Answered by Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger
Recent scientific research points to the importance of working memory in the execution of classroom tasks and, consequently, learning. However, evidence that re-education is effective is lacking. Here are five tips that educators can use to address low working memory and enable students to accomplish the required tasks at the appropriate level.
Tip 1: Understand how Memory Functions
A good understanding of the interaction between different memories and the components of working memory will facilitate the work of educators. Several articles are available on the LD@school website.
Several websites have compiled different resources and training resources, including McGill University’s resource on Memory and the Brain, click here to access the McGill website and access the resource, "Memory and the Brain".
Teachers who master the main concepts of working memory will find it easier to teach them to their students. By explaining certain misunderstood processes, educators will support the development of metacognitive skills and activation in their students. The research-based article Understanding Working Memory and Learning Disabilities gives some suggested strategies for teachers, click here to visit the LD@school website and access the article on "Understanding Working Memory and Learning Disabilities".
Tip 2: Avoid Working Memory Overload
Students with LDs and working memory deficits do not have enough ‘memory space’ to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. An example often noted in the classroom consists of taking notes and listening to instructions. In order to decrease the load for the student, it is preferable to have them execute tasks one at a time. A teacher who has a good understanding of the challenges faced by a student with LDs may decide to give him/her photocopied notes so that he/she can concentrate on verbal instructions.
Another example is the addition of oral instructions regarding work that students have already begun. Because the students’ working memory is already taken up with performing the task, these oral instructions may not be processed.
Tip 3: Encourage Routines
Time-based routines will reduce the amount of information that students need to process. For example, students know that they need to take out their homework books in math class, because it’s the first thing that the teacher checks at the beginning of class. Space-based routines are also very useful. Space can be set aside on the board for activities for the day in sequence, homework, and even ‘special’ instructions. This way, students can get into the habit of checking the board before handing in their work to make sure that they haven’t ‘missed’ any instructions.
Tip 4: Set Aside Enough Time
Often, there isn’t enough time set aside in the classroom to complete all of the activities. Educators must resist the temptation to go quickly, so that students with LDs and working memory deficits can be supported. These students must be given enough time to have their questions answered, take notes, and begin the task. This quiet time will allow their working memory to clear and to be available for new instructions or new knowledge. The article “Working Memory and Cognitive Load” offers various examples of students with LDs in the area of working memory.
Tip 5: Teach Strategies
While explicit instruction in reading strategies and note-taking is beneficial for all students, it is particularly helpful for students with working memory deficits. Choose strategies that will be successful in terms of time and energy. For example, instead of asking a student to write a summary of what he or she has read, show the student how to record key words in the margin or use graphic organizers.
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Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger is the French Learning Disabilities Consultant of the LD@school team. She is completing a Masters degree in education science at the University of Quebec at Rimouski. She holds a bachelor degree in special education from the same university and a certificate in ICT integration in education (TELUQ). She is also a sessional instructor for the integration of ICT in education at the UQAR. Her current position is special teacher at the Charlesbourg Public Secondary School where she enjoys working with teenagers and a diversity of learning difficulties. Nathalie is glad to bring her contribution and expertise to the LD@school team and to network with teachers sharing the same passion for the success of students with learning disabilities.