Working Memory: The Conscious Processing of Information

  • The process of helping students put information in long-term memory. "Think about it, talk about it, rehearse it." This is the process of consciously manipulating information well enough to ensure its storage in long-term memory
  • All information comes in the brain but much is discarded as a driver would not remember the passing of a car on the highway.
  • Phinias Gage was a railroad man who was injured by a train-track spike which was driven through his brain. He survived and was studied by doctors. He highlighted the connection between working memory and the emotional connections to produce ration thought and planning.
  • With out rehearsal and constant attention, information remains in working memory for 15 to 20 seconds.

  • Class behavior- Selective auditory attention is the 'cocktail party effect.' This allows you to filter out the other conversations and pay attention to what is being said to you.
  • A person can not remember thoughts coming in each ear. Focus must be kept on the information being delivered by the teacher.
    • It is impossible to consciously process two trains of thought at the same time, especially if it uses the same modality. IE, listening to the teacher and trying to take notes at the same time; especially if they don't understand the material, are daydreaming, or don't see the relevance. None of the lecture will be processed.
    • Unless a process is automatic, like dotting an i or crossing a t, two things can not be processed at the same time. If a student is still focusing on decoding or the handwriting process, more involved processes can not happen.


  • Chunking- 7 bits of memory is the capacity of the brain. (think phone numbers) This can be chunked into more manageble parts. Try to remember each part below.
        • IB MJ FKTW AUS ACD or IBM JFK TWA USA CD
  • When providing instruction, group information into chucks or categories. Experts can organize things into bigger chucks. Thinks of a chess expert vs an novice. The expert can visualize many chess moves into the future of the game. A novice can only deal with isolated moves.
  • Mark Twain said, "If teaching were the same as telling, we'd all be so smart we could hardly stand it.

  • Making connections- Being able to see how information fits together in chunks is the hallmark of learning. This is a way to work with larger and larger amounts of information.
  • A problem with instruction is that teachers may see connections that students don't see. To be most effective, students need to make their own connections . We need to guide them to facilitate the formation of neural connections in the student's brain through rehearsal and practice.


  • Rote Rehearsal--Practicing a skill is needed to move to a skill to be done automatically with out conscious attention. (reading, driving, or learning a procedure)
  • Elaborative rehearsal- More effective because it is memorizing to make into more meaningful learning.
  • To survive, brain must eliminate anything that is not needed for survival of the individual or species.
  • A network of associations are created to fit new information into an existing network to increase chance for long-term storage.
  • Teachers must present new material by 'hooking' the unfamiliar with something familiar.
  • On a simple level, this may be any mnemonic devise. These work well because they hook unknown information to a known word.

  • Emotional learning- There is a short path between the thalamus and the amygadala because a fast response is necessary for danger in the 'flight or fight.'
  • Any information connected with any strong emotional event (think wedding/death) will be retained in great detail easily.
  • The flight or fight response immediately begin many physical events.
    • heart rate, blood- clotting elements, and blood pressure increases
    • senses become more alert
    • muscles tense
    • palms sweat
    • digestive and immune systems become depressed
    • the brain retrieves any needed information immediately
    • the moment is stamps in the memory with extra vividness
  • Teachers need to raise the emotional and motivational stakes in instruction
    • solve real life problems
    • role playing
    • parents as guest speakers
    • field trips
    • mock trails/debates
    • let students discover information
    • build models
    • team mind mapping
  • More stress is not always better. Short-term levels of high stress is not healthy because immune systems are compromised and cognitive abilities decline. A person often 'can't think under high stress.' Students can be over-whelmed with the stress and lesson their ability to perform. IE, timed tests, being bullied, laughed at, or not being prepared.