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Working memory: a better predictor of academic success than IQ?

Work­ing mem­ory is the abil­ity to hold infor­ma­tion in your head and

via Flickr (Plasticinaa)

Pic: Flickr (Plasticinaa)

manip­u­late it men­tally. You use this men­tal work­space when adding up two num­bers spo­ken to you by some­one else with­out being able to use pen and paper or a cal­cu­la­tor. Chil­dren at school need this mem­ory on a daily basis for a vari­ety of tasks such as fol­low­ing teach­ers’ instruc­tions or remem­ber­ing sen­tences they have been asked to write down.

The main goal of our recent paper pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Child Psy­chol­ogy was to inves­ti­gate the pre­dic­tive power of work­ing mem­ory and IQ in learn­ing in typ­i­cally devel­op­ing chil­dren over a six-year period. This issue is impor­tant because dis­tin­guish­ing between the cog­ni­tive skills under­pin­ning suc­cess in learn­ing is cru­cial for early screen­ing and intervention.

In this study, typ­i­cally devel­op­ing stu­dents were tested for their IQ and work­ing mem­ory at 5 years old and again when they were 11 years old. They were also tested on their aca­d­e­mic attain­ments in read­ing, spelling and maths.

Find­ings and Edu­ca­tional Implications

The find­ings revealed that a child’s suc­cess in all aspects of learn­ing is down to how good their work­ing mem­ory is regard­less of IQ score. Crit­i­cally, work­ing mem­ory at the start of for­mal edu­ca­tion is a more pow­er­ful pre­dic­tor of sub­se­quent aca­d­e­mic suc­cess than IQ in the early years.

This unique find­ing is impor­tant as it addresses Read the rest of this entry »

10% Students may have working memory problems: Why does it matter?

Work­ing mem­ory is our abil­ity to store and manip­u­late infor­ma­tion for a brief time. It is typ­i­cally mea­sured by dual-tasks, where the indi­vid­ual has to remem­ber an item while simul­ta­ne­ously pro­cess­ing a some­times unre­lated piece of infor­ma­tion. A widely used work­ing mem­ory task is the read­ing span task where the indi­vid­ual reads a sen­tence, ver­i­fies it, and then recalls the final word. Indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in work­ing mem­ory per­for­mance are closely related to a range of aca­d­e­mic skills such as read­ing, spelling, com­pre­hen­sion, and math­e­mat­ics. Cru­cially, there is emerg­ing research that work­ing mem­ory pre­dicts learn­ing out­comes inde­pen­dently of IQ. One expla­na­tion for the impor­tance of work­ing mem­ory in aca­d­e­mic attain­ment is that because it appears to be rel­a­tively unaf­fected by envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences, such as parental edu­ca­tional level and finan­cial back­ground, it mea­sures a student’s capac­ity to acquire knowl­edge rather than what they have already learned.

How­ever lit­tle is known about the con­se­quences of low work­ing mem­ory capac­ity per se, inde­pen­dent of other asso­ci­ated learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. In par­tic­u­lar, it is not known either what pro­por­tion of stu­dents with low work­ing mem­ory capac­i­ties has sig­nif­i­cant learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties or what their behav­ioral char­ac­ter­is­tics are. The aim of a recent study pub­lished in Child Devel­op­ment (ref­er­ence below) was to pro­vide the first sys­tem­atic large-scale exam­i­na­tion of the cog­ni­tive and behav­ioral char­ac­ter­is­tics of school-aged stu­dents who have been iden­ti­fied solely on the basis of very low work­ing mem­ory scores.

In screen­ing of over 3000 school-aged stu­dents in main­stream schools, 1 in 10 was iden­ti­fied as hav­ing work­ing mem­ory dif­fi­cul­ties. There were sev­eral key find­ings regard­ing their cog­ni­tive skills. The first is that the major­ity of them per­formed below age-expected lev­els in read­ing and math­e­mat­ics. This sug­gests that Read the rest of this entry »

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