The Role of Working Memory in Reading

The term working memory was coined in the 1970s by two researchers named Baddeley and Hitch, referring to the ability to temporarily hold several facts or thoughts in memory while solving a problem or performing a task. 

To solve an arithmetic problem like (3 X 3) + (4 X 2) in your head, for example, you need to keep the intermediate results in mind (i.e., 3 X 3 = 9) to be able to solve the entire problem.

An important and consistent finding is that working memory problems interfere with reading comprehension. Reading is a complex skill that requires the simultaneous activation of many different brain processes. When reading a word, the reader must recognize the visual configuration of letters as well as the letter order, and he must engage in segmentation (breaking the word into individual sounds). Then, while being held in working memory, the phonemes (letter sounds) must be synthesized and blended to form recognizable words.

To comprehend sentences, several more skills are necessary. The reader must not only decode the words, but also comprehend the syntax, retain the sequence of words, use contextual cues, and integrate this with existing knowledge. This must be done simultaneously in order for sentences to be understood.

At the same time, sentences must be held in working memory and integrated with one another. Each sentence is read, understood, associated and integrated with the previous one and so forth. Eventually the entire paragraph is read and the reader continues to the next one.

By the end of the chapter both the details and main idea need to be retained in working memory, otherwise the reader may have retained isolated facts but may not know the sequence of events nor understand the main idea.

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If you have a child suffering from a reading difficulty, our programs will prove the end of much heartache and struggle for you and your child.