Scenario: Your child is falling behind at school; their teacher tells you that they are distracted, not learning and not doing very well in their school tests. What do you do?
1) Go home and shout at your child to work harder?
2) Look to see if they have a working memory issue?*
According to psychologist Tracy Alloway, working memory is a better indicator of academic success than IQ. A strong working memory helps us to stay focused and is crucial to learning.A weak working memory is one of the key indicators of dyslexia.
So what is working memory?
Working memory is our ability to work with information ( definition by Alloway) ie how good our brains are at juggling and manipulating information as well as discriminating what we should be focusing on.
It is nothing to do with short term memory which is our ability to remember information for a short period such as someone’s name at a party – after the party your brain will ‘ditch’ the information. It is also not the same as long term memory which is basically all the knowledge you have learned over the years stored away to be recalled when needed.
Working memory is linked to long term memory because it is the system that retrieves information from your long term memory and it is also the system that is used to transfer new information into long term memory . Lots of people tell me that their child finds it hard to retain information and you can now see that working memory is the culprit.
Learning styles and Working Memory
Working memory is also the area which allows you to adapt your learning style to a task, so that you use the best one for that particular task. For example, we learn by doing when in a cookery class and learn by listening in a language class. A weak working memory will make it harder for you to do this.
Therefore, a dyslexic child will learn better if the information or lesson is delivered in their preferred learning style. As a teacher may have children with a range of learning styles in their classroom, they are encouraged to make their lessons appeal to all learning styles. When you are working 1 to 1 with a child, then you can use the methods that work best for them.
When you work with a dyslexic child, especially if you are helping them to revise for a test, then using their preferred learning style can pay a lot of dividends.
Sometimes you work with someone who doesn’t have a ‘stand out’ style. Then it is important to use multiple ways to learn the same information, for example to learn some historical facts your child could construct a mind map and then record the information on a smart phone. On their school journey, they could take the historical facts and link them to places/ buildings on their route and say them every time they pass the building/place. They might be able to make up a mnemonic to remember them as well. By doing this, there is a lot of repetition but also their brain is being stimulated to file the information in different ways into their long term memory, making it easier for their working memory to retrieve the information when required.
Repetition is the key to success for a dyslexic child but be creative with how you keep repeating what they need to learn, whether it is learning which letters map onto which sounds, some spellings or facts for a test – otherwise you will have a rebellious and bored child on your hands!
* This is the preferred answer.
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