Working memory in the classroom and beyond

A study published in Fetal & Neonatal compared the academic performance of very preterm children (gestational age less than 31 weeks) and  term children, and what cognitive deficits might be associated with differences in academic performance.

The researchers from the University of Nottingham found after examining 48 preterm children and 17 term control children that there was a significant difference in overall academic performance. Children born very preterm scored lower in measures of “math, English/literacy, overall academic attainment, and special education needs provision”.

We’ve previously highlighted the link between working memory and academic performance:

Auditory working memory (the capacity to hold speech sounds in memory) is needed for tasks such as comparing phonemes, relating phonemes to letters, and sounding out words. Auditory working memory also helps listeners and readers understand sentences because it allows them to remember a series of words in order. It allows students to remember and manipulate sequences of sounds, associate spoken words with written words, retain new words while identifying their meanings, and remember the beginning of a sentence while listening to the end.

In that post, we referenced a study by Dr. Tracy Alloway that was published in Child Development that outlined the impact on academic performance of working memory deficits in typically developing students. This new study is unique because it identifies an underlying condition (extremely premature birth) that may contribute to the cognitive deficits that can negatively impact academic performance. However, the researcher’s came to a similar conclusion: deficits in working memory (and in the case of premature birth, processing rates) contributed significantly to poor academic performance.

Dr. Alloway has additional thoughts on the importance of working memory in our lives, both in the classroom and beyond. In addition to being critical for school-based activities (from complex subjects such as reading comprehension, mental arithmetic, and word problems to simple tasks like copying from the board and navigating the halls), working memory  seems to form a buffer for our mental health, helping ward off debilitating mental conditions like depression. Dr. Alloway has a new study underway to examine the correlation between working memory and world view; you can find more information here.

Research into brain plasticity suggests that an optimal learning environment (that features adaptive, intensive and frequent training) can improve critical cognitive functions like working memory and processing rates, which can in turn unlock improved academic performance.

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One Response to “Working memory in the classroom and beyond”

  1. Be Amazing Learning Offers Cogmed Programs for Attention Challenges « Thoughts from Be Amazing Learning Says:

    […] Working Memory in the Classroom and Beyond […]

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