 504 Plan here.