Working Memory Helps Children Do Well at School

working memory advantageWhat is working memory?

Working memory is “a brain system that provides temporary storage and manipulation of the information necessary for such complex cognitive tasks as language comprehension, learning, and reasoning.” – Science (1992)

Why is working memory so important?

Working memory is important for helping children to learn

Working memory helps children who are in preschool:

  • learn the alphabet
  • focus on short instructions
  • remain seated to complete independent activities

It helps children who are in elementary school:

  • with reading comprehension
  • with mental arithmetic
  • interact and respond appropriately in peer activities

It helps children who are in middle school:

  • do their homework independently
  • plan and pack for an activity
  • solve multi-step math problems, like worded math problems
  • participate in team sports

It helps children in high school:

  • get their driver’s license and drive safely
  • understand social cues and respond to the demands of a social situation
  • write essays and reports

weak working memory function can have a significant negative impact on an individual all the way through to adulthood.

Working memory function affects academic performance in school

In a longitudinal study over 6 years, Working Memory scores at 5 years of age predicted grades in Reading, Spelling, and Math when students were 11 years old.

The findings indicate that children’s working memory skills at 5 years of age were the best predictor of literacy and numeracy 6 years later. IQ, in contrast, accounted for a smaller portion of unique variance to these learning outcomes. The results demonstrate that working memory is not a proxy for IQ but rather represents a dissociable cognitive skill with unique links to academic attainment. – Experimental Child Psychology (2010)

There is a close association between working memory ability and scholastic progress in language, math, and science throughout the schooling years.

The findings indicate that the capacity to store and process material over short periods of time, referred to as working memory, and also the awareness of phonological structure, may play a crucial role in key learning areas for children at the beginning of formal education. – The British Psychological Society (2005)

Poor working memory function has been linked to common difficulties in school, including lengthy instructions, missing out letters or words in a sentence, and struggling to remember and process information at the same time.

“The majority of the children [with low working memory scores] struggled in the learning measures and verbal ability. They also obtained atypically high ratings of cognitive problems/inattentive symptoms and were judged to have short attention spans, high levels of distractibility, problems in monitoring the quality of their work, and difficulties in generating new solutions to problems.” - Child Development (2009)

Children with poor working memory function struggle to keep up with the teacher’s instructions in class which can significantly affect their learning in school.

“working memory plays a significant role in typical classroom activities that involve both the storage and mental manipulation of information. working memory overload is likely to result in task failures that will inevitably impair their rates of learning.” - Applied Cognitive Psychology (2008)

Working memory compensates for learning style limitations

Children have different learning styles which can impact their ability to learn new material depending on how it is presented. The limitations of their individual learning styles can be overcome by having a good working memory.

“For students with high working memory, their style preference does not impact attainment. Students most at risk were analytics with low working memory as they performed worse in the most subjects.” - Educational Psychology (2010)

Early intervention is important

Children with working memory problems are often either misdiagnosed for attentional problems or they are missed entirely. The research indicates that early detection and intervention is important because the deficits cannot be made up over time and it can continue to compromise the likelihood of the children’s academic successes. – Experimental Child Psychology (2010)

Younger children (below the age of 10 years) showed significantly larger benefits from verbal working memory training than older children (11-18 years of age). – Developmental Psychology (2013)

The indications are that working memory training works better for younger children.

Training working memory function

Jungle Memory

Jungle Memory is an online working memory training program for children that is scientifically proven to work.

About the program:

  • it is for children age 7 to 16 years old
  • it runs for a duration of 8 weeks
  • it should be practice a minimum of 4 times a week for best results
  • it can be played on any computer with an internet connection
  • it adapts to your child’s individual learning, progressively getting harder as your child improves
  • it allows you to track your child’s progress
  • it is backed by science
  • it comes with 5 booklets and 10 videos covering everything you need to know about working memory
  • it costs $49.99 (you can get 15% off with our promotional code: figur8)

More ways to train working memory


Books: Redefining Intelligence and Achieving Greatness

Scott Barry Kaufman has been on the radar in recent times after I came across a number of his articles on Beautiful Minds - a blog on Scientific American. A psychologist, author, and science writer, Kaufman focusses a lot on two subjects that are very near and dear to me – intelligence and creativity.

One of the most interesting things about Kaufman that caught my attention was that when he was a child, he was relegated to “special education” because he had an auditory learning disability. A chance encounter with a special education teacher changed everything. Now he is a psychology professor at New York University with a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale. He is also the award winner for the 2011 Daniel E. Berlyne Award from the American Psychological Association for outstanding research on aesthetics, creativity, and the arts by a junior scholar, and the 2011-2012 Mensa International Award for Excellence in Research. If you haven’t already seen it, you can hear about his personal story that he shares on Tedx:

Last year, Kauffman published two books (one he wrote and the other he edited) that I must have in my collection:

Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined

Ungifted Intelligence Redefined

About this Book

Child prodigies. Gifted and Talented Programs. Perfect 2400s on the SAT. Sometimes it feels like the world is conspiring to make the rest of us feel inadequate. Those children tapped as possessing special abilities will go on to achieve great things, while the rest of us have little chance of realizing our dreams. Right?

In Ungifted, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—who was relegated to special education as a child—sets out to show that the way we interpret traditional metrics of intelligence is misguided. Kaufman explores the latest research in genetics and neuroscience, as well as evolutionary, developmental, social, positive, and cognitive psychology, to challenge the conventional wisdom about the childhood predictors of adult success. He reveals that there are many paths to greatness, and argues for a more holistic approach to achievement that takes into account each young person’s personal goals, individual psychology, and developmental trajectory. In so doing, he increases our appreciation for the intelligence and diverse strengths of prodigies, savants, and late bloomers, as well as those with dyslexia, autism, schizophrenia, and ADHD.

