Memory has three components that function in different ways. They work together for best learning and are utilized together and separately throughout learning.
Short term memory: Short term memory is the part of memory that is used when information is taken in and held onto. While the information is being held and assessed, the rest of the brain is deciding how to organize this information and what to do with it. There are two parts of short term memory; the Phonological Loop and the Visual-spatial sketchpad. The P.L. is a language-based portion and connects to hearing and sound where the V.S.S. uses sight and physical feedback.
Active-working memory: Active-working memory takes components of short term memory and long term memory and allows the brain to work on the information that has been committed to memory to solve problems. The information is not just retained or held onto, but in this area of memory it is used and can be altered. It can also be combined with other pieces of information that is already part of memory. Being able to regulate working memory, to hold onto information and manipulate it, is connected to processing speed. The amount of information that can be taken in, held onto, and then used is called the Episodic buffer.
Long term memory: Long term memory is our ability to recall information from the past. To best use information in memory it must be stored properly and efficiently. This part of memory requires skillful organization techniques so that memories can be accurately and quickly recalled. The more organized and connected the information is, the better it will be stored and retained so that it can be readily available.
All three components are memory are crucial to learning! Being able to remember information, work with information and store information for reference are vital and doing so well is how students can continue building on what they've already learned. An example of how these aspects of memory are used continuously and together throughout learning is when learning vowel patterns in literacy.
A first grader will learn new sight words in class to improve their reading fluency and decoding skills. When they are taught new long-vowel sight words (made, take, home) they will use short term memory to recognize these words. They words will be accessed on the phonological loop and they will know that the vowel sound in the middle of each word is long. To practice using and recognizing these words the teacher might assign the students an activity to unscramble the words, write sentences using these words, or correct these words if they are misspelled. These activities will require active working memory as they will require the students to use the new information that has been held in short term memory while they use what they already know about literacy, word patterns, other sight words or sentence structure to complete this task accurately. This will require the use of long term memory because they'll be using what is already stored in the brain. As they manipulate the words and use them through learning the child will be using active working memory. If the teacher ends the lesson with a deeper explanation of the CVCE (consonant-vowel-consonant-E) long vowel pattern, they will commit this rule to long term memory. The child will ideally organize the rule with other phonological concepts so that as they are reading they have a quick method for referencing, applying, and then reading accurately.
Read part II of this post to learn strategies for improving memory!