How Memory Affects Learning

The following is excerpted from the ADDitude Magazine Website.

Both memory and attention are essential for learning and for academic success. Here, we note the role that memory plays in learning.

Many children with ADHD have trouble with working memory. This is the “mental chalkboard” onto which information is written so it’s available for use. Additionally, some also have a hard time with retrieval, the process of reclaiming information that has been stored. That is akin to having a hard time “searching the library” for the information that will be “written” onto the mental chalkboard.

Some Examples of How Working Memory is Used

  • Working memory allows a student to follow directions, to keep a question in mind while answering it, and to hold on to new information she needs to apply to her work.
  • In reading, working memory aids comprehension by facilitating organization and summarization of the text. This enables connections with things that we already know are possible.
  • When writing, it lets us keep the big picture in mind while playing with the the thoughts we want to get on paper.
  • During math-related work, working memory lets us keep track of numbers and operations as we move through the steps of a complex problem.

The stronger a child’s working memory, the longer (and greater amount) she can retain and work with new material. That betters her chances of remembering it, for the next hour, the next day, or longer.


The Importance of Efficient Retrieval

Does it sometimes seem that your child no longer knows something he once had down cold? His problem may be that of retrieving information – pulling it out of long-term memory. Without the ability to build on material learned in the past – vocabulary, math facts, a historical sequence of events – learning new material is frustrating and slow.

Children with learning differences may have trouble accessing particular types of information.

  • A child with dyslexia may be slow to remember words he’s read before, making it necessary for him to sound them out each time.
  • A child with a writing disorder may forget the rules of grammar and syntax.
  • A student with an arithmetic deficit may draw a blank on the multiplication tables.

If your child has ADHD and/or learning differences, both may affect memory in ways that interfere with learning.

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