What is Working Memory and Why is it Important?

Working memory is the brain’s system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension.

Children with poor working memory typically have difficulty remembering multi-step tasks and instructions. They also may have issues with impulse control, because their brain cannot hold the thought of both an action and its consequence at the same time.

Working memory has a profound impact on reading because sounding out words requires that a child hold each sound in working memory before putting those sounds together. For instance, a child with a working memory deficit may sound out /b/, /a/, /t/, and then go back to say the word, only to find that they have forgotten the sounds they just decoded. The child will then guess by saying “butter” or “bite.”

One of the best ways to help a struggling reader who has working memory deficits is to help reading become automatic. Teaching good decoding strategies creates automaticity, which frees up working memory space. Students with poor working memory can also benefit from brain training programs such as Cogmed.

Learn more about working memory by watching the video below: