Teaching strategies

The first approach to ameliorating the difficulties experienced by children with a poor working memory is to reduce the working memory demands of classroom activities. A number of guidelines have been proposed to support children with poor working memory (e.g. Gathercole & Alloway, 2008). After recognising working memory failures teachers should try to evaluate the working memory load of classroom activities. This involves being mindful that heavy loads are caused by lengthy sentences, unfamiliar content, and demanding mental processing activities. Where possible, teachers should then reduce working memory demands. For example, children with a poor working memory have particular difficulties with sentence writing (e.g. Alloway & Gathercole, 2006). Processing difficulty can be lessened by reducing the linguistic complexity of the sentences. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as simplifying the vocabulary and using common rather than unusual words. The syntax of the sentence can also be simplified, by using simple structures such as active subject-verb-object constructions rather than complex clausal structures. 

It is particularly important to ensure that a child can remember what he or she is doing. On many occasions, children with a poor working memory simply forget what they have to do next. Therefore teachers should provide simple instructions, breaking them down into separate independent steps, should repeat important information, or ask a child to repeat it. Teachers should also provide external memory aids such as number lines and useful spellings (e.g. Gathercole & Alloway, 2004; 2008). Children with a poor working memory often choose not to use such devices (e.g. Alloway & Gathercole, 2006), instead using lowerlevel strategies with lower processing requirements, resulting in reduced general efficiency. For example, instead of using aids such as Unifix blocks and number lines designed to reduce processing demands, children with a poor working memory are likely to rely upon error-prone strategies like simple counting. In order to encourage children’s use of memory aids it may be necessary for teachers to give children regular practice with using aids in simple activities with few working memory demands.

Teachers should also encourage children to develop their own strategies for dealing with a poor working memory. These might include asking for help, rehearsing important information, note taking, and organisational strategies. Arming a child with such helpstrategies will promote their development as an independent learner.