Combining original research, anecdotes, and a singular compassion, Ungifted proves that anyone—even those without readily observable gifts at any single moment in time—can become great.

You can read more about it here.

The Complexity of Greatness : Beyond Talent or Practice

The Complexity of GreatnessAbout this Book

What are the origins of greatness? Few other questions have caused such intense debate, controversy, and diversity of opinions. In recent years, a large body of research has accumulated that suggests that the origins of greatness are extraordinarily complex. Instead of talent or practice, it’s talent and practice. Instead of nature or nature, it’s nature via nurture. Instead of practice, it’s deliberate practice. Instead of the causes of greatness in general, it’s the determinants of greatness specific to a field. The Complexity of Greatness brings together a variety of perspectives and the most cutting-edge research on genes, talent, intelligence, expertise, deliberate practice, creativity, prodigies, savants, passion, and persistence. A variety of different domains are represented, including science, mathematics, expert memory, acting, visual arts, music, and sports. This book demonstrates that the truth about greatness is far more nuanced, complex, and fascinating than any one viewpoint or paradigm can possibly reveal. Indeed, it suggests that the time has come to go beyond talent or practice. Greatness is much, much more.

* * *

A little steep at $67, I would have omitted this from the list if it weren’t for the fact that this book contains contributions from a host of contributions from the likes of Darold Treffert, K. Anders Ericsson, Ellen Winner and many others. Just check out the contents…

  1. Greatness as a Manifestation of Experience-Producing Drives – Wendy Johnson
  2. If Innate Talent Doesn’t Exist, Where Do the Data Disappear? – Dean Keith Simonton
  3. Where Does Greatness Come from? A Treasure Hunt without a Map – Samuel D Mandelman and Elena L Grigorenko
  4. Whither Cognitive Talent? Understanding High Ability and Its Development, Relevance, and Furtherance – Heiner Rindermann, Stephen J. Ceci, and Wendy M. Williams
  5. Young and Old, Novice and Expert: How We Evaluate Creative Art Can Reflect Practice or Talent – James C. Kaufman, John Baer, and Lauren E. Skidmore
  6. Prodigies, Passion, Persistence, and Pretunement: Musings on the Biological Bases of Talent – Martha J. Morelock
  7. Savant Syndrome: A Compelling Case for Innate Talent – Darold A. Treffert
  8. Mindsets and Self-Evaluation: How Beliefs about Intelligence Can Create a Preference for Growth over Defensiveness – Paul A. O’Keefe
  9. Giftedness and Evidence for Reproducibly Superior Performance: An Account Based on the Expert-Performance Framework – K. Anders Ericsson, Roy W. Roring, and Kiruthiga Nandagopal
  10. Yes, Giftedness (aka “Innate” Talent) Does Exist! – Francoys Gagne
  11. My Exploration of Gagne’s “Evidence” for Innate Talent: Is it Gagne Who is Omitting Troublesome Information so as to Present More Convincing Accusations – K. Anders Ericsson
  12. Scientific Talent: Nature Shaped by Nurture – Gregory Feist
  13. The Promise of Mathematical Precocity – Linda E Brody
  14. Memory Expertise or Experts’ Memory? – John Wilding
  15. Practice and Talent in Acting – Tony Noice and Helga Noice
  16. The Rage to Master: The Decisive Role of Talent in the Visual Arts – Ellen Winner and Jennifer E. Drake
  17. Music in Our Lives – Jane Davidson and Robert Faulkner
  18. Creating Champions: The Development of Expertise in Sports – Paul R. Ford, Nicola J. Hodges, and A. Mark Williams

Well, perhaps a little heavy reading and possibly unnecessary if you’re only interested in the “how to” rather than the “why”.

If you can wait, I’ll be writing about it after I read them. Otherwise, feel free to get your own copy…

Mindfulness Training Can Improve Working Memory, Reading Comprehension, and Task Focus

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong /

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong /

In a previous post, we learned about the benefits of meditation (in particular “mindfulness meditation”) for modifying alpha brain waves and improving learning and memory processes. Recently, I stumbled upon an article that talked about how mindfulness improves reading ability, working memory, and task-focus.

The Study: Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering

  • 48 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to either a class that taught the practice of mindfulness or a class that covered fundamental topics in nutrition.
  • baseline tests were conducted with a modified verbal reasoning test from the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and working memory capacity (WMC) test. Mind-wandering during both tests was also measured.
  • after two weeks, both groups were tested again and they found that the mindfulness group significantly improved on both the verbal GRE test and the working memory capacity test. They also had less mind-wandering during testing. These changes were not observed with the nutrition group.

How Can You Practice Mindfulness Meditation?

There are lots of programs you can join but if you want to get started quickly, these articles provide a lot of helpful information:

Alternative Activities for Mindfulness?

The essence of mindfulness meditation is to be present and fully attentive to what is happening right now. I don’t know if it can be considered to have the same effect as mindfulness meditation but whenever I was rock climbing, I was always very conscious of my present state. Can it be said that any activity that forces you to give your full attention to the “now” can be substituted for mindfulness meditation and allow you to reap the same benefits? I wonder…

Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Even if you aren’t after working memory benefits or reading comprehension, I believe mindfulness meditation is an important activity for today’s ultra-busy society where everyone is multi-tasking with their thoughts at almost every waking moment of the day.