Sunday, May 17, 2015

Reflections on Memory

I wanted to write something about memory before posting Executive Functions II.  I am not a memory expert, psychologist, or neurologist. I am writing about memory because of its importance for success in school.

Memory can be divided into three large categories: long term, short term, and working. Short term memory is really short. It refers to items we remember for about 30 seconds.  Most of us can hold five to nine items in short term memory, although some things we place in short term memory ultimately end up in long term memory.

Long term memory has a broader definition. It can be something remembered for a Friday test and forgotten by Saturday. It can cover the memories of the birth of our child, or our childhood home. It is why we know our name and address and the day of our favorite TV show. "Long term memories duration might be a few minutes or a lifetime."

Working memory is probably the closest we come to trying to multi-task. It requires the use of short term memory, while retrieving information from our long term memory.  It has been defined as "the ability to store and manage information in the mind for a short period of time." Doing a math problem requires working memory. We know how to add and write numbers, and we are keeping the numbers we are working on in our short term memory while calculating the answer. Reading also requires working memory.

The next aspect of memory is what we are remembering.  We have the ability to remember sounds and speech (auditory memory) and to remember what we see or picture(visual). Our other senses also have the ability to evoke memories, especially the sense of smell. 

Other than remembering where you put the baby, what does this have to do with children? Children develop better working memory with age. But research is showing that people with learning differences often have poorer working memories. Some research shows that children with dyslexia  score lower on verbal memory tasks and children with dyscalculia score lower on memory of counting tasks

Children with a poor working memory (with or without a learning difference) have problems with academics. Over 80% of children whose working memory is in the bottom 10% of the population fail to thrive academically in school. Other current research is looking at ways to improve working memory through training and medication.  

What should a parent take away from this post? 

  1. Children's working memory develops as they age, so set realistic expectations for your young child.
  2. Poor working memory is often a component of a learning difference. 
  3. Because working memory is jumping between short term and long term memory it is important that a child memorize math facts and phonics rules.  
  4. Because of difficulty in visual or spatial memory, it will take extended time and practice for a child to learn these facts and rules.
Memory also impacts executive functions. Future posts will include activities to help a child improve his memory.

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