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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

Excellent insight into learners. Explains why some learners seem to struggle with no apparent reason. Essential for those wishing to understand learning.

Miss Antoinette Unsworth
teaching and learning, Michaeljohn Training
June 22, 2015

As a practical guide this book is brilliant, in that it practices what it preaches. The what, where, why, and how gives a short explanation of the issues faced. The practical applications found in each chapter - Try It, Science Flash, and Current Debate - help to meaningfully divert to different areas of interest. I will use different elements of this book in formulating Study Skills Sessions for Freshman students in Medicine MB BS.

Ms Michelle Robinson
Division of Medical Education, Kings College
June 3, 2015

A highly recommended book for both undergraduate and post graduate students. This book is very useful and the feedback from the students is positive in terms of the content.

Mrs Sarah Martin-Denham
Education , Sunderland University
April 21, 2015

There is a short Appendix providing a list of the general working memory strategies discussed in the book, presented in a useful table format with chapter indication, as well as a list of specific working memory strategies, suggested for students with a particular disorder.

Disappointingly, there is no whole chapter devoted to Speech and Language Impairment.

Overall, 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.

Ms Jan Seabourne
Education and Training , Dyslexia Action
March 20, 2015

Very user friendly and offers a basic overview of how memory works.

Mrs Sara Graham
School of Education, Chester University
March 9, 2015

Excellent for my students to begin their reading. Appropriate strategies were very useful. Good opportunities for discussion.

Mrs Irene Scott
Faculty, Chester University
March 5, 2015

Clearly written and steers the reader through a complex area cognitive psychology
Good use of chapter summaries

Dr Dominic Griffiths
Faculty of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University
February 24, 2015

This book does not usefully support the education studies module within this course

Mrs Sarah Hindmarsh
School of Education (Clifton), Nottingham Trent University
February 18, 2015

An excellent book, clearly laid out in a very accessible style. Gives insights into the links between working memory difficulties and specific learning difficulties.

Mrs Linda Crittenden
Learning Support, Mid Kent College of Higher & F.E.
January 8, 2015

This is a very good book to help undergraduate students to understand working memory and relating this to learning environments.

Mrs Kathryn Nethercott
Department of Education, Bedfordshire University
December 17, 2014

Sample Materials & Chapters

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

For instructors

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