Long-Term, Short-Term and Working Memory – Bringing it all Together.

The idea of teaching Noah how to play the old-fashioned Memory game has been rattling around in my head lately.  You know the one – you put all the cards face down, and the object is to collect matching pairs.

Well, last Wednesday, Miss L, Noah’s speech therapist, played a memory game with him on the Ipad for the first time and guess what – – He got matches 90% of the time.  Surprise, surprise! 

So I was telling Andrew about it, and he raised his eyebrow the way he usually does when he doesn’t quite believe a story.  So I made up some Memory cards last night for H words, since this is H week, and this morning we played Memory.  And Noah was able to make pairs, oh, about 90% of the time. 

Of course, when I sit him down tonight to show Andrew what he can do, I’m sure his success rate will fall to 50% or so.  Why does he do that?

Short-term and working memory is huge in the learning process, so I’m excited to see it emerging so nicely in Noah.  If you think about it, whenever we learn something new, we usually are linking it to something we already remember, and then we build new information on top of the information we have just learned and are now remembering.  This is a combination of long-term, short-term and working memory all interacting with each other to bring about mastery of a new skill or subject.

We’re probably all familiar with the difference  between long-term and short-term memory, but until we’ve entered the world of special education, we have probably not ever heard of working memory.  Let me take a stab at defining all the terms.

Long-term memory:  A system for permanently storing, managing, and retrieving information for later use. Items of information stored as long-term memory may be available for a lifetime.  –  http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=15299

Short-term memory:  The capacity for holding a small amount of information in mind in an active, readily available state for a short period of time. The duration of short-term memory (when rehearsal or active maintenance is prevented) is believed to be in the order of seconds. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short-term_memory

Working memory:  The abil­ity to keep infor­ma­tion cur­rent in mind for a short period, while using this infor­ma­tion for the task at hand. Work­ing mem­ory is sup­ported by regions of the frontal lobes and pari­etal lobes. – http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2010/11/16/what-is-working-memory-can-it-be-trained/

In the case of the Memory game we played, Noah was using his long-term memory to remember that the picture of the animal with the ears and the tail was a horse, his short-term memory to remember that the top left corner card had a picture of a horse on it, and his working memory to remember that because he had flipped over another picture of a horse, he needed to go back to the top left corner and flip that card over to make a match and win an M&M. 

Another example would be the following math problem:

217-98.  Your long-term memory tells you that this is two-hundred seventeen minus ninety-eight, or 2 hundreds, one ten, seven ones minus nine tens and eight ones.  Your short-term memory allows you to recall the problem is 217 – 98.  It is your working memory that allows you, once you’ve begun to work the problem out in your mind, to remember that the ones digit of your answer is going to be 9 while you move on to borrow from your tens column and subtract 9 from 10.

 It is not enough just to remember; working memory is the means by which that memory is processed and acted upon.

Children with Down syndrome demonstrate a deficit with short-term and working memory, especially for those things they experience through their auditory channel, visual – not so much.  The importance of enhancing our children’s learning through their visual channel – here we go again!!!!  For a very good explanation of the logistics and importance of working memory follow this link:  http://www.parentingscience.com/working-memory.html.  Dr. Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. does a fantastic job of not only explaining what working memory is but also explaining what we as parents, teachers and therapists can do about it.

And can I just share a bit of encouragement with you?  I read the above-mentioned article and then went to another of her articles entitled “The science of gestures: Why it’s good for kids to talk with their hands.”  In my last post, I wrote about returning to my first love, and I quote, “I WILL be returning to my first love soon, creating and sharing printables to help with our children’s visual learning needs. I am especially leaning towards doing more with ASL and PEC-type boards and cards.”  I just love it when God uses something like this to nudge me to stay on track.

A quote from her article, and I kid you not, “And–guess what–researchers have found that kids who use their hands when they talk learn better than kids who don’t.  Hah!” 

 And that Hah! was hers, but I’ll add my own, Hah!  It’s our children, the children with Down syndrome, autism, speech and language delays, ADHD, etc., that have a hard time learning, so using proven techniques to help them learn is essential.  Have a difficult learner who is constantly using their hands when they are talking?  Let them.  Have a difficult learner who is struggling?  Teach them to use their hands.  It doesn’t have to be ASL.  You can teach prepositions by using a ball and moving it over, under, around, etc. a chair.  Have a third grader who is still using his fingers to work out math problems.  LET HIM!!!!  View Dr. Dewar’s article on gesturing and learning at: http://www.parentingscience.com/gestures.html

A couple more freebies out of this article on children using gestures –

“Gestures free up working memory.”

“Gestures help kids retain what they’ve learned in school.”

“Gestures help students solve mental rotation tasks.”

… Stay tuned for the printable H Memory game cards, coming soon.



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