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Understanding Working Memory

Understanding Working Memory

Second Edition

December 2014 | 168 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

It is hard to conceive of a classroom activity that does not involve working memory – our ability to work with information. In fact, it would be impossible for students to learn without working memory. From following instructions to reading a sentence, from sounding out an unfamiliar word to calculating a math problem, nearly everything a student does in the classroom requires working with information. Even when a student is asked to do something simple, like take out their science book and open it to page 289, they have to use their working memory.

Most children have a working memory that is strong enough to quickly find the book and open to the correct page, but some don’t – approximately 10% in any classroom. A student who loses focus and often daydreams may fall in this 10%. A student who isn’t living up to their potential may fall in this 10%. A student who may seem unmotivated may fall in this 10%. In the past, many of these students would have languished at the bottom of the class, because their problems seemed insurmountable and a standard remedy like extra tuition didn’t solve them. But emerging evidence shows that many of these children can improve their performance by focusing on their working memory. Working memory is a foundational skill in the classroom and when properly supported it can often turn around a struggling student’s prospects. 

This book will make sure you are able to spot problems early, work with children to improve their working memory and ensure they reach their full potential.

How does the book work?

Each of the following chapters includes a description of the learning difficulty (WHAT), followed by an inside look into the brain of a student with the disorder (WHERE), their unique working memory profile (WHY), and classroom strategies to support working memory (HOW). There are two types of strategies: general working memory strategies that can be applied to all students in your class, and specific working memory strategies for each learning difficulty. The final chapter (Chapter 9) provides the student with tools to empower them along their learning journey.

The aim in supporting students with learning difficulties is not just to help them survive in the classroom, but to thrive as well. The strategies in the book can provide scaffolding and support that will unlock their working memory potential to boost learning. They are designed to be easily integrated within the classroom setting as a dimension of an inclusive curriculum and used in developing an individualized education program (IEP) for the student.

The strategies recommended here can also complement existing programs that support a core deficit, such as a social skills program for a student with autistic spectrum disorder, or behavior modification for those with ADHD. Each chapter also includes:

  • Try It box: Provides the reader with an opportunity to have a hands-on understanding of the material
  • Science Flash box: Gives the reader a snapshot of current and interesting research related to each chapter
  • Current Debate box: Discusses a controversial issue pertaining to the disorder

Tracy Packiam Alloway is an award-winning psychologist based at the University of North Florida

Ross Alloway is the CEO of Memosyne Ltd, a company that brings cutting-edge scientific research to parents.


Epilogue by Kim Grant
Chapter 1: Our Brain's Post-it-note
Chapter 2: Diagnosing Working Memory
Chapter 3: Specific Learning Disorder: Reading Difficulties (Dyslexia)
Chapter 4: Specific Learning Disorder: Maths Difficulties (Dyscalculia)
Chapter 5: Developmental Coordination
Chapter 6: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Chapter 7: Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Chapter 8: Anxiety Disorders (by Evan Copello)
Chapter 9: Student Strategies and Training
Appendix: Working Memory strategies table
Epilogue by Kim Grant

This is a clearly written and well-organised book, providing valuable information about working memory and how it can affect individuals’ learning and progress in an educational context. It is a ‘must read’ for all teachers and support assistants in primary and secondary schools. Many parents are likely to find the book of interest to them if they have a child with any of the disorders discussed in the book. Undergraduate psychology students would also benefit from reading this book as background understanding to working memory in context – the references and further reading offering opportunity to extend their knowledge.

Jenny Moody, Postgraduate Psychology Tutor, Dyslexia Action
Dyslexia Review

The clear structure and lack of jargon make the book accessible to a wide range of readers... I was especially impressed that anxiety disorders were included because these can have a debilitating effect on a student, and yet they are often missed out of books on special needs. The case studies are helpful and provide examples of how students can be affected, together with specific strategies that can be used to help them. 

Amanda Swannell
Special Children

It is a very handy, "go to" reference for students, teachers and parents about the nature of working memory difficulties and how these can manifest themselves within the areas of Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, DCD, ADHD, ASD  and Anxiety disorders. 

Janet Oostendorp

The book is a refreshing welcome addition to the field of special education, and promises to be a great success among educators.

Naveen Kashyap, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology
Psychology Learning & Teaching

support module text / background reading

Mr Hywel Thomas
College Of Human And Health Science, Swansea University
November 3, 2015

Strong reinforcement of theories relating to learning

Mr bill lowe
Department of Education, Newman University
February 15, 2016

A helpful text for those who focus on learning and teaching

Dr Joan Williams
School of Education, Brighton University
April 29, 2016

A very worthwhile and helpful text for trainee teachers.

Dr Joan Williams
School of Education, Brighton University
April 29, 2016

The book takes the readers, e.g., the students and the educators, through the working memory from a clear description of working memory to current research into brain, learning and memory. The working memory deficits are presented using a practical framework throughout the book (WHAT, WHERE and WHY) which clearly outlines the link between the description of the learning difficulties, the latest research in neurosciences and education.

Dr Nicoleta Gaciu
School of Education, Oxford Brookes University
November 20, 2015

The text was somewhat lacking regarding theoretical depth for our purposes.

Mr Peter Karlsson
Sch of Health & Social Sciences - HOS, Halmstad University
June 23, 2015

Sample Materials & Chapters

Ch 1: Our Brain's Post-it-note