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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Help Your Working-memory Capacity

I just read a fascinating book on increasing teacher awareness of the importance of working-memory capacity for teaching and learning strategies. Many youngsters have working memory limitations, and they usually do not grow out of them. This is a major and serious cause of low grades, poor learning skills, poor confidence, and life-long diminished motivation to learn.

Limited working-memory capacity impairs the ability to think and solve problems. I was told once by a middle-school teacher that her “special needs” students could do the same math as regular students, but they just can’t remember all the steps. This clearly reflects a limited working-memory capacity. If the demands made on working memory could be lessened, better thinking could result.

Certain strategies can help to reduce the load on working memory. Teachers should model and students should employ the following devices:

Provide help, cues, mnemonics, reminders.

KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)(example: use short, simple sentences, present much of the instruction as pictures/diagrams).

Don’t present so much information. Less can be more.

Facilitate rehearsal, using only relevant information and no distractors.

Get engaged, by taking notes, and creating diagrams and concept maps.

Attach meaning from what is already known. (The more you know, the more you can know).

Organize information in small categories.

Break down tasks into small chunks. Master each chunk sequentially, one at a time.

Doing these things not only helps the thinking process, but will also promote the formation of lasting memories. The process of converting working memory into permanent form is called consolidation, and I will explain that next time.


Gathercole, Susan E., and Alloway, Tracy P. 2008. Working memory and learning. Sage Publications,. 124 pages.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Core Neuroscience Ideas

Readers of this blog who want to have a fuller understanding on how the brain achieves learning and memory may want to know about my new e-book on Core Ideas In Neuroscience.

This modular e-book is a new kind of neuroscience textbook that can liberate professors and students from the boredom of traditional lectures. The book is designed for psychology, medical, allied health, and biology students and professionals who are tired of textbooks that tell them more than they want to know and who don’t want to spend over $100 for their neuroscience book.

This is the fast and inexpensive way to get up to speed on the core ideas in neuroscience.

Benefits for students include: important things are made explicit. Less material is easier to comprehend quickly and to remember. Book’s focus on ideas promotes active learning, critical thinking, insight and understanding. Benefits for professors include: no need to worry about students missing the important information; key concepts are succinctly presented in the book. Class time can be used for more engaging material, such as discussion and debate, clinical case studies, journal club, or design of new experiments. Each of the 75 core ideas is generally treated as a 3-5 page module in which the idea is succinctly stated and explained, with key terms defined. Then, a couple of examples are given, followed by contemporary and classic references. The book has 174 study questions, 96 figures, 545 references (including 306 citation classics), and 566 e-pages. It costs only $11.95, just 16 cents per idea.