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Memory

Download the memory checklist (PDF 164kb) Opening a new window - an assessment tool to help you identify a pupil's memory needs.

Memory Difficulties and Literacy

Some children with memory difficulties can find reading and spelling more difficult than their peers.

  • Their reading may be laboured as they can be over dependent on decoding at the phoneme level.  Children with dyslexic type difficulties can have problems with the 'unitization' of sounds (see Bresnitz, 2006).  This is the ability to process larger units from spelling patterns to whole words and connect them to phonological and semantic codes in memory.
  • They may find it difficult to organise their ideas for writing.
  • They may take longer to learn and retain new spellings.

These children can be helped by:

  • Introducing joined handwriting as soon as possible as this can reduce orientation and place finding difficulties
  • Using pattern and sequence in the teaching of phonics e.g. through onset and rime
  • Using dictated sentences as part of their spelling practice work
  • Using multisensory techniques to learn spellings in 'word families'
  • Using mind maps to organise and record ideas.  See 'Introducing children to mind mapping in 12 easy steps' by Eva Hoffman.

Memory difficulties can also negatively affect the reading comprehension of children.  Gathercole and Alloway explain the demands of the task as,

"by holding the words that have been recognised from print for a sufficient period of time to enable the reader to link the words together to produce a meaningful interpretation of the clause or sentence, or even larger sections of text."

This is made even harder for children who are struggling to decode the words they are reading!

These children can be helped by:

  • Reading the questions before they read a passage so they are cued in to what they are looking out for
  • Using cloze procedure exercises to 'engage' with the text meaningfully
  • Highlighting or underlining key words or sentences
  • Some children find it helpful to read aloud rather than 'in their heads' as they can listen to the text and self monitor for meaning more easily
  • Working through a text paragraph by paragraph.

 

Phonological memory involves both processing and storage of sounds in words.  It is critical in the early stages of reading and writing.

Phonological memory can be supported by developing strategies to compensate for the underlying phonological weakness.

  • Break words into bigger units, using chunking.  For example the word yesterday can be broken into 3 syllables e.g. yes/ ter/ day which can make it easier to remember for blending and spelling.  Word 'families' can also be taught using chunks through onset and rime e.g. bl/ ack.  This also makes it easier to generalise spellings.
  • Teach learners how to use rehearsal e.g. saying words or sounds over and over again while they are working out the sounds that they need to manipulate.

Memory Difficulties in the Classroom

Many children with learning difficulties have memory problems that make learning more difficult.  They may needs lots more opportunities for over learning and consolidation than their peers.

Many children with working memory difficulties can present as poorly organised.  It can be very difficult and stressful for these children to forget the details of what they need or have to do throughout the day.

These children can be helped by:

  • Visual or colour coded timetables
  • Lists or pictures of equipment needed for tasks (e.g. ruler, maths book, pencil, rubber) or lessons (top, shorts, socks, plimsoles for PE)
  • Support in knowing what homework has been set and when it is due in by a clearly written diary system
  • School bags with sections to organise their books and materials needed.

Children with working memory difficulties can also seem to be inattentive in class, they may interrupt or keep asking a neighbour what the teacher just said.

These children can be helped by:

  • Simple instructions, given one at a time, in the order that you want a task completed
  • Extra time for thinking before answering, so the child can process what has been said before responding
  • Repeating key words or phrases and explaining them to make sure they are meaningful
  • Avoiding copying from the board.

Memory definitions

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to retain information in short term (temporary) storage while simultaneously processing incoming information and retrieving information from long term storage.

If a child is distracted or interrupted while using working memory, the process is lost and the child must start the task from the beginning again - s/he cannot resume the task from the point where s/he was interrupted.  (See Gathercole and Alloway, 2008)

Children with high working memory scores tend to show good reading skills and score well on tests of mathematical ability.  Children with poor working memory scores tend to perform at below average levels on these same measures of attainment.

In a class of 30 children aged around 7, a teacher can expect a six year range in working memory capacity.  For example, three children will have the working memory capacity of a 4 year old and three children will have working memory capacity of a 10 year old.  These differences will have a significant impact on learning.

Short Term Memory

Short term memory refers to the storage of information for a few seconds without having to manipulate it in any way.

Long Term Memory

Long term memory is the permanent storage of information in the brain.  Retrieval of information from long term memory is aided by meaning - unfamiliar vocabulary or facts learned without understanding will be forgotten very easily because they have no associated meaning.

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