Some Shortcomings of Long Term Memory


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How can teachers understand ‘long term memory’

When I read any academic paper, my immediate thought is: How will this information improve the way I teach? What benefit does this research have for teachers?

In a 20-page paper, Some shortcomings of long-term working memory (Gobet, 2010) explore the concept that experts rapidly store information in long-term memory through two mechanisms: elaboration of long-term memory patterns and schemas and retrieval structures.

The paper explores the work of de Groot (1946/1978) on chess expertise and the working memory theory of Ericsson and Kintsch (1995). The former was interested in the way chess players organise their thoughts. The latter, that experts in various domains are able to encode information into LTM faster. Examples are drawn from menu orders, mental multiplication, abacus calculation, chess medical expertise, and text comprehension.

This paper by Gobet queries the difficulty with understanding and applying long-term working memory (LTWM), absent of definition of concepts of patterns and schemas. It tackles the notion of how ‘experts’ work when playing chess. Secondly, the empirical evidence available is contested.

In summary:

  1. Information is often not encoded into an abstract, generic structure but is integrated into semantic networks already present in LTM
  2. Key concepts of LTWM are not defined
  3. Three different types of memory structures are conflated, possessing quite different properties
  4. One of these type-structures is retrieval but only applies in domains where individuals have conscious, deliberate intent to improve their memory.

As I read more widely on the working memory, I come across papers like this that aren’t necessarily directly related to anything in the classroom, but it exposes my understanding and how it relates to the current dialogue across English education.

We should conclude, that long term memory is a complex topic and that we should be cautious about trying to evaluate working memory in the classroom, including observers and classroom inspectors.

Download the full paper.


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