Jul 30, 2018
No matter the subject or grade, it’s important that every student has the ability to process and store the information that they’re given. While the quality of one’s working memory is dependent on a few factors, there are several steps tutors can take with their students to help them improve.
Described as a “mental sticky note,” working memory allows students to take hold of the information they’ve been given and use it while performing a related action.
While the phrase “in one ear and out the other” is often directed towards students who just aren’t paying attention, it can be the reality for those who don’t have a strong working memory. Luckily, there are steps that tutors can take to help students get their working memory in shape.
Signs of a Weak Working Memory
Students who have issues with their working memory often showcase a few symptoms. Weak working memory means that the student is unable to hold onto all of the information they’ve been given at once, and can’t access it when performing a task.
For example, if a set of 5 steps is given for an assignment, a student with weak working memory might only remember one or two of the steps, regardless of how simple they may seem.
Students may also forget to bring home their assignments, appear as if they’re daydreaming, have trouble multitasking, and in general, have trouble progressing and improving regardless of their effort.
Steps to Strengthen Working Memory
Students who need to improve their working memory may feel discouraged, anxious, and unmotivated, especially due to the fact that a weak working memory can easily be mistaken for intentional disruption.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to improve a student’s working memory.
1. Create an environment conducive to learning
While all students benefit from an effective learning environment, students who need to improve their working memory especially need a space free of distractions. Students can easily switch gears and use their working memory to focus on their surroundings, so creating an optimal learning environment is key. Additionally, it’s important that students aren’t hungry, too hot or cold, or overly tired, as these factors can contribute to working memory issues as well.
2. Write everything down
Students with a weak working memory often can’t remember steps they’ve been given verbally. By encouraging students to write down each step to an assignment, project, or equation as they’re given, they will have a reference that can refer back to and study, giving them a better opportunity to store the information.
3. Create mnemonic devices
Mnemonic devices, or memory aids, are great tools to help students remember large pieces of information they’ve been given and can help the in process of storing information. Students may be familiar with popular mnemonic devices like the colors of the rainbow - ROY-G-BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) or the mathematical order of operations - PEMDAS (or Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally - parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, add, subtract). Students can create mnemonic devices for anything, no matter how long or short they are.
4. Activation of prior knowledge
Asking students to recall the information they learned in your previous session or at school that day can help them exercise their working memory and can encourage them to build on the material they’ve already learned. When learning a new subject, it can help to ask students what they already know about the topic, as they can then connect the new and previous pieces of information.
Regardless of where a student’s working memory stands, there are several steps they can take to improve. Subtle changes in lesson plans and studying habits can make all the difference.