Literacy 7-12

Systems Change
Literacy 7-12 > Factors > Working Memory

Working Memory

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Working Memory, a component of executive functioning, is what allows us to temporarily hold and manipulate information in mind to apply in other processes. With our Working Memory, we recall and apply the knowledge stored in our Short- and Long-term Memories to understand what we are reading and to plan and structure our writing. Because Working Memory is limited in its capacity, if Working Memory becomes overtaxed, a student may seem to be distracted because they are having difficulty recalling and using information when they read and write.

Main Ideas

Working Memory can also be called updating as it involves working with and updating information in memory. One influential model of Working Memory lays out four components, each considered to have a limited capacity. These separate components are responsible for maintaining verbal Working Memory, visual and spatial Working Memory, and for integrating information from these components while serving as a link between Working Memory and Long-term Memory. In addition, there is an executive control system which directs activities within these systems, including shifting and focusing Attention between them.

Cognitive load is another important element of Working Memory and refers to the amount of mental effort being expended by Working Memory during different tasks. Cognitive Load Theory proposes that instruction can be designed in a way that reduces some components of cognitive load:

  • Intrinsic: The cognitive load that results from characteristics (e.g., difficulty) of the content being learned by the student;
  • Extraneous: The cognitive load that results from how the content is presented (e.g., visuals) to the student; and
  • Germane: The cognitive load required to create permanent schemas, or concepts, in Long-term Memory. Once schema are made, it is easier to hold information that fit within those schema in Working Memory.

While the executive functions Inhibition and Working Memory are very much related processes and show similar developmental trajectories in childhood, they become more distinct processes during adolescence. The rapid development of the brain during adolescence leads to improvements in Working Memory capacity and efficiency.

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