Letter to the Editor: Response to WHAT KIDS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEIR WORKING MEMORY | 2 Min Read

Dear Editor, Intrepid Ed News,

The article What Kids Need to Know About Their Working Memory | Deborah Farmer Kris gives readers some really important information about how working memory functions. However, it misses one key point.

As the article points out, working memory is not the same as attention. This is important. Kids may be paying attention, but be unable to hold information in working memory long enough to act on it.  Unfortunately, parents or the teacher may assume that they weren’t paying attention when we ask them to put their books away, wash their hands and set the table.  They may have been paying excellent attention, but by the time they get to the second or third step of the instructions, the information has disappeared — their brains just don’t hold onto it.

The other important information the article provides is about chunking information. This is a “hack” that is very helpful. Kris describes this type of technique as a workaround to address the limits of working memory.  

We use workarounds when we can’t fix the thing we’re working around.  But is that the case with working memory?  Do we really need a workaround for working memory?

Working memory has limits, for sure; human beings can’t hold an infinite amount of information in working memory.  But that doesn’t mean that workarounds are the only or even the most effective approach.

This missing point in Kris’s article is that working memory can be developed. And it can be developed in a way that enables that greater capacity to be used in academics and everyday life.

Like other cognitive skills, working memory can be developed with the right kind of cognitive training. It is important to point out here that some working memory programs that focus exclusively on working memory yield improvements in scores on working memory tests but don’t lead to the transfer of those skills to reading, math, and other aspects of everyday functioning.

When cognitive skills are trained in a comprehensive and integrated way, growth in working memory capacity and other cognitive processes does transfer.

In one study, students with weaker working memory used cognitive training software three to five times a week for 30-45 minutes for a period of 12 weeks. Following their cognitive training, the students had closed the gap on average for working memory and experienced significantly greater growth in reading and math than students who didn’t have the cognitive training experience. 

Students do need to know about working memory.  They need to know that how much information it can hold is limited. They need to know how to work around those limits. And they need to know that they can develop working memory (and all sorts of other cognitive processes).  

Kind Regards,

Betsy Hill, President, Brainware Learning Co., and Roger Stark, CEO/Founder, Brainware Learning Co.

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