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Working memory at 5 biggest predictor of academic success

(103 Posts)
Cortina Wed 16-Mar-11 07:36:39

Have recently heard this. It's interesting that working memory and IQ are separate (although related).

Good news is studies have proved it's possible to improve a child's working memory.

Children with a poor working memory are often seen as those who don't listen & don't focus.

RoadArt Wed 16-Mar-11 07:57:58

There are lots of games available that improve the memory. Unless you do use your memory, you lose it

Gottakeepchanging Wed 16-Mar-11 08:03:12

Social factors such as family background, deprivation and the education level of the mother are the biggest predictor.

What is the research you refer to?

Cortina Wed 16-Mar-11 08:10:50

Will come back with details, fairly new research/studies I believe.

cory Wed 16-Mar-11 08:19:38

I imagine it's like any other form of exercise; you get more fit if you do it. Doesn't mean anyone can be a world class athlete- but anyone can get fitter than they were.

VivaLeBeaver Wed 16-Mar-11 08:26:03

Oh dear, we got DD assessed at age 7 for suspected dyslexia. She had mild dyslexic traits but also "the poorest working term memory" the ed psych had ever seen.

Funnily enough she does listen in class and pay attention according to her teachers. Its just that she doesn't seem to hear it or has forgotten whats been said 2 minutes later. If I send her upstairs to brush her teeth and get some socks if I'm lucky she'll do one. She'll never rememebr both, bot often won't rememebr either of them. By the time shes got to the top of the stairs she's forgotten she was sent up to do something.

She's a nightmare at school for forgetting/losing homework. But she does in spite of this seem to be doing OK. Maths is a struggle but she just got level 4 in her mock SATS (yr 5).

GooseyLoosey Wed 16-Mar-11 08:32:58

I have read this too, but it is my understanding that you are born with a finite ammout of working memory (the bit of the memory that deals with immediate recall) and nothing you do can ever change that.

There are exercises that you can do to improve how you use the memory you have, but as I understand it the research as to how well this works is limited. You can improve a child's ability to perform specific memory related tasks by repetition, but it is not clear how well that translates into improved performance in the classroom. I believe that there is research which goes both ways on this.

I can well believe that working memory is a strong predictor of accademic success. A lack of working memory means that it is difficult to process multi-layered tasks - so if you asked a child to read the instructions and then do what they asked, a child with working memory problems would not be able to retain the second part of the instructions and so would not do as asked or would forget part-way through the task. As a result, the perception would be that they could not understand the task even though in reality they might find it very easy.

slipshodsibyl Wed 16-Mar-11 09:54:48

The University of York has a department which does a lot of research into working memory.

Here is the link.

Its staff publish a lot. Susan Gathercole's "Working memory and Learning" is good. My understanding concurs with GooseyLoosey's, but it would be very nice to think that it might be improved more than we think.

My child appeared to have a poor working memory and the online test from York Uni seemed to confirm this. It turned out she had visual processing/tracking problems which are ameliorating as she matures so I would be wary of making absolute judgements about the working memory of a 5 year old. Fortunately, I think, most education professionals are careful in this way.

VivaLeBeaver Wed 16-Mar-11 10:09:14

The Ed Psych that saw DD seemed to be of the impression that it couldn't really be improved but rather we had to find ways to help her. So if I need her to do more than one thing I'm supposed to write her a list.

Gottakeepchanging Wed 16-Mar-11 10:11:11

I think there is big difference between strong predictor the title of the thread which says biggest predictor.

Fennel Wed 16-Mar-11 10:14:24

This may be true overall but there are many anomalies my dp is a good example, he has a terrible memory, he always has had. he's been extremely successful academically but only in certain subjects. Physics, maths, computing. In those subjects he's excellent, but he always used to derive formulae from scratch in exams because he found it easier than remembering them.

One of my dds has an appalling memory too, but she does OK academically. She has imagination.

slipshodsibyl Wed 16-Mar-11 10:17:12


There is quite a bit of help and info on the York website for ways to improve working memory. There is a whole university department dedicated just to research into working memory and learning.

There is a six week training course which, it claims, shows improved memory remaining when re tested after six months. This means that even if the memory slips later, that the things which were causing trouble - maths skills for example - will have been learned/solved in that six months, thus closing the gap somewhat.

ClenchedBottom Wed 16-Mar-11 10:23:14

My understanding is that there is little research showing that children transfer their improved working memory skills to wider contexts than a specific programme? - That's from reading Gathercole and Alloway's stuff - not that it stops them from promoting their own programmes! (esp Alloway)

slipshodsibyl Wed 16-Mar-11 10:54:02

Rather depressingly, ClenchedBottom, that is what I understood. I am hoping Cortina has something different to say!

