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Accommodations for Working Memory Deficits

Instructor: Jocelyn Cherry

Jocelyn has taught Special Education for over two decades and has three post secondary degrees all in the field of Education.

This lesson will identify classroom and instructional accommodations for working memory deficits that teachers and students can implement tomorrow utilizing a REMOTE - batteries are not required!

Working Memory

On her way home from work, Kathy is thinking about what to make for dinner. Once she decides on tacos, she starts mentally preparing a list on the way to the grocery store: crunchy and soft tortilla shells, lettuce, a tomato, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, and taco seasoning. As she tries to memorize her list and repeat it back to herself, she tends to forget an item. What will help her remember all these items in this short time span? Instead of trying to memorize eight items, she remembers the number eight. When she arrives at the store, she will start with one item on the list, continuing to shop until she collects all the eight items needed for a taco. This is an example of a working memory strategy. Working memory is our capability to keep information until we need to use it.

What is Working Memory?

Working memory is simply the 'main function that holds information in our brain while working with it'. This could include information we have stored long-term until we need to retrieve it for use (long-term memory) or information recently retained (short-term memory). Students with weak working memory have difficulty holding on to as much information as their peers, or for a shorter period of time.

Think of working memory by comparing it to a pitcher of water. Once a pitcher is full of water and more is added, it overflows and water is lost. It is the same with working memory. The more information (water) that is poured into a full memory, information is leaked out or lost.

A student with a weakened working memory cannot hold enough information in their 'pitcher' as a student with a stronger working memory capacity. The weakened working memory brain becomes full, the brain becomes overwhelmed, and they lose the valuable previous information needed to complete a task or assignment. Working memory utilizes previously learned material to complete present multi-task processes. Envision tasks that involve many steps, such as the order of operations. A student with weakened working memory may forget an operational step, resulting in an incorrect solution.

Variants in Working Memory

Working memory varies from person to person. If a student has a weakened working memory, it does not mean they cannot retain or remember anything of substance. We cannot determine what information will be retained and what will need further clarification or re-teaching.

Accommodations to Strengthen Working Memory

Remember this acronym to help the student improve their working memory:

Reduce the workload

Encouragement

Monitor closely

Overt instructional strategies

Testing alternatives

Extra time

Or REMOTE.

Reduce the Workload

  • Provide the student with a copy of your lecture notes or outline with key points bolded or highlighted.
  • Allow the student to record lessons.
  • Divide individual student tasks into smaller, manageable segments.
  • Provide the student with a checklist for tasks with multiple steps.
  • Reduce the number of assignments/tasks- have student complete the odd numbers or every other page for independent work.

Encouragement

  • Provide positive, constructive feedback and assist the student with task planning, especially the workflow of assignments.
  • Teach the student how to use visual memory aids such as number lines, manipulative math blocks, wall charts, picture dictionaries, and word lists.

Monitor Closely

  • Give visual cues.
  • Be cognizant of warning signs of memory overload (losing their place, incomplete assignments, cannot follow oral directions) and assist as soon as possible.
  • Ask the student what they are doing and what they intend to do next.

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