Our working memory has limitations, but various strategies can help improve it and enhance the retention and recall of information
Working memory is often described as a “sticky note for the brain”. It holds one or more pieces of information in the brain for a while, which we then use in some way, and eventually discard. But sticky notes are not very big, they have limited space, and sometimes the glue does not stick well… So how can we fix the glue or expand our brain’s capacity for sticky notes?
In a school environment, working memory is constantly in use. Teachers sometimes ask us to open a link, scroll to paragraph 6, read the paragraph, write four questions related to the paragraph, discuss the questions with our peers, and write a small reflection for homework. All of that in one sentence. Yes, it is very easy to get lost in these instructions and forget them. That’s because our glue might not be working, or our brain’s sticky notes might be too small. The same is true at home. Sometimes we might get some instructions, we forget some of them, and then no one is happy with the outcome.
Not being able to memorise things can affect not only our attention but also our organisation and planning. If this happens often, it is time to use some external strategies to help our working memory or our brain’s “sticky note” –
- Use real or desktop sticky notes and write down the steps and tasks you need to do; mark steps as done or remove the notes when you finish them.
- Use a calendar to remember important deadlines or to plan steps if you have a bigger project.
- Use a notebook or create a document to remember new concepts – write down the concepts or important words, and later, read about them and add definitions, visuals, or links to videos at home.
There is one more important strategy to boost our working memory. By practising something difficult, we become experts in the area. Think about watching people dance. It seems like they need to memorise different steps separately, e.g.,
But they dance so much and remember steps in series that they become experts. This is called chunking – like combining three steps into one (think of all these three pictures as one gif).
In a school setting, this means we can boost our working memory by –
- Repeating new concepts using different learning methods, e.g., visual (using flashcards, watching videos) and verbal (saying it aloud, writing it down).
- Practising spaced repetition, e.g., repeating important concepts every day for ten minutes.
- Grouping important concepts to make them easier to remember – Chunking techniques
- Visualise what you need to learn by creating art, storyboards, graphs, or infographics.
- Teach someone else. Teaching others will show if you understand the concept and help create connections with the information you are holding in your brain.
In conclusion, by incorporating these strategies into our daily routines, we can effectively boost our working memory and enhance our ability to retain and recall information.