0 How can you detect problems of working memory in the classroom?

How can you detect problems of working memory in the classroom?

In the previous article we reviewed the importance of working memory for student learning, allowing the successful completion of the learning experiences that are proposed in the classroom.Previously had also made a review of the relationship between learning disabilities and working memory in which evidence that children with learning difficulties tend to have limitations in working memory, also, when a child has a low capacity working memory, the probability of having a problem in school learning is greater. Learning problems associated with poor working memory are substantial and in some cases are severe enough to require special education. As we have seen, many studies have shown that poor working memory is a characteristic of children with learning disabilities in both literacy and math.

With this in mind, it is important that teachers can identify children with limitations in working memory in the classroom in order to determine how academic work can be differentiated according to their needs. This paper will present how the difficulties in this area of ​​human cognition appear within the school environment. The objective is to give guidance to teachers so they can detect, without the need of formal assessments, children who may have learning difficulties as a result of poor working memory. Understand the unique needs facing children and the reason for its poor progress in learning is a necessary step to effectively support and enhance their learning outcomes. In a future article we review the way they can adapt classroom activities to promote the learning of children with low working memory capacity.

Children with limitations in working memory have difficulties in the following behaviors in the classroom, which will be developed later:

Their academic progress is slow
They forget the instructions
Fail in activities requiring simultaneous storage and processing
He lost in the execution of complex tasks
Not retain long-term learning
Participate little in class
Simplify tasks using automated mechanisms
No monitor academic work
Attentional problems appear to

1. poor academic progress

It is very likely that a child with poor working memory have problems with academic learning. As already revisadoen previous articles, research shows that most children who take very low scores on tests of working memory have academic problems in both literacy and mathematics, from its early years of formal schooling.The poor working memory, therefore, puts a child at high risk of having limitations in their academic progress. The poor academic progress of these children is due, in large part, because they can not meet the demands of working memory of many classroom activities that are designed to help them learn. This leads to frequent failures in many of the episodes that will be provided with learning opportunities and results in a slow learning pace or unequal, which is higher in academic areas such as reading, writing and mathematics, which impose high loads into working memory.

2. Forgotten instructions

Instructions by miss uneasy

Throughout the day, the teacher needs to communicate effectively with their students about what should be done, by whom, how and in what order. Sometimes the instructions involve the management of children and their working materials. Other instructions are related to the sequence of actions in a learning activity. Some slogans provide crucial information that is intrinsic to a particular activity, and that involves the preservation of many details for a successful performance. This type of memory instructions operational burdens that are significant and therefore one of the most consistent problems facing children with poor working memory is the difficulty in following the instructions of the teacher in the classroom. Often the children forget the content of the instructions, especially when they are long and do not represent an established routine in the classroom, and once lost can not be recovered unless someone remembers them. As a result, these children are failures to process these instructions properly, which may explain the difficulties encountered in understanding the structure of many activities in the classroom, then avoiding the activity that is being done in the classroom appropriately .Following is a missed opportunity for learning.

3. Failures in activities that require simultaneous storage and processing

Children often fail to meet the demands of many learning activities you have to keep something in mind while doing something else that is mentally challenging and demanding attention. This mental juggling requires storage combined with a mental activity that requires a lot of effort working memory demand. When children have poor working memory capacity have difficulty structured activities whose successful completion requires mental processing involved in a relatively demanding as needed to maintain stored information.

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In mathematics, for example, had failures in mental arithmetic.They are also difficult to use properly manipulable material designed to facilitate the understanding and mastery of arithmetic, as multibase of Dienes blocks, they prefer to use objects or fingers to count. This is because the use of these materials places a greater burden on working memory because they have to memorize the value representing the different blocks and steps that have been made with them while performing the operation. Similarly, algorithms are difficult to perform as they require the retrieval of the basic number combinations and appropriate monitoring of the steps for execution while the resolved.

In the area of ​​language, tasks that require comprehension and oral and written expression also impose significant demands processing (analysis and comprehension of language) in conjunction with the memory storage. Recall that by listening or reading information must be maintained in memory while making the connections necessary for a proper understanding.

These tasks share the characteristic impose significant demands of processing while creating a memory load. The memory loads not appear to be significant, but the combined storage with the processing requirements which appear to be that the child has to fail in performing the task.

