Communicating research to support the evolution of teaching

Ensure that the boxes on the right have different colours which are matched with any other ref to this workshop.

Working Memory in the Classroom: linking research and practice

Professor Susan Gathercole

Director of MRC-Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge

Professor Gathercole set the scene by explaining that ‘working memory’ (WM) is generally used as a more up to date term for “short-term memory” and that it is considered to be, “the capacity to hold material in mind and manipulate as necessary for brief period”. It acts as a mental work space in which it is possible to hold a series of instructions or steps of a calculation until the task is completed.

However, the capacity is limited and if some or all of the information is lost, for any reason, it cannot be retrieved. WM capacity increases with age up to around 15 years and then declines in old-age. However it varies considerably within cohorts so, for example, an 8 year old child in the bottom 10% of the WM capacity range has WM equivalent to that of an average 5 year old. In contrast an 8 year old child in the top 10% of the WM capacity range has WM equivalent to that of an average 13/14 year old which is almost that of an average adult.

Children with restricted WM capacity often have associated difficulties in their learning and 80% with poor WM fail to achieve their expected levels of attainment in either reading or maths and typically both. Among other things these children have difficulty in following instructions, often ‘forget’ where they are up to with a task and appear to have short attention spans and /or are easily distracted. Many teachers recognize the behaviours of these children but are unaware that poor WM might be the problem.

2nd October 2014

Faculty of Education
University of Cambridge

Workshop Mediator
Derek Bell
Director of Learnus
Professor of Education, College of Teachers

This was the third workshop in a series entitled
"Understanding Learning - is it all in the brain?"