Poor auditory working memory

Poor auditory working memory

When interpreting results from Races and Letter names, comparison should be made with the other memory subtests in CoPS as well as the other auditory tests. The teacher should ask which of the following is the case?

  • the student has general associative memory difficulties (visual as well as verbal)
  • the student has general sequential memory difficulties (visual as well as verbal)
  • the student has general auditory memory difficulties
  • the student has specific difficulties in auditory associative memory
  • the student has specific difficulties in auditory sequential memory
  • the student has general auditory processing difficulties
  • the student has a combination of some the above difficulties

Selection of appropriate teaching and training activities will depend to a large extent on the answers to this question, as well as on the severity of the difficulties. The more extensive and the more severe the memory problems, the more difficult they will be to remediate. Nevertheless, memory remediation activities should always be considered. It is tempting to suggest that because a student has auditory processing difficulties of some kind then the solution is to teach the child to use only visual strategies for reading instead of teaching phonic decoding skills. However, this could result in the student having greater difficulties later on.

Auditory memory training activities

Commonly, weaknesses in either phonological awareness or auditory discrimination are easier to improve through direct training than memory limitations are, especially with younger students. On the other hand, older students can respond well to metacognitive approaches to memory improvement, i.e. techniques designed to promote understanding of their own memory limitations and to develop appropriate compensatory strategies (Buzan, 2006; Reid, 2016). However, that does not mean that memory training is not worthwhile with young students. Indeed, it may well be the case that with improved training techniques, remediation of memory weaknesses could turn out to be a much more promising approach in the future. The emphasis should be on variety and on stretching the student steadily with each training session. The tasks should not be too easy for the student (which would be boring) nor much too difficult (which would be discouraging), but they should give just the right amount of challenge to motivate the student to maximum effort. Use of prizes, star charts for improvement etc., should all be used if these will help motivation. Activities can usually be carried out at home as well as in school. Competition can be motivating for some students, but it can also be discouraging for the student with severe difficulties, because they will easily perceive and be embarrassed by the discrepancy between their performance and that of others.

Auditory memory training activities include:

  • I went to the supermarket – teacher says sentences of increasing length and complexity and the student has to repeat these back verbatim (e.g. ‘I went to the supermarket and bought three tins of beans, one loaf of bread, a carton of milk, a packet of sweets, two bars of chocolate...’ etc.)
  • Find the changed (or missing) word – teacher says a sequence of words to the student (e.g. dog, cat, fish, monkey, spider) and then repeats it changing one (or missing one out altogether), either slightly or more obviously (e.g. dog, cat, fox, monkey, spider) and the student has to identify the change.
  • What’s their job? – Teacher says a list of name-occupation associations (e.g. ‘Mr Pearce the painter, Mrs Jolly the teacher, Mr Fish the hairdresser, Miss Brown the electrician’) and then asks for recall of one (e.g. ‘Who was the teacher?’ or ‘What is Miss Brown’s job?’).
  • Word repetition – teacher says sequences of unrelated words to the student (e.g. hat, mouse, box, cup, ladder, tree, biscuit, car, fork, carpet) and the student has to repeat them in the correct order. The length of the list can be gradually extended. If the words are semantically related it is more difficult, and if they are phonologically related (e.g. fish, film, fog, fun, phone, finger) it is more difficult still.
  • Phoneme repetition – as word repetition, but with phonemes (‘oo, v, s, er, d’). Note that phonologically similar lists will be much more difficult (e.g. ‘p, b, k, d, t’)
  • Letter name repetition – as word repetition, but with letter names.
  • Digit repetition – as word repetition, but with digits. About one per second is maximum difficulty for short sequences. Slightly faster or slower rates are both, generally, easier to remember, but dyslexics tend to find a slower sequence harder (because their rehearsal processes in working memory are deficient).

Recommended computer software for developing auditory memory includes Mastering Memory (CALSC), which is a very flexible tool for practising memory strategies, but it does require quite a lot of teacher input. Use of the phonic teaching system AcceleRead, AcceleWrite (Iansyst) has also been found to improve working memory ability (Miles, 2000).

Teaching phonics

For the reasons explained above, the student who displays major difficulties in auditory memory is likely to have problems in acquiring effective phonic skills. The recommendations here would be for a highly-structured multisensory phonic approach to literacy learning. This should not only provide ample practice to compensate for memory weakness, but it should also make use of the student’s strong visual skills in order to reinforce learning and help to maintain confidence.

Examples of well-structured phonics schemes suitable for younger students with dyslexic difficulties include: Alpha to Omega, Toe by Toe, The Bangor Dyslexia Teaching System, The Phonics Handbook, Sound Linkage, Spelling Made Easy, The Hickey Multisensory Language Course, Star Track Reading and Spelling, Sounds-Write and Sound Discovery.

Good computer software for practising phonic skills includes: Wordshark5, Talking Animated Alphabet, Nessy and Lexia. Wordshark5 offers 60 different computer games which use sound, graphics and text to teach and reinforce word recognition and spelling. The program includes phonics, onset and rime, homophones, spelling rules, common letter patterns, visual and auditory patterns, prefixes, suffixes, roots, word division, high frequency words, use of words in context, alphabet and dictionary skills and more. In an evaluation of Wordshark in 403 schools (Singleton and Simmons, 2001), teachers reported significant benefits to reading, spelling and confidence in using the program. Talking animated alphabet helps young children develop their knowledge of the shapes, sounds and names of the alphabet. Nessy Reading and Spelling is an online program including 100 structured lessons for students (aged 5–12) to work through. Lexia (suitable for Reception to Year 6) provides explicit, systematic, personalised learning in six areas of reading instruction (phonological awareness, phonics, structural analysis, automaticity/fluency, vocabulary and comprehension). Lexia is web-enabled, allowing students to access the software seamlessly between school and home.

Use of a talking word processor is beneficial because it gives the student auditory feedback and encourages them to pay attention to the phonic components of words when writing. For example: Clicker 7, DocsPlus, SymWriter 2 and Texthelp Read and Write.

A generic structured learning scheme such as AcceleRead, AcceleWrite (Iansyst) can be used with any good talking word processor. Further information on techniques for teaching the dyslexic child can be found in Augur (1996); Cooke (2002); Crombie (2018); Hornsby (1995); Pollock, Waller and Politt (2004); Reid (2016); Thomson and Watkins (2007).