Peter Doolittle: How Your “Working Memory” Makes Sense of the World

Peter Doolittle: How Your “Working Memory” Makes Sense of the World

“A central issue with working memory is that it’s limited. It’s limited in capacity, limited in duration, limited in focus. We tend to remember about four things…”

Have you ever wondered how working memory helps you make decisions and reach goals on a daily basis? Peter Doolittle, professor of educational psychology in the School of Education at Virginia Tech, strives to understand the processes of human learning. In his TED Talk, Doolittle explores how our working memory helps us make sense of the world and offers strategies to maximize our potential to remember.   

  • We need to process what’s going on the moment it happens, not 10 minutes later, not a week later, at the moment.

    • Doolittle explains that reflecting upon our actions and reactions is a critical step towards remembering. He emphasizes the importance of reflecting in the moment or shortly after an event or new learning occurs. When it comes to executive function strategies, students can ask themselves a few simple questions about how well a strategy worked for them and how they could apply it next time. By asking themselves what they’re missing and if they have any questions before moving on to the next lesson or topic, students can ensure that they are building their knowledge on a solid foundation. 
  • “We also need to repeat it. We need to practice.”

    • Doolittle highlights that repeated practice is key to remembering. When planning out SMARTS lessons for the year, it can be beneficial for educators to focus on the quality and depth of lessons over quantity. Students will benefit from repeated exposure to a few strategies paired with reflection so that they can start to understand themselves as learners. 
  • “The last one is support. We all started as novices…”

    • Doolittle’s last suggestion aligns with the many visual supports that are included in the SMARTS curriculum. It is important that we draw upon the benefits of presenting information in multisensory ways; providing students with reflection sheets, exit tickets, and time to ask questions can help them process what they are learning. 

“…the take-home message from a working memory capacity standpoint is this: what we process, we learn. If we’re not processing life, we’re not living it.”

To learn more about working memory and how to implement strategies to support your students, check out unit 6 of the SMARTS Curriculum. What working memory strategies can you implement in your life? 

Click here for the link to this TED Talk and to view the transcript and subtitles.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development: