This is the final article in our working memory series. Our thanks to Dr Richard Skelton for this fantastic article on working memory training.
Working Memory provides children with the foundations to learn across the curriculum. We can improve Working Memory, holding promise to accelerate children’s achievement.
Working Memory is a fundamental ability that enables children to learn and achieve across the whole curriculum. In fact, Working Memory is a large part of what is called ‘intelligence’. In fact, tests of Working Memory alone can predict children’s National Curriculum achievement better than full IQ tests. Working Memory is so important to learning, that some leading researchers and educators are calling it the ‘New IQ’.
If children use their Working Memory so much during learning, what would happen if we improved it? What would a child look like if their Working Memory suddenly improved? If you are thinking – “they’d be better at school” or “they’d be more intelligent” – you’re spot on! Fundamentally, if we can improve children’s Working Memory, we can help children become better able to achieve throughout the curriculum.
Recent advances in our understanding of the human brain have demonstrated that we can actually help to improve children’s Working Memory capacity. In fact, we have long known that the brain changes when we intensively practise a skill. For example, we can actually see that the brains of skilled musicians are roughly 25% larger in certain areas than non-musicians. Until recently, Working Memory seemed as if it was a bit more stubborn and unchangeable. As it turns out, although complex, we now know how to train in just the right way to lead to improvements.
A useful metaphor for understanding how this training works is to think of the brain as a bit like a muscle. For instance, we use our arm muscles to lift things such as a pen, phones mugs of tea and thousands of other small movements every day. Using it in this way helps to stop it from wasting away, but lifting up a pen won’t strengthen our arm muscles. Instead, if we want to increase our muscles, we have to stretch them to their limits by lifting heavy weights. The heavier the weights, and the more frequent we lift them, the bigger our muscles get. In the same way, to increase children’s Working Memory we need to provide them with a range of targeted activities which actively stretches their capacity in just the right way.
This is an exciting time for schools. We now know that we can improve children’s Working Memory, and there are more and more ways in which schools are achieving this. While the first demonstrations came from computerised programmes, there have more recently been pioneering advances into developing practical programmes for the classroom – after all, wouldn’t it be great if we could improve the intelligence of every child in our class? These programmes are being increasingly used as a core part of the schools day around the country, and are helping thousands of children to thrive. Beyond training children’s working memory and increasing their capacity to learn, children often feel a renewed sense of confidence in their learning (imagine if you suddenly got smarter!), and teachers are gaining a whole new insight into how children are able to learn (finally being able to gain a glimpse into the inner workings of a child’s mind!).
Dr Richard Skelton, Child and Educational Psychologist, creator of MeeMo.
MeeMo is a whole-class working memory programme proven to improve working memory ability at KS2, find out more here.
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