We recently hosted a wonderful webinar presented by Jay Kelly, a Reading Horizons Teacher Trainer. The topic of the webinar was “Why Johnny Can’t Remember What He Read,” focusing on how to help students with a working memory deficits and how this affects their reading abilities. Here are some of the questions and answers that were covered during the Q&A section of the webinar:
Q: How do you measure working memory?
A: That is very much an open debate. There are a lot of measurement tools but there is debate about whether or not they actually measure working memory. There is not a definitive go-to assessment that is widely regarded as a measure of working memory. Woodcock-Johnson would be the default assessment that measures working memory, but there is not a recognized, widely regarded assessment. However, it is an area that is actively being researched. Honestly, the best assessment is informal assessments. A student that consistently is struggling to remember what he was taught yesterday – he probably has a working memory problem.
Q: In younger students, are there ways we can help develop their working memory? Or is working memory set?
A: No, it’s definitely not set. Especially for younger students. The five strategies demonstrated in this presentation would be the best way to promote their working memory growth.
Q: I have found that sometimes older students are too embarrassed to admit they don't understand, or don't ask a question because they just want the class to be done. What would you do about that?
A: What I do is two things… ask questions really, really often to make sure everyone is on the same page with me. The other thing is that I make sure that all of my students have white boards (or white paper inside a clear sheet protector) and markers and I frequently ask them to scale things from 1 to 10 on how well they are understanding a concept, how confident they feel they could re-teach what I have been taught, etc... If you set the room up appropriately, others can’t see their answers, but I can see what is and isn’t being understood.
Q: I don’t see how I can follow these strategies and follow district pacing guides and the need to meet grade level standards in a given amount of time?
A: Teachers often say if they use these strategies their instruction is going to go a lot slower, and it will – at first. Because you are taking your time to do it right the first time. In terms of pacing guides you are going to be slower the first time through teaching a concept, but retention and proficiency is going to be dramatically higher so you don’t have to go back and re-teach. At the end of the day it ends up being faster.
Q: Of the strategies you have discussed which would you consider to be the most important?
A: Of the five strategies none of them are negotiable, but if I had to pick one I would choose bundling modalities. One concept or skill, as many senses as possible, as close in time as possible.
Q: Won't this approach alienate students who are stronger readers?
A: No. Because they are going to learn faster and retain better. This is going to help all of your students. But even if they do complain, you can tell them that it’s going to help them learn faster and they won’t have to study as much and they are going to retain better. These strategies allow you to reach all of your students even the stronger students, and they allow you to reach your students that are always struggling and if I can help those struggling students while still helping those stronger students, that is where I want to focus my efforts. The return on investment is on the whole far, far greater.
Q: During the feedback loop, how do you approach incorrect answers?
A: You want to do two things… one, you want to ask him why he answered in the way he did. Push him to answer and provide reasons. This way he’ll realize he was wrong or he’ll understand better in the end. Two, you want to press your students why they answered the way they did even if they got the answer right. Two reasons… one, if the only time I press them is when they are wrong, you will create defensiveness. The second reason is because that promotes good thinking… they might’ve guessed and got the right answer and they really don’t know the reason why.
For more questions and answers, and to learn the five strategies that help improve students working memory, view the entire webinar and download the slides at the following link: