Working Memory


How do you remember things? Can you retain what you have learned? How effective is your working memory?

Learning is a complex task that depends on
a wide range of thinking skills working together:
working memory.

Working memory is a person’s ability to temporarily hold and manipulate information for thinking tasks that are performed on a daily basis.

To successfully master the steady stream of daily instruction, a student depends mainly on working memory skills. Examples of these skills include following directions or performing mental math.

Think of working memory as a mental scrapbook
that allows you to store and manipulate information
while engaging in other tasks.

To store verbal, visual, or spatial information a learner first brings it into short-term memory (a component of working memory). Once there, a learner focuses attention to manipulate the information for a relatively short period of time. An example of this process at work would be to remember someone’s lock combination.

Short-term is a key point, as experts explain that we can only hold about seven items at one time in our short-term memory. The magic number seven approximates a person’s memory span and the relatively limited amount of information a person can hold in memory while working on a variety of thinking tasks. As student brains develop between the ages of five and eleven, the capacity to hold and manipulate information in working memory also grows.

It is important to point out that WM capacity grows across time, especially between the ages of five and eleven. However, within any given class of students, there will be differences in student WM capacity and in classroom performance.

Attention span influences working memory, as does student motivations, anxiety, and fatigue. If, for any reason, a students’ attention is disturbed, his or her opportunity to learn temporarily decreases because attention is essential to maintain information in working memory.

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