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Working Memory

Difficulty following multi-step directio

Working Memory: What It Is and How It Works

Working memory is an ability that allows us to work with information. It helps us learn and perform even basic tasks. Most kids with learning and thinking differences have trouble with this vital function. That’s especially true of kids with executive functioning issues and ADHD. Here’s what you need to know about this key ability, and how it affects learning. Read more


Working Memory | The Engine for Learning

Approximately 10% of us have weak working memory; however, the estimates of the percentage of weak working memory in students with specific learning disorders, including dyslexia, ranges from 20 to 50 percent. 


Working memory is what is needed when we must go beyond straight memorization and do something with the information. Examples of everyday tasks that require working memory include:

  • Listening to, remembering, and following directions that contain multiple steps

  • Remembering a question long enough to think about it and formulate an answer

  • Carrying out the steps to a recipe when no longer looking at the recipe

  • Engaging in mental arithmetic

Working memory is limited both in capacity and duration. The average adult cannot hold more than six or seven bits of information in working memory. The duration of working memory is usually limited to a matter of seconds. Once information is lost from working memory, it cannot be retrieved. The student who “loses” some of the steps for directions delivered orally will not be able to retrieve the steps without repetition or some other form of assistance. Read more

Trouble With Sequencing: What You Need to Know

Working memory is an executive function. It allows us to hold on to new information while we’re in the middle of an activity. For instance, working memory helps kids remember the order and number of steps in a math problem. Or a list of tasks they’ve been asked to do.


Many kids with learning and thinking differences have trouble with working memory. That alone can make sequencing hard. But most kids with sequencing challenges have trouble with both working memory and language. Read more

Support for Working Memory in School


Individualized Education Plan (IEP) via Special Education*

  • Data-based assessment of student’s present levels of functioning with working memory (ie. the student’s needs and how disability in this area impacts progress in the curriculum)

  • Goals in IEP related to working memory (Ex. “The student will accurately repeat verbal instructions with 80% accuracy before beginning assignment as evidenced by teacher/staff observation and data” or “The student will use mnemonics to aid in memorization of content material 4 out of 5 times as measured by teacher observations and data”)

  • Progress monitoring in IEP to see if student is meeting individualized goals to grow in skills and close gap with peers

  • Services of specialized teachers to teach your child how to achieve their individualized goals and monitor their progress towards meeting goals.

  • Monitoring teacher who oversees student’s performance and challenges in all classes. Also coordinates support between student, parent & educators.

  • Accommodations to address student’s unique needs in IEP such as “Provide completed examples of worked problems” or “Provide graphic organizer to break writing assignments into smaller pieces” or “Provide formula card to reduce amount of information stored while working”

504 Plan

  • Accommodations as noted above in IEP plan


* Reminder: All services provided via special education should be provided in the least restrictive environment, which is a typical classroom whenever possible. Special education is a service, not a place.

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