Have you ever noticed a student struggling to remember things or raising their hand to give an answer but suddenly forgetting what they were about to say? Traits like these are common in students whose working memory is not as strong as it should be. Consequently, these students face many problems that get in the way of their academic performance.
Teachers often have strategies at their disposal to help students with working memory difficulties. But before they can implement these strategies, it is important for them to identify students who are actually struggling in this area. Knowing which of their students needs more help can better equip teachers to provide the support these students need.
One of the easiest ways to know if a child has issues with working memory is to use a working memory checklist. This simple tool can help teachers identify students who are in the risk zone and can benefit from further evaluation and intervention. While schools can curate their own checklist for this purpose, we have created an in-depth working memory checklist in this blog post to make the job of our teachers a little less demanding.
Working memory: what is it, and why is it important?
Our brain has two types of memory: long-term and short-term. One part of short-term memory is known as working memory. It is a special kind of memory that allows a person to hold bits of information for a short duration and process them to complete a task at hand. It is one of the executive functions of our brain that makes it easy for us to work with a set of information by sustaining our concentration and helping us stay committed to the task without losing track.
Working memory is a vital cognitive skill that helps us process information efficiently. It serves as a temporary storage place where we keep the information we need to reason, problem-solve, and make decisions. It helps us create a mental to-do list so we don’t go about doing tasks randomly but accomplish them in a logical sequence. Without a strong working memory, even simple everyday tasks like remembering grocery lists or directions can be challenging.
Use of working memory in the classroom
“Working memory plays a key role in supporting children’s learning over the school years, and beyond this into adulthood.”
Says a study on ‘How does working memory work in the classroom?’
Hence, a good working memory is a key requirement to support learning and is required for most activities going on in the classroom. It allows students to learn to read, solve math problems, pay attention to the concepts being taught, remember instructions given by the teacher, and more. It also plays a role in storing information in long-term memory, which is the main aim of teaching, so that students can learn and accumulate knowledge for future use.
As working memory has a limited capacity and this capacity varies among individuals, it is possible to find some students struggling with tasks requiring the use of working memory. It is important for teachers to remember that this memory develops with time and practice. So, if some students in class struggle with holding and manipulating information, they may need more time to develop it. What teachers can do at this point is remain patient and help struggling students build their working memory.
But before that, teachers should take some time to evaluate students for working memory deficits, and if required, for other executive functioning skills as well. This can be accomplished by using an executive functioning skills checklist and a working memory checklist like the one we have prepared for you.
Working memory checklist: An evaluative tool for teachers
As working memory varies among individuals, teachers can use a checklist to evaluate the working memory abilities of their students. This checklist does not confirm if a child has difficulties with working memory but helps identify those who might have a working memory deficit. Based on the observations made through this checklist, teachers can call for further assessments to confirm if a student is really struggling with working memory difficulties.
Below are some points to include in a checklist evaluating the working memory of students:
1. Do you notice a lack of confidence in the child?
2. Does the child struggle with organizing tasks?
3. Does the student display poor attention to detail?
4. Do you often find the child daydreaming in the classroom?
5. Does the student seem inattentive when a lesson is being taught in the class?
6. Is the child easily distracted or appears fidgety during classroom activities?
7. Does the child struggle with remembering and processing information?
8. Do you see the child turning impatient when waiting for their turn to speak?
9. Can the student consistently remember math facts?
10. Do you find the child losing belongings very often?
11. Have you noticed instances where the child forgets what to say?
12. Does the student have trouble taking notes while simultaneously listening to the teacher?
13. Does the student fail to understand the context during conversations with peers and teachers?
14. Have you seen the child struggle with multi-step tasks?
15. Is it difficult for the student to remember instructions for an activity?
16. Did you notice the student reading a text multiple times to comprehend its meaning?
17. Can the child easily perform mental math problems?
18. Does the student have a hard time processing new information?
19. Do the answers given by the student demonstrate misunderstanding?
20. Does the child often ask peers what they are supposed to do?
21. Do you regularly find yourself offering help to the student before they can start the activity?
22. Does the student display anxiety and frustration when asked to do tasks independently?
23. Is the child struggling to learn math concepts and showing poor progress in reading?
24. Is the student’s notebook filled with mistakes even when the notes were provided on screen or written on the board?
25. Does the child demonstrate inconsistent memory, remembering things easily on one day and forgetting things on other days?
How to use our working memory checklist?
Here’s how you can use our free checklist to recognize which of your students are finding it tough to use their working memory effectively.
- Download the PDF from the link provided and print out copies.
- Observe your students during the class and take note of how they react when given a task, the difficulties they face, and how they overcome them.
- Use a checklist for each student and record your observations.
- Collate and evaluate the data received through the checklist to identify common challenges your students are facing and also the students who are struggling more than their peers to complete tasks requiring working memory.
- If you find students having trouble with working memory, sit with them and set individual goals to help them improve. You can also devise strategies to support their learning.
- Keep an eye out for improvement in the working memory of the child and alter your strategies as and when needed to achieve the desired progress.
- Inform parents about the assessment and its results. You can suggest further evaluations to help parents confirm their child’s difficulties and take the next steps to help them overcome them.
What can teachers do to support students with working memory deficits?
A few strategies that you can employ as a teacher to help students with working memory difficulties are:
- Ask students to repeat instructions to ensure they remember them and have understood them well.
- Set routines so students know what to expect and have less new information to process.
- Encourage partner activity so they can help each other when carrying out complex or multi-step tasks.
- Limit the number of distractions in the classroom.
- Allow the child to write or draw important pieces of information.
- Teach students note-taking strategies to record important pieces of information.
- Divide tasks into small steps and use simple language to explain each step to students.
- Provide students with planning sheets so they can plan their work and have a visual reminder of what needs to be done.
- Conduct working memory games and activities to help students build this cognitive skill.
Identifying working memory difficulties is the first step to helping students struggling with them. Failure to treat working memory challenges can result in poor academic progress, leading to reduced confidence and social isolation.
Therefore, teachers must be on the lookout for signs that could indicate a working memory deficit in children and use a checklist to assist them in evaluations. Timely identification and intervention can support struggling students and help them reach their full academic potential in school and beyond.
- Alloway, Tracy. (2006). How does working memory work in the classroom?. Educational Research and Reviews 1.