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Working Memory and Processing Speed

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Working memory skills are used for all learning tasks. A child with weak working memory skills has to work harder than other students to keep information in mind, as rather than being able to both hold and process the information, the child is working hard just to hold the information. Many students with weak working memory skills lose new information before it can be processed, making learning difficult. When a child also has a slow processing speed, it becomes even harder to hold on tothe new information before it is lost.

My favorite theory of working memory is by Baddeley and Hitch (1974). They created a multicomponent model of working memory. This theory describes two “slave systems” for short-term storage of information, and a “central executive” which integrates and coordinates the slave systems. The slave systems include the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad.

The phonological loop stores phonological information (that is, the sound of language). The visuo-spatial sketchpad stores visual and spatial information. The important information presented by the current theories is that working memory can be strengthened with mental training. That is why a program like Cogmed can be effective for people with working memory weakness. However, in addition to building working memory skills, students need to learn metacognitive strategies to help them learn how to learn. Students who have weak working memory skills usually also have poor executive functioning skills, using metacognitive strategies can help build executive functioning skills. Here is a link to an article I wrote about metacognitive strategies. REPLY

Classroom Recommendations and Accommodations:

For students with Weak Working Memory Skills

  1. Help students organize the information they hear in meaningful ways, including chunking the information into shorter steps or connecting new information with previously learned information.

  2. Preview new concepts with students so they know what to expect – this will decrease stress and help with attention and engagement in the classroom.

For students with Weak Executive Function/Memory Skills/Processing Speed

  1. Build strategies to help students analyze, prioritize, and execute specific steps in a given assignment.

  2. Encourage students to think through responses and take their time; many students with processing speed issues develop a compensatory strategy to rush through in order to finish work in time; these students would benefit from slowing down to process the information more deeply.

  3. Teach students to stop and read directions carefully prior to starting a task.

  4. Break down tasks and follow the order-checking work along the way.

  5. Build memory skills by building associations to preexisting knowledge.

  6. Rehearse new information to help encode it.

  7. Encourage students to visualize what they are going to do before they begin a task.

  8. Teach students strategies to increase engagement such as use of reminders (which can be set on devices such as the iPhone) to help build attention, awareness, structure and independent work habits.

  9. Teach students to use self-talk to organize learning and performance strategies and to focus attention on tasks.

  10. Teach students strategies to help recall information, such as PAR:

  11. P= Picture it. A= Associate it R= Review it.

For students with Weak Visual-Perceptual Strategies

  1. Use of graphic organizers to depict information visually and increase retention of ideas.

  2. Note-taking techniques that will present and summarize heard information visually.

  3. Exercises to sharpen the ability to attend to visual detail and to express similarities and differences between images.

For students with Weak Processing Speed/ fine motor skills

  1. Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half.

  2. Provide extra time for students to complete in-class assignments.

  3. Train students in time management techniques to become aware of the time that tasks take.

  4. Teach typing skills to enable students to type as fast as they think.

  5. Allow students to use the computer for all writing tasks.

For students with Weak Organization of Language

  1. Students may have excellent ideas but have difficulty organizing their thoughts. Building pre-writing will help them express their ideas more clearly.

  2. Review of writing formats (Narrative, Expository, Descriptive, Compare/Contrast, Persuasive) would facilitate and structure written expression.

  3. Reinforce the writing process for students in a systematic manner (Brainstorming or clustering, writing, editing). The Inspiration Program is a creative computer tool that helps students brainstorm and organize their ideas before writing.

For students with Weak Reading Comprehension Skills

  1. The SQ3R approach is recommended as an approach to studying information from text books

  2. Teach students to preview reading material prior to class to ensure they are able to follow along during class time

  3. Teach students to take notes at the end of each chapter of books they read. This will not only aid comprehension but assist in studying or finding information quickly when writing an essay

  4. Pull out keywords and main ideas while reading to help put what students are learning into context

Hopefully students’ academic achievement will improve as they build strategies to help overcome areas of challenge. Building the student’s ability, and developing strategies to understand directions is the first step to helping students start tasks. Teaching how to break down and organize the steps to complete tasks will allow students to finish the tasks they start. As these skills are developed, it is hoped that students will be able to complete tasks in a timely manner, thereby increasing their processing speed.

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