Working memory helps children do well at school. It is “a brain system that provides temporary storage and manipulation of the information necessary for such complex cognitive tasks as language comprehension, learning, and reasoning.” – Science (1992)
Why is working memory so important?
Working memory is important for helping children to learn
Working memory helps children who are in preschool:
- learn the alphabet
- focus on short instructions
- remain seated to complete independent activities
It helps children who are in elementary school:
- with reading comprehension
- with mental arithmetic
- interact and respond appropriately in peer activities
It helps children who are in middle school:
- do their homework independently
- plan and pack for an activity
- solve multi-step math problems, like worded math problems
- participate in team sports
It helps children in high school:
- get their driver’s license and drive safely
- understand social cues and respond to the demands of a social situation
- write essays and reports
A weak working memory function can have a significant negative impact on an individual all the way through to adulthood.
Working memory function affects academic performance in school
In a longitudinal study over 6 years, Working Memory scores at 5 years of age predicted grades in Reading, Spelling, and Math when students were 11 years old.
The findings indicate that children’s working memory skills at 5 years of age were the best predictor of literacy and numeracy 6 years later. IQ, in contrast, accounted for a smaller portion of unique variance to these learning outcomes. The results demonstrate that working memory is not a proxy for IQ but rather represents a dissociable cognitive skill with unique links to academic attainment. – Experimental Child Psychology (2010)
Working Memory Ability is Closely Associated with Scholastic Progress
There is a close association between working memory ability and scholastic progress in language, math, and science throughout the schooling years.
The findings indicate that the capacity to store and process material over short periods of time, referred to as working memory, and also the awareness of phonological structure, may play a crucial role in key learning areas for children at the beginning of formal education. – The British Psychological Society (2005)
Children with Weak Working Memory Have Difficulties in School
Poor working memory function has been linked to common difficulties in school, including lengthy instructions, missing out letters or words in a sentence, and struggling to remember and process information at the same time.
“The majority of the children [with low working memory scores] struggled in the learning measures and verbal ability. They also obtained atypically high ratings of cognitive problems/inattentive symptoms and were judged to have short attention spans, high levels of distractibility, problems in monitoring the quality of their work, and difficulties in generating new solutions to problems.” – Child Development (2009)
Children with poor working memory function struggle to keep up with the teacher’s instructions in class which can significantly affect their learning in school.
“working memory plays a significant role in typical classroom activities that involve both the storage and mental manipulation of information. working memory overload is likely to result in task failures that will inevitably impair their rates of learning.” – Applied Cognitive Psychology (2008)
Working memory compensates for learning style limitations
Children have different learning styles which can impact their ability to learn new material depending on how it is presented. The limitations of their individual learning styles can be overcome by having a good working memory.
“For students with high working memory, their style preference does not impact attainment. Students most at risk were analytics with low working memory as they performed worse in the most subjects.” – Educational Psychology (2010)
Early intervention is important
Children with working memory problems are often either misdiagnosed for attentional problems or they are missed entirely. The research indicates that early detection and intervention is important because the deficits cannot be made up over time and it can continue to compromise the likelihood of the children’s academic successes. – Experimental Child Psychology (2010)
Younger children (below the age of 10 years) showed significantly larger benefits from verbal working memory training than older children (11-18 years of age). – Developmental Psychology (2013)
The indications are that working memory training works better for younger children.
Training working memory function
- Does working memory training work?
- Working memory is the key to brilliance
- Qualities that children need to be successful
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