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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


What is "The Rule of Seven?"? Applying it to Enhance Working Memory in Children

By Andrew Loh

Working memory is very vital for learning. With deficient working memory, children may never achieve the best results that they are actually capable of doing. Working memory, which also known VM, is a good indicator of school performance rather than IQ. What happens to children who have deficiently working memory? Most of them are misunderstood both in their classroom and out of it. Working memory is the dedicated workhorse of human brain. It is an extremely versatile system that tightly holds and glues various bits of migrating information within the mind where the brain could easily manipulate. This whole exercise will consist of execution of both verbal and nonverbal tasks and activities like reasoning and comprehension. This will eventually available for future information processing and availability.

Working memory and short term memory is somewhat different based on how you define them. Working memory may include the following:

  1. Many sub systems that store, collate and manipulate both visual and verbal information.

  2. A centrally located executive area that run and manage these sub systems.

  3. It also includes visual and pictorial representation of all possible working moves.

  4. It can streamline your awareness about the flow of information into and out of memory base.

Note: However, all these modes of working are stored just for a short time.

All working memory tasks and working need very tight monitoring while each action that it performs is goal oriented and objective filled; this is performed even with the presence of a diverse number of interferences and distractions.

Working memory works in collaboration with short term memory. In fact, various cognitive processes are mandatory to achieve this short term memory. Short term memory's control of both executive and attention is possible only with working memory. Once this is achieved, the brain will be able to allow:

  1. Interim integration of various cognitive processes.

  2. Processing of information.

  3. Disposal and retrieval of minute details and information.

In other words, all these processes are always associated with working memory and short term memory is thought to decline with age. In other words, working memory is likely to be at its highest capability in the age range of five and 25 years. Therefore, children should be taught working memory techniques early in their age. There is a direct link between working memory, learning, attention and cognition. There is a great deal of mystery involved with working memory. Experts believe that working memory displays a limited capacity. There is a sense of quantification involved with this capacity limit.

Miller (1956), a leading expert in learning, suggested a norm for quantification of this capacity limit related to short term memory and referred to this as the “magical number seven” Most of the things learnt by children are in the form of digits, letters, sentences, words, numbers and other related units. Miller noticed that memory span children surround seven important elements which he called chunks.

Latest research conducted in the last three decades also revealed that memory span also depends on the type of chunks deployed for retrieval. Here are some of them:

Digits – seven spans
Letters – six spans
Words – five spans

Note: Every feature within a category that occurs on a chunk could be different. For example, longer words will have lower spans when compared to shorter words. In essence, Verbal content like digits, letters and words will have memory span that depends directly on the amount of time that a child takes to recite the content loudly and on the grammatical structure of the content. However, pooled research findings suggest us the following:

Working memory in children has an overall capacity of about four chunks in younger adults (less than five years) when compared to grown-up children. Most adults can recite about seven digits in their right order although some people can recite up to a total of eighty digits. A brilliant numerically gifted memory expert, Rajan Mahadevan, was a Guinness Book of World Records award winner, who recited from memory the first 31,811 digits of pi (23/7). According to the Wikipedia article on him “his digit span was found to be nearly ten times the average, it is estimated that, before the effects of practice, it was at a more modest but nonetheless exceptional 15 digits.”

This feat is possible to achieve by using two strategies:

  1. Use an encoding strategy where all the digits are encoded and grouped (three to five chunks).

  2. Later, encode these groups as single chink

For example, consistent practice will help a person to recite all historical events that happened in the past. Similar events that occurred in the past could be grouped together and tagged with numbers. For example, if there are ten countries that had their independence day on the same day could be tagged together so that recitation becomes easier at a later stage. The next article “The Rule of Seven” - Practical Applications to Boost Working Memory will tell and describe you how working memory in children could be improved by using some simper principles.


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