4. Lost in the execution of complex tasks

Children with poor working memory problems often have to track your progress in a particular activity. This can lead, for example, that their writing with little consistency. For the written to make sense, you need to keep in mind the writing plan, which has already been drafted and what remains to point while typing. They also have to keep track of where they are within the text as you type. It is possible that these children will forget the order of the steps of what you are writing after the first run and then the text is not consistent. You may also lose their position in the sentence, resulting in omissions and repetitions of words (when the child forgets if you have written the word or not), additions of words that were not part of the sentence I would write and often abandoning the task.
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Even activities that seem simple to adults, such as copying from the board, in which errors occur, they can be muyexigentes for some children. Because of their failures in working memory, these children tend to write letter by letter rather than by words or sections of text because they fail to store more information as they write and present errors and omissions or repetitions of words or parts of words . Children with poor working memory capacity not only have to remember your place in the sequence of words but also the sequence of letters in a word and as a result lost his place in the text you are copying. For this reason, these children are working on a more complex task (three levels of unit - letter, word and sentence) that children with greater ability to whom the task is reduced to two levels (word and sentence), imposing a greater burden monitoring the task.

5. trouble retaining learning long-term

A child with limited working memory also has flaws to store experiences and information in long-term memory. Often the child forgets what he has experienced and learned in a previous activity in their school life. When a child forgets the previous learning experiences, you will be difficult to integrate new content from different modalities and different domains of representation to make relevant connections. When this happens, the construction of long-term learning is affected.

6. poor class participation

Children with limitations in working memory is reserved in the discussions that take place in class, rarely participate voluntarily or not respond when the teacher asks a question to the group, but usually have normal social relationships with peers are outgoing and sometimes in informal social relationships. And sometimes raise their hands to participate in class, but when the teacher gives them the word they remain silent because they have forgotten what they meant or say something that is not relevant. For example, when teachers ask questions about the activities that have been conducted recently as part of discussions, his poor memory and forgetfulness experiences of information do not actively participate in class or do so improperly.

7. tendency to simplify the task using automated mechanisms

These children prefer to simplify tasks when possible and use strategies or mechanisms that are automated. For example, as noted above, prefer to count objects or fingers instead of using manipulatives which requires more storage and processing load. In practice the preferred spelling words while copying are seeing and do not use other strategies that have been taught by the teacher.This tendency to simplify tasks by using automated mechanisms reduces the additional benefits associated with specific learning activity, and also reflects the avoidance of the child to situations that may be lost in the hierarchy of the tasks. Paradoxically, the consequences for the child increased rather than reduced, slowing their pace of learning.

8. Difficulty monitor academic work

Teachers in most children with poor working memory consider that they have difficulty in monitoring the quality of their work. They often do not check their work to correct their mistakes, mistakes that seem to reflect neglect, have disorganized and dirty jobs with poor organization of their writing. This is due, firstly, to its academic level tends to be very low. The work produced by a child with learning difficulties will be of lower quality than expected for the degree you are pursuing, with a greater number of errors.Second, the issues for monitoring work can be because they forget crucial information needed to guide the task to completion. To check your work requires that the child compare what you have done with the original instruction, which most likely have forgotten.As noted above, remember and follow instructions is one of the biggest challenges that children with poor working memory face.

9. Attention Problems

Often teachers interpret the main problem of these children with limitations in working memory as inattention and motivation describe them as having a poor attention span and distractibility.In addition, classroom observations reveal high levels of inattention and distractibility. Although there is no consistent evidence that these children have ADHD, proper performance in complex tasks that require working memory demands attention regulation to keep the focus on activities that are mentally challenging. Children with poor working memory tend to be distracted when they run demanding cognitive activities because memory is recharged and children and can not keep in mind the necessary information to guide your mental activity. Additionally, difficulties in working memory can cause them to lose the thread of class discussions and consequently distracted. These are probably the reasons why educators perceive the problems of these children as an attentional difficulties.

It is important to note that when children begin an activity, usually willing, presenting adequate performance at the beginning, but then lose focus and begin to fail. For this reason is that inattention and distractibility problems seem to be more a consequence of the reloading of working memory that a primary failure in attentional capacity.

The characteristics of children with working memory problems that have been reported as a result is poor academic progress. His difficulty makes it frustrating for the academic activities and therefore discourage. Finally, self-esteem ends up being violated.Therefore, it is necessary for teachers to take measures to support these children in the classroom. Recognizing these difficulties in children is a necessary first step to initiate appropriate intervention at the school level.


Alloway, TP (2006). Making 'working memory' work in the classroom. Early Years Update, Issue 42, 9-11.

Alloway, TP and Gathercole, SE (2005). Working memory. Teaching, Thinking and Creativity, Winter, 48-51.

Alloway, TP and Gathercole, SE (2006). How does working memory work in the classroom? Educational Research and Reviews, 1 (4), 134-139.

Gathercole, SE, Alloway, TP (2007). Understanding Working Memory: A Classroom Guide. London: Harcourt Assessment.


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