Memory Difficulties

There are three kinds of memory- all of which are required for successful learning.

  1. Long Term Memory is where information is stored semi-permanently- and if we keep using that memory we are likely not to forget- e.g. we can remember what we did on Saturday last week- but we probably don’t remember what we did on the first Saturday of the month six months ago- because we have not kept using that information. Information stored in our long term memory is filed away for later recall.
  2. Short Term Memory relates to remembering information we have just heard- remembering a person’s name at the end of the conversation; remembering the main topic that was taught at the end of the lesson.
  3. Working Memory can be described as the information that is held for a short period and used. It can be likened to a post-it note in the brain. It is a fixed size- we can’t stretch it, but we can change how effectively we use that post-it note. For example, if information is presented slower, we have a greater chance of writing it down on the post-it to use again. We use working memory in reading when we decode the sounds of a word; hold those sounds on the post-it note long enough to blend the sounds together to successfully read the word. We use it for spelling as we break the word into the sounds on the post-it note and then need to recall the correct letters to represent those sounds and then write those letters correctly, in the right order, to spell the word. Working Memory is very important in maths because we need to hold numbers in our head to do complete the algorithm, and need to remember to ‘carry’ and ‘borrow’ tens etc.

As these examples show, difficulties with Working memory have wide-ranging implications across the Curriculum.

Memory can also be classified as a Visual Memory or Auditory Memory. Some students may have strengths in one, and weakness in another. Those with a strong Visual Memory usually are very good spellers and may find it easier to remember information that was presented in a visual way- with colour/ charts/ graphs/ drawings etc. Those with a strong Auditory Memory find it easier to learn information by listening to someone tell them rather than reading it for themselves. These students often find it easier to learn times tables by singing them.

The good news for everyone is that memory skills can be developed. Identifying one’s strength (visual or auditory) is important to make the most of that strength and use it to support the weaker area. There are software programs that specifically target memory deficits, and learning smarter ways of learning (metacognition) is key to supporting students with Memory Difficulties.

Strategies to support memory difficulties:

  • Repeat and rephrase information
  • Chunk information into smaller bits
  • Visualise information whilst listening
  • Rehearse information and over- learn in different ways (multi-sensory)