Transforming Learning | The Learning Code Institute

Working Memory for Homeschool Parents

“Genes Change Slowly, Your Brain Changes Quickly”

Homeschool parents and many of their parents may not be aware that until about forty years ago, most neuroscientists called working memory “short-term memory.” In the 1950s, Harvard’s George Miller devised psychological tests that demonstrated that the mind can hold approximately seven pieces of information in its consciousness for very short periods. Miller is given credit for why US telephone numbers, without area codes, have only seven digits.

In the 1970s, Cambridge’s Allen Baddeley reformulated and expanded the notion of short-term memory replacing it with the concept of a generalized workspace where conscious and unconscious mental processing is accomplished. He called it “working memory.” Working memory acts like the editor of a book or movie, deciding which bits of information are relevant and should be retained for later use and which are irrelevant and should be discarded. Today, neuroscientists know the length of time that information can be held in working memory ranges from a few milliseconds to many weeks. Some neuroscientists break down working memory into classifications based on the amount of time information is stored there.

Meaningful information tagged with emotional and body markers    doesn’t just magically appear in your long-term memory. It must first pass through your working memory, where a ranking process takes place. This vital part of your Meaning Network acts  as a staging area where tagged information is processed and evaluated to determine  whether it meets certain other criteria, so it can then be selected into your long- term memory. If the information in your working memory doesn’t meet these criteria, it will get discarded!

Your Working Memory Plays A Trick On Education!

Homeschool parents should be aware that your working memory, can play a trick on test-based school systems. This is because working memory can hold information for hours to days to weeks, so you can pass a test—without your long-term memory   ever being activated. This trick explains why you can get 100 percent of the answers right on a test and weeks later have little or no recollection of the test’s content. In his book, “Cracking the Learning Code”, JW Wilson goes into detail on how you can transform information from working memory into long-term learning. 

The Misnomer of Working Memory

It’s a sad situation that for many students and their parents, grades take on life-or-death significance, so their primary goal is to get passing grades—the higher, the better. Whether the information   studied is placed into long-term memory or not becomes a distant and secondary goal. This emphasis on tests creates a mental environment where to       survive in the classroom your brain often selects not the information studied for the test, but the strategies used to pass tests. We suspect that more and more parents are realizing this at some level, and it is contributing to the significant migration away form classrooms to home-school education. 

You may, for example, have memorized the periodic table as a student and gotten an A on the test but remember very few of those elements weeks later. So, this begs the question – What does go into your long-term memory? What do you remember? What was most meaningful to your brain? Is it the  devices you used to get that passing grade, such as cramming, borrowing notes from friends, visiting your favorite study places, and engaging in homework binges with drug-delivery systems such as coffee or Red Bull?

Many students are now using unprescribed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to help them get good grades. 

How can we break this cycle of grades on tests being more meaningful than knowledge? Well, once you understand how working memory functions, you’ll have the scientific foundation to understand another limitation of our test-centric educational system—and to develop personal and institutional learning programs that will give us the results we demand.

Working Memory’s Number One Role:

Make Order Out of Chaos

It could be said that your working memory is a staging area where your brain makes order out of chaos. Estimates of how many bits of information your brain processes each second vary, but the numbers are enormous. In his book Elemental Mind, Nick Herbert estimates that your brain receives 100 million bits of information per second from each eye, ten million bits   of information per second from the skin, and 30,000 bits of information per second from the ears. All this external information is combined with the   billions of bits of internal information your mind is processing consciously  and unconsciously per second, like “Should I eat something right now? If so, what should I eat? Or should I eat nothing and go work out?” 

Herbert estimates that when all that external and internal processing of information is taken into account, your brain is dealing with an incredible  10 trillion bits of information each second. No wonder your brain uses up  to 30 percent of your body’s energy, and you’re a little tired at the end of the   day! Working memory is the staging area where all this chaos of reverberating information is converted into order. It provides the workspace where the bits of information that produce the highest degree of meaningful somatic and emotional feedback are sorted through and prioritized for possible inclusion into your long-term memory.

We want to share an overview of what scientific research has revealed about how your working memory processes information and determines what and how much is transferred to your long-term memory. We can’t overstate the importance of understanding this in determining the effectiveness of your and your children’s work as a homeschoolers. To gain a wealth of additional knowledge that can forever change your results and infuse joy in the educational process please visit 

The Three Main Factors of Working Memory

Here we will look at the three important factors that define working memory:

  1. It prioritizes information based on the intensity of emotional and body feedback.
  2. It is limited in both the time frame and storage capacity.
  3. Inclusion into its space depends on information already held by your brain as meaningful.
  1. Prioritizes Information: Working Memory Needs Your Emotional and Body Feedback

Your brain selects knowledge into your working memory largely based upon the intensity of the body feedback and the emotions associated with it. As we discussed in the last chapters, the greater the physical change (such as spikes in your blood pressure, skin response, and heart rate) and the higher the emotional charge, the higher the priority that information is given.

This is why it is so much easier to remember the bear you see in your backyard than a picture of a bear in a magazine. The bear in your backyard triggers higher somatic and emotional tagging, this is what gives it a higher ranking in your working memory.

Wonder why you so often get bored, and your attention wanders in classrooms or meetings? The answer is if the information has low meaning, it results in low body feedback and low emotional tagging, which, in turn, creates low attention and, therefore, low inclusion into your working memory. And if the information being delivered isn’t stimulating your working memory, it won’t make it into your long-term memory. In addition, an unstimulated working memory immediately starts to shift its focus to find something that will excite it. This is why you often find yourself daydreaming or sneaking a look at your cellphone in boring classrooms and meetings.

  1. Limited in Both Time Frame and Storage Capacity: Working Memory Can Only Hold So Much Information

Your working memory is only designed to hold information for very short periods—from seconds to days. This is a workspace, like a carpenter’s bench—things placed here are not meant to hang around indefinitely. Once your working memory receives information marked with the body (somatic) and emotional tags, it tries to match this data with previously encoded meaningful knowledge. Then if a match is made, the information has a chance of being passed to long-term memory. 

What most educators, trainers and bosses don’t realize is that when your working memory is full and you add something new, something else must get bumped out to make room for the new information. Unfortunately, that bumped-out information never has a chance of making it into your long-term memory banks.

Our traditional educational systems fail to understand this limited workspace concept. This is why they continue to drive students in and out of stressful forty-five-minute get-ready-for-the-test-segments all day long, with little attention to whether that information is firmly implanted into working memory or not before it gets knocked out by new knowledge. Educators then wonder “what’s wrong with these students, that they’ve forgotten so much of what was just presented?”

  1. Inclusion Relies on What You Already Know

As you try to grasp the concept of working memory as a limited workspace, one of the most important things to recognize is that working memory isn’t a pure product of the here and now. What you select into your working memory is dependent upon the information your brain has previously decided is meaningful to you. Our working memory provides a stable place where new information, marked with emotional and body tagging, can be matched up with meaningful data already held in your long-term memory.

Neuroscientist Stephen Kosslyn explains that working memory requires “not only some form of temporary storage, but also an interplay between information that is stored temporarily and a larger body of stored knowledge.” In other words, if your brain thinks the information will support your surviving and thriving, based on what your genes and previous experiences have encoded as meaningful in your long-term memory, you’re more likely to remember that information. If you love model airplanes and walk through a hobby store with a friend who couldn’t care less about your hobby, you’ll easily select into working your memory lots of information about model airplanes, while your friend will select very little.

To discover much more about the latest scientific information on the workings of your brain please visit us HERE.