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Working Memory – what is it? And how can we improve it?

Working Memory

You’ve heard of Short-Term Memory, and Long-Term Memory – so what is Working Memory?  Working Memory is an area of the brain that we use while we are manipulating information.   Working Memory is used for carrying out complex tasks such as learning, reasoning and comprehension.  It is a limited space when comparing it to Long-Term memory, and it is also temporary.  The best analogy I have come across compares Working Memory to a diner plate.  We would use the diner plate for food and once the food is finished, we can reuse it again.  Working Memory is much the same.  We will use our working memory for a specific task, and after that is completed the area is “cleaned” and we can reuse it.

Working Memory forms part of the Executive Function of the brain.  Executive Functioning is what helps people plan, organise and complete tasks.  Working Memory is fundamental to learning.  It is through our working memory that we recall information, and can use that information for the task at hand.  Working Memory helps us pay attention, and maintain focus during a task.  For example, if a learner is performing a Long Division maths problem, it is the Working Memory that will help the learner follow the steps necessary to work out the problem.

Working Memory has two parts to it – we have an Auditory Working Memory, and a Visual Working Memory.  The Auditory Working Memory is a part we use to manipulate information we have heard and Visual Working Memory is the information we have seen.

Working memory touches all aspects of learning, and following instructions.  Issues arise for learners when their Working Memory is weak, and not functioning effectively. Going back to the plate analogy, if your plate isn’t big enough, it won’t hold enough.  I have a cousin who headed up a team of people for one of our big banks.  During a particularly stressful project one of her employees pleaded that he had “too much on his plate” and could not complete the task at hand.  My cousin retorted saying “well, get a bigger plate”.  We have often laughed about this as it is so out of character for my cousin’s personality.  If you were to meet my cousin you would never believe she could be so hard.  But what do we do when our learners “need a bigger plate”??  How do we improve learner’s Working Memory??

The good news is that working memory can be trained!  We can work on our working memory like we would exercise a muscle.  Research has shown that learners who have both auditory and visual stimuli at the same time retain the information and are able to use the information better.  This indicates that to get the best out of our working memory, we need to “feed” our brains both auditory and visual information.

To understand how our brains can use the auditory and visual parts of our working memory, let’s have a look at spelling.  A lot of learners who have working memory deficits are poor spellers.  They will learn the spelling for the week, and after the test they forget the words instantly.  What is happening here is the learners are using their Visual Memory for the spelling words, and not using their Auditory Memory.  To improve their working memory, learners need to “hear” the sounds within the words, not just visually recognise the words.  By using both the Auditory and Visual Working Memory together, the output is improved spelling.

Similarly, learners who have a poor working memory often don’t comprehend what they have read as effectively as others.  By engaging in “active reading” techniques, learners with poor working memories can hold onto more information.  Active reading involves jotting down notes, using highlighters for important sections, and reading aloud so that the learners can hear as well as see the text.

So how do we improve our child’s working memory?  Here are 8 boosters suggested by Understood.org (Morin, 2017)

  1. Work on Visual Skills
  2. Have your child teach you
  3. Suggest games that use Visual memory
  4. Play cards
  5. Active Reading
  6. Chunk Information into smaller bites
  7. Make it Multisensory
  8. Help Make the connections

References

Heyman, N. (2012, July 9). Auditory Memory: In one ear and out of the other? Retrieved from http://nikkiheyman.co.za: http://nikkiheyman.co.za/auditory-memory-in-one-ear-and-out-of-the-other/

McDougall, B. (2017, June 8). How Working Memory Gets Gobbled Up | The Importance of Letter Formation. Retrieved from https://thehappyhandwriter.co.za: https://thehappyhandwriter.co.za/how-working-memory-gets-gobbled-up-the-importance-of-letter-formation/

McLeod, S. A. (2012). Working Memory. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org: https://www.simplypsychology.org/working%20memory.html

Morin, A. (2017). 8 Working Memory Boosters . Retrieved from www.understood.org: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/learning-at-home/homework-study-skills/8-working-memory-boosters

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Importance of perception in learning to read

Auditory Perception

How do I teach my child how to read, or how do I support my young reader??

Article 1 – Perception

Working in the field of childhood learning and education, I often have interested parents asking me how they can help their kids learn to read. Often the child seems ready before the given school going age. I also have many parents ask what they can do to boost their child’s reading. This has led me to think a lot about reading – and what goes into learning to read, and how we can help kids read better.
If reading is a bicycle tyre – then the spokes are all the different strategies that go into being a reader. Think of your child as being the hub at the centre of the wheel. What you want to do is make sure there are many spokes going out to support the tyre.
There is a lot more to reading that just knowing your alphabet. In order to read children need to be able to perceive letters, be aware of the link between letter sounds and characters, blend certain letters together and have knowledge of sight words. Once you child is reading, more spokes need to be secured to the tyre – reading with comprehension, accuracy and speed. All this, plus several other things go into reading.
Much research has gone into the art of reading. Each of these strategies has been well documented in the annals of education. If you are interested there are plenty of sites you can visit. I have found several sites on the internet helpful – for example: http://www.icanteachmychild.com/10-steps-to-teaching-your-child-to-read/
Learning Tools strives to provide products that support your child through each of the phases necessary in learning to read, and to support the reading child. As there are so many parts to learning to read, I am going to look at a different aspect of reading each week, and suggest a few products that would go hand in hand with this phase.
I will look at each strategy for reading from three age perspectives too – the young child (a pre-schooler at this point); the Foundation Phase Child (currently in Grade R – 3) and the Intermediate Phase child (in Grade 4 and above)

The topics I will cover include:

• Perception
• Letter awareness
• Phonemic awareness
• Sight words
• Short vowels, long vowels, blends, digraphs and word families
• Reading with comprehension
So let’s kick this off with a quick look at perception!

Perception is the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the sense. It is also the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.
Perceptual development that is vital for a developing child’s cognitive abilities, for him to be able to socialise, develop a sense of self-awareness, master hand-eye co-ordination and memory skills. Without the ability to perceive, it is impossible for the developing child to have a real sense of who they are and how they fit into the world. This is how your child makes sense of the world.
Although there are many types of perception, the two most common areas are visual and auditory perception. So much information is processed through sight and sound, it is vital for a child to develop good perceptual skills in both visual and auditory perception.
I personally LOVE perceptual games – and I seek them out every chance I get. From puzzles, to brain teasers, I like the challenge of working out the problem.
Here are a few suggestions of some great visual perceptual games:
For the Preschooler, I particularly love the Orchard Toys range. They seem to have a good understanding of kids and their games are bright, fun and easy to enjoy. My current favourites include Pigs in Pants, and for the girls – Where’s my cupcake. Also excellent for visual perception is the Shopping List game, or the Lunch Box game.
For the Foundation Phase Child the Brain Box is outstanding. There are so many titles here, pick the one you think you child would be most interested in. I also like the Smart Games range, these often integrate perceptual skills with hand eye co-ordination.
For the Intermediate Child to Adult one of my favorite games is Swish. Swish is a Think Fun game, and can be played around the dinner table or in an airport if you are killing time. It is fun for ALL the players and it is amazing how quickly skills develop through this game. It is on my MUST HAVE list!

My other favorite is Dobble. I have a 15 year old, and a 12 year old and many relations ranging in age from 4 – 78. Dobble is suitable for ALL of them. It is a clever visual perceptual game that can be played with equal enjoyment by everyone. Try it! You won’t be disappointed.
I like most of the Think Fun games, but these are mostly solo games – in that you play by yourself, and not with anyone. Great for single children, or car journeys – but not good for around the dinner table.
Auditory perception games are a little less freely available. I found a great Sensory Prism set on my last trip overseas. They are arriving at Learning Tools in mid-November. These Sensory Prisms are great for the pre-schooler child.

The Stacker Crackers Alphabet and Stacker Crackers Sound Swap are two other excellent auditory perceptual games for the Foundation Phase children. Pop for Letters, and Pop for Rhyming are two other games that can be beneficial for auditory perception.
As children develop through the Intermediate phase into adults, auditory perception games become less common. In this phase I would highly recommend listening to audio books. Kids are constantly tested on their listening ability. Encourage them to practice their listening skills by listening to stories, and even their set work books. Modern technology has made downloading audiobooks easy. Next time you are in traffic, let your kids listen to a story! This is a vital skill for development. Listening to stories in the second language can also benefit second language acquisition.