Thursday, June 18, 2015

Put Working Memory to Work In Learning

by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers

Note: This post originally appeared on Edutopia on Feb. 12, 2015.

Working memory involves the conscious processing and managing of information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. It has been described as the brain's conductor.

Memory has long been viewed as a key aspect of learning, but as the emphasis in educational standards has shifted away from rote memorization and toward the knowledge and skills needed to process new information, working memory is increasingly taking center stage.

There is an explosion of research today with the aim of understanding how this important function works and how to enhance it. However, the term working memory was first used more than 50 years ago to describe the role of recall in planning and carrying out behavior.

In the 1970s and '80s, British psychologist Alan Baddeley and colleagues developed a model of working memory that brings together how the brain accepts sensory input, processes both visual-spatial and verbal data, and accesses long-term memory; and how all of that input is processed by a function they referred to as central executive.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Strategies for Stengthening the Brain's Executive Function

by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers

Note: Over the summer, we will be posting a series of articles that originally appeared on Edutopia. We hope you enjoy them! This post originally appeared on Edutopia on April 2, 2015.

Earlier in Donna’s career as a teacher and school psychologist, she assessed, diagnosed, and helped create interventions for children and youth who had difficulty with executive functioning. Today as teacher educators, we are pleased that our graduates are increasing students' cognitive, metacognitive, and executive functioning in classrooms around the world. As just one example, Texas teacher Diane Dahl blogs on teaching metacognition.

What Are Executive Functions?

Through explicit instruction and modeling, students can come to recognize the importance of taking charge of their executive functioning in their academic endeavors and later in their careers. Executive functions can be defined as the awareness and directive capacities of the mind. By wielding these skills and abilities, students decide where to focus their attention and which tasks to undertake. As a general rule of thumb, when students of any age have difficulty completing developmentally appropriate academic tasks on their own, executive functioning may be at the root of the problem.

In the human brain, executive functions are primarily regulated by the prefrontal regions (just behind the forehead) of the frontal lobes. Neuroscientists and psychologists have made significant gains in understanding the brain's executive functioning over the past several decades.