Here is a short You Tube video, featuring Dr Helen Abadzi, on, amongst other things, the role played by memory in education.
In the extract Dr Abadzi begins with the neuromyth of brainstorming and (at 1:13) she goes on to talk about the part played by memory in the learning process. Here, she talks about the relationship between long-term memory, which she likens to the ‘biggest bottle in the world’, and working memory, the very narrow ‘neck of the bottle’.
The analogy is apt because the problem with working memory, part of which is comprised of short-term memory, is that it is very narrow in terms of its capacity and its time-frame: it holds only a few items – anywhere between three and seven – at any one time; and, it does so over a very short time period – anywhere between five and twenty-five seconds.
This has implications for teaching and learning because, for someone to make a decision/solve a problem/think effectively about anything, they need to combine whatever is stored in long-term memory with what is currently in working memory.
As knowledge already held in long-term memory can be chunked (so that many items are combined and processed as if they constitute a single item), there is theoretically at least no limit to what can be brought into working memory.
For this reason and as I have pointed out before here, it is essential to get lots of knowledge into long-term memory. This is why Dr Abadzi places so much emphasis on the teaching of basics such as literacy through phonics and arithmetical computation: unless decoding and arithmetical processes are automatised, working on them takes up too much space in working memory.
Fundamentally, what she is advocating is that when we are teaching young children to read and spell or do basic arithmetic, we need to introduce new knowledge a bit at a time and we need to practise the skills particular to the manipulation of that knowledge to automaticity.
Helen Abadzi is described in UT Arlington, the University of Texas Magazine, as a maverick because she has five college degrees and two doctorates. She is a Greek psychologist who worked as Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank and is now a researcher in education at the University of Texas. She is also an enthusiastic proponent of education for poor students in low-income countries. You can view some of her publications here.
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