Working memory and me

Updated: 23/08/16

What is Working Memory and how does it affect me?
Working Memory is our ability to remember information or ‘hold it in mind’ while doing something with it over a short period of time; you could think of it as a ‘mental workspace’.

Our mental workspace is designed to work mainly with verbal and visual information – things we hear and things we see. We need this to be able to do things like:-

  • Listen to and follow instructions.
  • Pay attention to information and remember the important bits, especially when it is spoken information.
  • Solve mental maths problems.
  • Copy information down from e.g. the board.
  • Remember and compare things we are looking at, e.g. charts, graphs and pictures.

What happens if my Working Memory isn’t working so well?
We all have things that we are good at and some things that we struggle with a bit more. You might be an excellent footballer but struggle with writing essays; you might love reading and coming up with stories but really don’t enjoy drawing and painting and think you haven’t got any artistic skills. We all have strengths and difficulties.
You might have Working Memory difficulties if the following sounds like you:-

  • You forget instructions or only following part of an instruction.
  • You could be struggling to remember all the information given to you, especially if it is spoken information.
  • You have difficulties keeping track in your learning tasks; sometimes giving up and leaving the task altogether.
  • You make place-keeping errors e.g. repeating and/or skipping letters and words when you’re writing sentences, missing out large chunks of a task.
  • People might tell you that they think you are not paying attention or listening properly.
  • You get easily distracted or feel like you can’t be bothered to start a task or see it through to the end.
  • You often procrastinate or look for ways to avoid tasks, like talking to your friends in class or finding other things to do instead.
  • You might not be making the progress that your teachers think you’re capable of, particularly in the areas of reading, writing and maths.

What can I do about it?

  • First step – talk to an adult at home or at school and let them know that you are worried about your learning and skills. Children and young people with Working Memory deficits usually know when they have forgotten crucial information, but often do not know what to do when it happens. There will be ways that others can help you and strategies that you can learn about to help yourself.
  • Your teachers or helpers in school will be able to teach you strategies that you can use again and again to help you do better in your learning.
  • Teachers may even adapt their teaching methods to help you remember information better and plan and organize your work more easily. But they will need to know that you need this.