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  • Writer's pictureAlley Dezenhouse Kelner

What was I supposed to do again? Working Memory Basics

Many of the students we support have complex needs which require ongoing assessment, progress tracking and problem solving. It is important to us that we acknowledge and respect the fact that every child can learn; if learning is not ongoing, it is more likely a flaw in programming than a flaw in the child’s innate intelligence or cognitive capacity.

Part of any successful skill development program at school or in a therapeutic environment , involves successful appraisal of areas of need; this is just one reason I particularly like the VBMAPP BARRIERS assessments, which allows you to pinpoint barriers which prevent learning. One particular barrier, which I have found myself trying to overcome lately—is working memory.

Developing working memory has implications on communication skills (receptive and expressive), cognitive development, social skills, life skills and visual performance tasks to name a few. The ability to listen and recall, or to observe and recall are important steps along the road to skill development and to the ability to thrive in a traditional (or semi traditional) school environment. In supporting students with a wide variety of needs, I have come to find that working memory deficits can manifest in a variety of ways, but that once targeted—skill development is much more rapid.

Visual aspects of memory (like remembering where a matching picture is in a traditional memory game) is a different skill than auditory memory (in which recall of spoken words occurs). In developing a plan which targets a memory deficit, it is important to know which type of memory is weak; in many cases, it is both. In some cases, the deficit can be isolated to a particular aspect of memory.

There are a variety of ways working memory can be targeted and I often begin with an area of strength/interest; prompting can be used as needed, and in my experience—scaffolding and slowly shaping skill development is most effective. Avoiding prompt dependency is essential and therefore least to most prompting is my preferred method for these tasks; of course, every student profile is different and calls for a slightly different approach. In general, slowly building on previously obtained skills seems to yield the most meaningful results. In addition to systematically increasing the difficulty of the recall tasks (and isolating visual and auditory memory respectively) it is important that generalization occurs. Using games or activities which are developmentally appropriate and likely to occur in the natural context can be highly effective for promoting skill generalization.

Some games I use:

Visual memory

-Traditional Memory (with picture cards); slowly increasing the array

-Games which include scanning a picture for a predetermine number of seconds and then answering questions about items or words on the image

-Replicating visual patterns with a time delay (ABLLS-R goal)

-Recalling actions observed in previous learning situations (ABLLS-R goal)

Auditory processing/memory

-Repeating number sequences immediately after they are stated (slowly increasing # of numbers) (ABLLS-R goal)

-Repeating number sequences with a time delay (phone numbers, room numbers, bus routes, etc.

-Repeating spoken words of a particular category: colours, animals, shapes, etc.I.e. Teacher: Blue, green, yellow, orange, redStudent: Blue, green, yellow, orange, red-Listening to short stories (read aloud) and recalling main ideas or details from within the text

-Playing 20 questions and recalling responses in order to guess the item-Conversation: asking questions and recalling answers provided

-Playing games which involve following multiple component instructions; treasure hunts, advanced simon says, etc.

If your child or student is struggling to make gains a particular domain, it may be worthwhile to consider working memory and how it may be contributing!

If you have questions about this post, feel free to comment below or email me directly!

Happy Friday!


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