IndigoBell Wed 16-Mar-11 11:25:55

I don't think you can improve your memory by doing memory games.

Lots of online 'brain training' type sites tell you that you can - but I think most of the research doesn't agree.

ilovemydogandMrObama Wed 16-Mar-11 11:32:49

DD (4) and I do simple things such as, 'what did we just buy at the grocery store...' (short term) and maybe a few long term exercises, such as, 'what did you get for Christmas/birthday...'

No idea whether this will help/improve memory, but it's fun! smile

GooseyLoosey Wed 16-Mar-11 11:59:30

Just to clarify - there is a huge difference between memory and working memory. Working memory is immediate recall. Most of us have fairly limited working memory - so if you were shown a long list of random number for a few seconds, you could remember very few. A child with working memory problems might not remember any, although they could be taught how to retain a few.

This does not mean that they have any problems recalling information that they have learned or remembering what has happened in the past. It causes problems in terms of formal eductation becuase such children cannot process intructions or tasks which they are asked to perform.

Jezabelle Wed 16-Mar-11 12:19:24

ilovemydogand. . . All those games must help a 4yo, if only with speaking and listening skills. And with sequencing skills if you are asking what was the first thing we put in the basket etc.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia much later on, (university). I have always struggled terribly with memory. Constantly forgetting keys, bag, phone etc. That thing of forgetting why I went upstairs in the first place is very familiar! Remember being advised by a SEN woman at school that I should use visual ways to remember stuff. Can't really remember the details of what she advised (ironically!)

Rather than write a list for your DD Viva, could you encourage her to visuallise what she has to do in 2 or 3 steps? Or, maybe have a velcro strip at teh bottom of stairs with a few labels to stick on in a line to remind her what she needs to do when upstair, ie brush teeth (pic of toothbrush), get bag(pic of bag), get shoes etc.

Sounds a bit laborious, but I wonder if this might help in the long term because before going off to do a few jobs in the future, she might just get into the mindset to make a conscious effort to visuallise what she needs to do, if that makes sense!

LondonMother Wed 16-Mar-11 12:28:44

GooseyLoosey, thanks for that clarification, which is important. I know v. little about this except that my daughter, who has Asperger's, has very poor working memory, according to our EdPsych report. She gets high scores on verbal and non-verbal reasoning and has a good memory in most respects, but exams are a big problem for her because of the working memory issue. She gets 25% extra time in exams because of this and I am hoping (fingers crossed) that when she goes to university she may be able to do some coursework assignments in place of exams so that she gets a fairer chance to show her ability.

There was another test result in her report which was poor - processing? Can't remember what this meant.

Cortina Wed 16-Mar-11 13:26:19

The recent studies I am referring to have been undertaken by the Centre for Leaning at the University of Stirling, UK. There have been lots of clinical trials that seem to show working memory, our ability to remember and manipulate information, can be improved.

Working memory is the most important learning skill a child can have. There seems to be growing evidence of our brain's plasticity, that it can actually change, shrink or grow, depending on what we do. Working memory has been described as the brain's post-it note, some have bigger post-it notes than others, but that needn't be a life sentence.

I don't claim to be any sort of expert but as someone with a poor working memory (I think) I am interested. Also the whole concept of brain plasticity and 'learnable intelligence' fascinates me and I hope I can use anything I learn in a positive way to help children I come into contact with, both mine and others.

harvalp Wed 16-Mar-11 14:34:05

"Physics, maths, computing. In those subjects he's excellent, but he always used to derive formulae from scratch in exams because he found it easier than remembering them.
I'm exactly the same, I've always found it easier to go back to first principles rather than try to remember. All the way through school, university and beyond.
Poor memories run in my family.

nlondondad Wed 16-Mar-11 14:45:16

However does the test measure whether the child gives a toss?

(said with feeling)

GooseyLoosey Wed 16-Mar-11 14:47:51

Sadly not - which is something that exercises me too!

Jezabelle Wed 16-Mar-11 19:25:59

GooseyLoosey, thanks for your earlier clarification re the difference between memory and working memory. I found that useful.

nlondondad, I imagine that poor working memory which leads to a child being less able to follow instructions and complete tasks that they would otherwise find easy is very frustrating and can lead to low self esteem if the child's teacher puts it down to laziness or lack of effort.

<Takes deep breath following rediculously long sentence>

IndigoBell Thu 17-Mar-11 11:18:44

Cortina, could you please link to the studies you are referring to?

I'm struggling to find them....

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