Working memory is one of the brain’s cognitive executive functions, and it describes the ability to use and recall information stored as memories in the brain to complete tasks. Students with strong working memory skills can remember and apply crucial information and use memory strategies to recall information. They follow multi-step directions, utilize strategies to stay on track and minimize distractions to stay focused on their work.
Students who have not yet developed skills for working memory have a short attention span and are often distracted by their environment. They have difficulty concentrating on schoolwork and often forget what they should be doing. They struggle to remember a series of directions and rarely finish tasks containing multiple steps. Students who struggle with working memory frequently need help to stay on track.
Goals to work towards for working memory development may include:
• Remember information and directions
• Recognize distractions and stay focused
• Redirect to the work at hand and complete tasks
When working towards these goals, it is helpful to show students different strategies to strengthen their ability to recall and apply information they have stored in their memories. Those strategies can utilize combinations of seeing, saying, writing, and doing so students can begin to determine which techniques prove to be the most effective for them. Because students who struggle with working memory also have a difficult time with sustained attention, it is also necessary to teach how to recognize and manage distractions so they can begin to maintain focus. It is important to remember that students who have not yet developed this skill are often seen as unmotivated or uninterested, when that is often not the case, and providing redirection will give them the ability to practice their new strategies while establishing working memory habits.
Working memory greatly increases a student’s ability to learn and succeed, and providing students with the strategies to practice working memory is a lasting gift.