Working Memory and Reading Skills

What does (working) memory have to do with reading skills?

 Reading is a complex skill that requires simultaneous activation of many different brain processes.  When reading a word, you need to recognize the visual configuration of letters, the letter order, and segmentation (breaking the word into individual sounds).  Then, while being held in working memory, the letter sounds must be blended to form recognizable words.

 To understand sentences, more skills are necessary.  The reader must decode the words, and understand the sentence structure, remember the sequence of the words, use context clues, and have good vocabulary knowledge.  This must all 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, etc., etc.  Eventually the whole paragraph is read, and the reader continues on.  By the end of the paragraph or chapter, both details and main ideas need to be retained in working memory.

 There are certain ways that parents and teachers may begin to suspect problems with working memory.  These include:  trouble following extended directions; problems understanding long spoken sentences; difficulty staying on topic in conversations;

difficulty with multi-step math problems; problems with reading comprehension; or memory issues in general.  It is important to determine if there are working memory issues so that appropriate interventions can be implemented. This can begin with your child’s physician or teacher.