WORKING MEMORY & LEARNING

3 key facts from my research:

 ·      Working memory is a significant predictor of learning success. My research has confirmed that working memory capacity at 5 years old is a better predictor of educational outcomes than IQ, even six years later.

·      1 in 10 students have a low working memory. In my study of over 3000 students, I found that 10% have working memory impairments that lead to learning difficulties.

 ·      A student with a low working memory will not ‘catch up’ with their peers. As part of my government-funded grants, I have conducted large-scale screening studies of thousands of children and found that without early diagnosis, working memory impairment negatively impacts a student’s performance throughout their school career.


ADHD & WORKING MEMORY

Children with ADHD are 4x more likely to have visual working memory problems compared to peers without attention problems.

1. Core Deficit: Students with ADHD have a difficulties inhibiting behavior, which may manifest itself as trouble in controlling actions and emotions at school.

2. Working Memory Profile: Impairments in both verbal and visual–spatial working memory, but visual–spatial working memory is most affected. As the lead on a government-funded project, I found that as a result of poor working memory, students with ADHD struggle in all areas of learning. They can also find it difficult to cope with simple tasks in the classroom, such as following instructions, keeping track of where they need to be, and remembering to do their homework.

3. Strategies: Let them squirm! For the student with ADHD, movement has a purpose. It helps them focus and stay attentive to a task. In the student with ADHD, certain parts of the brain are less active - like the prefrontal cortex – which is responsible for working memory and attention. The extra physical movement can increase activity and result in improved learning. So it’s not about reducing movement in those with ADHD but about how to channel it.


AUTISM & WORKING MEMORY

Low-functioning students with ASD have impairments in verbal working memory profile that impacts language. Poor visual working memory can play an important role in their struggles.

1. Core Deficits: Students with ASD have impairments in communication and social skills.

2. Working Memory profile: Poor visual working memory has many impacts. It can affect students with autism in the classroom, as well as on the playground. In the classroom, poor visual working memory can make it harder to understand math concepts, and even solve simple arithmetic. Visual working memory functions like a mental blackboard, so it's difficult for children with autism to carry out addition and subtraction problems in their head.

Additionally, poor visual working memory can also affect social interactions. Individuals use visual working memory to read body language and other social cues, so they can respond accordingly. A student with autism may struggle with processing the nonverbal communication from their peers, resulting in the social complications they often experience.

3. Strategies: Give one task at a time and simplify activities; also minimize distractions and physical overstimulation so working memory can be directed on schoolwork instead of the classroom environment.


DYSLEXIA & WORKING MEMORY

Children with dyslexia have poor auditory working memory, which results in poor reading and comprehension.

1. Core Deficit: Students with reading difficulties have difficulty with phonological awareness (learning and discriminating sounds of words), which impacts spelling, reading, and writing.

2. Working Memory Profile: Impairments in verbal working memory, but average visual-spatial working memory.

3. Strategies: Shorter instructions and activities; and reduce working memory processing in classroom activities.


MATH DIFFICULTIES & WORKING MEMORY

1.     Core Deficit: Students with math difficulties have poor number sense, which results in difficulties learning number rules and arithmetic facts in younger children, and solving complex arithmetic and word problems in older children.

2.     Working Memory profile: Impairments in visual–spatial working memory. Young students (5-7 years) can also have verbal working memory deficits, while older students (8 years and older) may have average verbal working memory.

3.     Strategies: Automatize math facts and use visual representation to minimize working memory processing.



MOTOR DIFFICULTIES (DCD) & WORKING MEMORY

1.     Core Deficit: Students with DCD have difficulties with fine and gross motor skills, as well as visual problems.

2.     Working Memory Profile: Impairments in visual–spatial working memory: Students with DCD are 7x more likely to have poor visual–spatial working memory compared to typically developing peers.

3.     Strategies: Shorter instructions and activities; and reduce visual-spatial working memory processing in classroom activities.


WORKING MEMORY TRAINING

Students with learning difficulties were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Half of the students trained with Jungle Memory (Training group), while the other half received extra tutoring (Active Control).

Pre Training: I measured their working memory, IQ, and grades. Students in the Training and Active Control were at the same level. This is important because it means that any improvements the student makes is the result of the training and not because they started at different levels.

Post Training: The Training group showed improvements in IQ, working memory, and most importantly, in grades. The increase in their grades was the equivalent of a C to a B, and a B to an A in just 8 weeks!