Versions Compared


  • This line was added.
  • This line was removed.
  • Formatting was changed.


There are 3 signs of working memory overload which we can witness as they happen - these can happen to any learners - even those with larger than average or above average working memory capacities:


The first two may be more because we usually teach them at the same time, rather than because they are naturally muddled. The third example of muddling column methods, comes I think, from the fact that all standard methods - have high working memory needs. I would say that column methods for addition and subtraction, long multiplication and division are paper saving but working memory heavy.

We are more likely to witness muddling methods when the learner is trying to recall learning, rather than when engaged in new learning. The other two symptoms missing steps and giving up may be witnessed during learning or when recalling learning.

missing steps: often happens when chunks in long-term memory are incomplete or when the working memory is overloaded by applying 2 methods together e.g.


titleSimplistic summary of reconsolidation: the process our brains may be prompted to do after retrieval practice

Consolidation is the process whereby a brain state in active or working memory is stored in long-term memory. This process modifies synapses on the dendrites of neurones. After retrieval of the memory, a similar process, called reconsolidation occurs whereby the old memory is altered and replaced by the new memory.

Multiple retrievals and reconsolidations may be needed to build an accurate chunk. It seems we are not prompted to reconsolidate

  • if we can easily recall our learning - hence overlearning is far less effective than retrieval practice,

  • by activities which induce uncomfortable feelings - what we might have learned, is not laid down in long term memory - perhaps to preserve our self esteem

Both consolidation and reconsolidation happen during sleep, so we can’t possibly know what a learner has learned during a lesson. We must wait for at least one nights sleep, to find out what has become learning and what has not.

It seems that if recall is too easy, reconsolidation won’t happen at all or make a perceivable change in long term memory. This fits with Bjork’s desirable difficulties.

It seems that by its very definition reconsolidation can’t happen at the end of the lesson where the skill is taught, because the learner hasn’t had a sleep yet to consolidate their learning.


Chunks can reduce the working memory requirement to solve problems and process information and to learn. However

Learners with smaller working memory capacities are less likely to build chunks in long-term memory than their peers.

Learners with smaller working memory capacities are more dependent on chunks than their peers to process the content of lessons.

I call this a double whammy, because learners with smaller working memory capacities are doubly disadvantaged - and often go on to become low attaining learners. I would say the best thing we can do as teachers is to teach low attaining learners in a smaller working memory friendly manner.


Contrary to our expectations, feedback is better given after one nights sleep, than directly after an error. It seems that if we give feedback on the day of the error, we may not be as effectively triggering reconsolidation - see (2) above - that is we are not as effectively triggering the brain to change or strengthen chunks in long-term memory. On the other hand, if we leave feedback for too many days, then feedback is not as effective as it could be either.


We have to accept that selecting best learned later and hoping that “in class teaching and practice” in the next spiral of the curriculum, is unlikely to solve the problem - if the problem is - the learner could answer practice questions in the lesson they were taught, but can’t recall everything the next lesson. As it is clear it isn’t being able that rather than being unable to apply the process that is the problem, but being able unable to recall to recall itthe process which is the problem.

  • Hence, we are unlikely to fix the recall problem, with another lesson - whether the lesson is next term or next year - when we tell the learner what to do (unless, there are parts of the process that are not yet mastered).

  • We are however, much more likely to fix the recall problem, by a few quick feedback-dialogue sessions, in the next few lessons, especially if we see what the learner can already recall and then help them add a bit more of the process to the end or join existing processes together.