Why is working memory so important to learning?

Paul Morgan: Working memory is the ability
to take in and then also manipulate information simultaneously. So a typical task that’s used to assess for
working memory might be when children are ready a series of numbers and then asked to
repeat those numbers in a backward order. And that’s testing this cognitive process
that they’re able to take in information, manipulate it in some kind of way. So we are finding that deficits in working
memory as well as other types of executive function increase the risk for repeated academic
difficulties. And that seems to occur across a range of
different academic domains: reading, mathematics, and science. In our final analyses, the odds ratios for
those children who are displaying deficits in executive functions, particularly in working
memory, they’re about three to five times as likely to experience repeated low academic
achievement across time as children without those deficits. I would start with children who seem to be
repeatedly struggling academically, and we’ve ruled out possible academic reasons for those
struggles. But instead, that the child is repeatedly,
across several grade levels, displaying continuing academic difficulties. The Department of Education is still collecting
data on this sample. And so, we’re planning to continue analyzing
the interplay between executive functions and academic achievement across time as the
cohort of children continue to the upper-elementary grades, fourth and fifth grade.

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