Working memory is the ability to retain information in short term (temporary) storage while simultaneously processing incoming information and retrieving information from long term storage.
If a child is distracted or interrupted while using working memory, the process is lost and the child must start the task from the beginning again - s/he cannot resume the task from the point where s/he was interrupted. (See Gathercole and Alloway, 2008)
Children with high working memory scores tend to show good reading skills and score well on tests of mathematical ability. Children with poor working memory scores tend to perform at below average levels on these same measures of attainment.
In a class of 30 children aged around 7, a teacher can expect a six year range in working memory capacity. For example, three children will have the working memory capacity of a 4 year old and three children will have working memory capacity of a 10 year old. These differences will have a significant impact on learning.
Short Term Memory
Short term memory refers to the storage of information for a few seconds without having to manipulate it in any way.
Long Term Memory
Long term memory is the permanent storage of information in the brain. Retrieval of information from long term memory is aided by meaning - unfamiliar vocabulary or facts learned without understanding will be forgotten very easily because they have no associated meaning.