Excited to be part of an upcoming documentary by DirectTV on Technology, Learning and Memory
Where you live doesn’t have to determine your school success, according to our recent study. Instead, your working memory—your ability to remember and process information—is a much better predictor of learning outcomes.
Standing room only at the Working Memory Symposium at the annual Association of Psychological Science conference in San Francisco - thanks to great presenters!
Fantastic week sharing with a delegation that flew in from Japan to learn more about Working Memory. They even had a copy of one of my books translated in Japanese :)
Here are some of the topics we covered:
- Why working memory is the number one classroom skill
- How a poor working memory is a common thread in learning difficulties, including in those with Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia
- Why it is more important than IQ
- How focusing on working memory can improve learning
- We also talked about how small but crucial tweaks in lifestyle-like what your children eat and how much they sleep-can pay big dividends at school.
A recent article in the NYT on testing for giftedness suggests that the test scores let in the well-prepared students rather than those who are “gifted”. As a psychologist, I have heard parents bemoan the fact that their child missed acceptance into the program "by one point". While I realize that cut-offs are necessary, what exactly are we "cutting off"?
In gifted programs, where there are limited spaces, and the promise to offer a child access to wonderful opportunities and enrichment programs, parents are eager for their child to put their best proverbial foot forward. Enter the centers that offer coaching and training in everything from test taking skills to taking the test itself.
This made me wonder: What are we testing when we test for "giftedness"? Test taking skills or an ability to think creatively and innovatively?
Enter Working Memory. In my research program over the last 10 to 15 years, my goal has to been to understand the role of working memory in education. A consistent finding is that working memory is a skill that is critical for academic success as it allows us to work with information. Think of writing an essay. How well you organize your thoughts, bring out plot points, and analyze the characters’ motivations is a better indication of what you know than simply parroting characters’ names, locations, and plot turns. And working memory is necessary for the former. Indeed, research both from my own lab and others have demonstrated that working memory is linked not just to learning (from kindergarten to college), but for decision making in everyday activities.
Given that working memory is important not just to academic success, but beyond the classroom, I was interested in finding out how gifted children would fare on a working memory test. I worked with the National Association of Gifted Children and gave a group of gifted students both IQ and Working Memory tests.
The results showed no clear link between IQ score and the strength of working memory. Although all of the students had a high IQ, they didn’t all score at the top of the scale in working memory. In fact, their working memory scores ran the gamut from low to high. It seems that students with a high IQ but low working memory are more likely to be underachievers, and students with both a high IQ and a strong working memory are most likely to excel. This finding has been echoed in other published research: working memory is a stronger predictor of academic success than IQ scores.
Perhaps we should rethink what we are testing when we test for "giftedness". Maybe we should begin prioritizing the role of working memory in learning—that way, we can begin to understand how students work with knowledge, rather than just gain a snapshot of the knowledge they know.
Alloway, T.P. & Elsworth, M. (2012). An investigation of cognitive skills and behavior in high ability students. Learning and Individual Differences. ABSTRACT
Working memory abilities are closely associated with a wide range of measures of academic ability, including literacy and mathematics. The majority of those with recognised learning difficulties in these areas have working memory impairments. Poor working memory skills in the early years of education are also effective predictors of poor scholastic attainments over the subsequent school years. Screening is the first and very important step in being able to provide the appropriate intervention for children.
IMPROVEMENTS IN THE AWMA-2 (Alloway Working Memory Assessment)
- Increase the age range: Norms have been extended up to 79 years of age.
- Increase user-friendliness: The AWMA-2 is now fully automated so both the administration and scoring are presented on the computer screen. This minimizes the risk of experimenter error both in the administration of the tests and in the scoring of the test. Group testing is now easier with the fully automated version.