Monday, September 5, 2011

Brain-Based Learning: Guideline Five

 The working memory and telephone numbers.

This week's educational theory is the fifth brain-based learning guideline according to Dr. Sousa:

The brain's working memory has a limited capacity. 

"Working memory" is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Basically, working memory is the holding tank for important information. Students are using the information for a bigger task. For example, students might remember the list of supplies that they need to work on a poster that reviews a chapter from the textbook. They understand the textbook chapter, but their working memory is thinking glue, poster board, five key dates from the chapter, and five definitions. Their working memory remembers what it needs to remember. It will probably forget the list when it begins focusing on the actual information.

And that's ok - for the working memory to forget. The problem arises when students try to shove information in the working memory and leave it there. The information isn't attached to something else - it isn't truly learned. It's just sitting there in that holding tank.

Another way to think of the working memory is that it generally can hold seven pieces of information at a time. That is another way it is limited. That is also why phone numbers are seven digits. People truly know the area code (normally when they hear a new number) but can hold those new seven digits until they are put in a contact list. 

So what do we do with this guideline? We work on building the other ones. Last week I covered that past experience always affects new learning. While this can be positive or negative, educators and parents can try to connect the new idea they are teaching to a past one.

Encouraging Ty and Za to be patient for a ball game to start was difficult. We did however connect it to previous times we had to wait for something fun, like Christmas and going over to a friend's house.

How can we do this? If you are reading a story where a character is happy, ask your student to remember a time they felt excited about ___. (Having a party? Starting a new school? Getting a new pet?) If you are starting a science experiment, find a relation to a previously studied concept. If you will be gathering sticks to look at the layers, ask your students to recall or write about the way you once ___. (Gathered leaves? Looked at the layers of dirt?)

Getting information out of the working memory and making the information retained is the goal with this guideline. Those few minutes spent discussing previous experiences before diving into a new lesson are minutes well spent.