Roadmap to Working Memory

Chicago Road SignsWhen I was a superintendent in downstate Illinois, I often had to travel to meetings in downtown Chicago. The interstate system that leads into downtown is expansive and filled with signage to help the driver navigate safely toward the destination. In addition to the signage, the fine folks of that area are always willing to honk and point when you’re not quite sure where you’re going! The visual and aural stimuli can cause cognitive overload.

Many students in your classroom experience similar overload when navigating your curriculum and content activities. Some need extra visual prompts to help them access and add to their working memory. Others need extra verbal prompts to help them access and add to their working memory. Ultimately, all students need a traffic officer – executive functioning – to fully access and add to their working memory. In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey shares some strategies for helping support each of these areas (pp. 108-114):

  1. The Visual Traffic Lane: Provide worked examples so students can see what is expected, the process, and outcome. Display concept maps or flowcharts. Include choices such as drawings, making models, or constructing diagrams.
  2. The Aural Traffic Lane: Provide time for verbal rehearsal of information via discussions, peer teaching, skits, or talk-alouds. Employ “turn and talk” or “I do, we do, you do” methodologies. Give students opportunities to explain more.
  3. The Executive Traffic Officer: Chunk information. Break long-term goals into short-term goals. Preview concepts, ideas, and vocabulary. Highlight reading assignments and focus on the important information. Provide descriptors, charts, graphs, or images.

Look at all the items you have planned for next week. Do you see areas of possible cognitive overload? If so, put together a roadmap that includes extra visual, aural, and executive support for your students. They will be very glad you took the time to do so!

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