Children who underachieve at school may just have poor working memory rather than low intelligence, according to researchers who have produced the world’s first tool to assess memory capacity in the classroom. Researchers from Durham University, who surveyed over three thousand children, found that ten percent of schoolchildren across all age ranges suffer from poor working memory seriously affecting their learning.
Working memory is the ability to hold information in your head and manipulate it mentally. Lead researcher Dr. Tracy Alloway from Durham University’s School of Education, who, with colleagues, has published widely on the subject, explains: “Working memory is a bit like a mental jotting pad and how good this is in someone will either ease their path to learning or seriously prevent them from learning.”
Children at school need this memory on a daily basis for a variety of tasks.
The researchers identified that poor working memory is rarely identified by teachers, who often describe children with this problem as inattentive or as having lower levels of intelligence.
Without appropriate intervention, poor working memory in children can affect long-term academic success into adulthood and prevent children from achieving their potential.
When do we use working memory in everday life?
- Multiplying together two numbers such as 43 and 27 spoken to you by another person without being able to use a pen and paper or calculator.
- Remembering a new telephone number, PIN number, web address or vehicle registration number.
- Following spoken directions, such as “go straight over at the roundabout, take the second left and the building is on the right opposite the church.”
- Remembering the unfamiliar foreign name of a person who has just been introduced to you for long enough to enable you to introduce them to someone else.
- Measuring and combining the correct amounts of ingredients (rub in 50g of margarine and 100g of flour, and then add 75g of sugar) when you have just read the recipe but are no longer looking at the page.