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.