Thursday, 17 January 2013

Working Memory Difficulties

@littleladyjayne was our guest host on #NIedchat on Wednesday 17th January 2013. She has kindly agreed to share her knowledge of how teachers can recognise and help pupils with working memory difficulties.

'Maze Puzzle (Blender)' photo (c) 2012, FutUndBeidl - license:“Approximately 10% of children have a poor working memory” (Gathercole & Alloway 2008)

What is working memory?

Working memory is what enables us to keep several pieces of information active while we try to do something with them. Working memory is quite purposeful -- we hold all these pieces of information together in order to solve a problem or carry out a task.

How do we identify these children in our classrooms?

Typically, children with poor working memory:

• are reserved in group activities in the classroom, rarely volunteering
answers and sometimes not answering direct questions.
• behave as though they have not paid attention, for example forgetting
part or all of instructions or messages, or not seeing tasks through
to completion
• frequently lose their place in complicated tasks that they may
eventually abandon
• forget the content of messages and instructions
• make poor academic progress during the school years, particularly
in the areas of reading and mathematics
• are considered by their teachers to have short attention spans and
also to be easily distracted.

Children who suffer from working memory difficulties may have a specific learning need such as
Asperger’s Syndrome

How can we help these children?

Frequently repeat important information
It is good practice when working with children with working memory difficulties to regularly repeat information that is vital to ongoing activities. This will include:  
• general classroom management instructions;
• task-specific instructions (brief & simple steps);
• Children should also be encouraged to ask for information to be repeated if they forget.

Encourage the use of memory aids/visual tools

  • number lines
  • multiplication grids
  • personal dictionary
  • wall charts
  • audio devices
  • computer software


  • Daily timetables
  • List of items needed for various classes/activities
  • Diaries

  • Copying from the board should be avoided
  • Use alternative methods of recording eg mind maps, diagrams, storyboards, dictaphone
  • Encourage joined handwriting ( reduces place finding and orientation difficulties)
  • Dictation sentences are a good method of practising and testing spelling.
  • An alternative to reading comprehension - cloze passages/ sentence completion exercise/ paragraph analysis

Brain Training Activities to improve working memory

  • Yes hunt out Dr K’s Brain Training DS game you know you have it somewhere.
  • Digit recall - Call out about 5 numbers then get students to repeat them to you ( not as easy as it sounds)
  • Object recall - as above only object names ( like a prize list in a game show )
  • Directions recall - call out directions and get students to recall ( Touch head ,eye,ear toes, knees ) in order.

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