Exploring Neurodevelopmental Constructs: Memory

By Staci Jasin, Director of Academics

Memory is another neurodevelopmental construct. Like Attention and Language, it is referred to as a ‘gatekeeper,’ one of learning’s principal entry points and is often working alongside one or more constructs. School places an immense burden on memory- much more than adulthood. Students are tasked to remember, retain, and retrieve information continually using a carefully orchestrated system of functions. I generally think about the memory system as a linear obstacle course with 3 stages- you have to get through the first two to get to the last stage.

Common to most people are the first and third functions, short-term memory and long-term memory. The second function according to the Neurodevelopment Constructs is active working memory. Short-term memory has two roles: immediate application and/or transfer to active working memory/long-term memory. Active working memory’s role is to suspend information while manipulating it in order to carry a task/thought to completion; it’s the brain’s ‘post-it note.’ Long-term memory is exactly that- permanent storage from where skills and information can be retrieved.

These three functions are further defined into sixteen components (noted in the table below). Memory can also be categorized as either visual or auditory and research has found that memory can be optimized with healthy eating, sufficient sleeping, and routine exercise. There are students “that have an unbelievable memory,” oftentimes a flag for Janus educators that short and long term memory are phenomenal, but components of active working memory are disparate, setting up increased language comprehension, social and higher order cognition difficulties revealed in the middle school years. The bottom line as I think about memory is that it is not just broad in scope, it is layered and dynamic, which makes it even the more tricky to sort through.

Conventionally, education places an assumption that memory systems are intact, therefore learning can take place. What we have observed at Janus is that many students’ learning difficulties are exacerbated because of memory inefficiency, specifically active working memory. There are several computer-based programs, like Luminosity, CogMed, and Jungle Memory, which assert that working memory can improve with use. Another simple way that memory has been practiced in a school setting is to hold sequences of information in the mind, and then recall it at different intervals of time. Research seems conflicted on if these isolated tasks to improve memory correlate to increased academic performance based on how well generalization into tasks beyond the training activity occurs and retention of the skill after practice ceases. Still, these tools are popular and pursuing a quest for sharp cognition is a life-long quest for most of us.

At Janus, we task students’ memory every moment and we find ways to make improvements, largely through the use of accommodations and strategies rather than a remediation mindset. Improvement may ultimately mean that the student knows the specific areas (functions and components) of memory that are compromised, he is growing in his awareness of how it affects his learning and life, and then internalizing and using specific strategies.

Just like I wrote in the blog about ‘Attention, ’ the fascinating and critical part of how the neurodevelopmental model is used in an educational setting is that when the difficulty is pared down, it allows for a better understanding of a person’s inconsistencies and focused strategy instruction.

Memory Control Function Component Strategy example
Short Term Memory Saliency Determination Underline or visually frame important information in a different color on the board
Recoding Have students paraphrase and fill in graphic organizers of information heard or read
Depth/Detail of Processing Chunk information and directions in a few written sequenced steps
Active Working Memory Idea Maintenance Allow open note and visuals on quizzes and tests
Task Component Maintenance Teach and use estimation to solve mental math rather than relying on specific details
Proximal/Distal Planning Build students’ questioning skills and ability to think about objective of lesson
Short Term/Long Term Memory Linkage Use previous notes/graphic organizer/visuals when previewing new chapter
Long Term Memory


Paired Association Storage Make vocabulary flashcards with definition and image
Procedure Storage Create reference binder on “how to” solve different types of algorithms
Rule/Pattern/Schema Storage Incorporate mnemonics, movement, rhyme, and song, for key concepts
Category Storage Create and complete graphic organizers, summary charts, tables or semantic maps when reading


Association Vary assessment methods, not relying on fill in the blank or matching
Pattern Recognition/Method Transfer Use thematic learning to build cognitive associations
Recall Use on-going, frequent assessment rather than single measure


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