Quick CPD: Improving working memory

Improving pupils’ working memories can help them, both with exams and in preparation for higher study and working life. Margaret Reeve offers some quick CPD in SecEd.

One of the most fundamental areas of development for teachers is in understanding differentiation strategies – the techniques used to help pupils make good progress, irrespective of their starting points. It’s the process through which teaching is tailored to support different pupil capabilities.

Working memory plays a critical part in the way pupils learn, but has limitations. Find ways to overcome those limitations, and you will enhance pupils’ capabilities.

The research on working memory connects closely to differentiation. Helping your pupils to understand and overcome the limitations of their working memory will make it easier for them to complete tasks, engage with learning, and take on challenges. It will also give them a sense of what they can do to assert greater agency over their learning.

The following simple working memory strategies might give your pupils a chance to take control of how they engage with learning, leading to better results all round:

Using scrap paper

  • Definition: Any piece of rough paper on which pupils can make notes.
  • Example: A pupil writes their thoughts down on a piece of scrap paper before they start writing.
  • Result: The pupil frees up space in their working memory, allowing them to concentrate on the act of writing. This makes it easier for them to target their efforts.

Using checklists

  • Definition: Any series of items a pupil uses to check that what they are doing is right.
  • Example: PEE – Point, Evidence, Explain. A pupil uses this to check their paragraph structure as they write.
  • Result: The pupil doesn’t have to think through all the possibilities on every occasion. Using the checklist frees up working memory, which they can target on the task in hand.

Using verbal rehearsal

  • Definition: Pupils verbally rehearse their thinking prior to applying it.

  • Example: In a geography lesson, pupils discuss the pros and cons of renewable energy in pairs before writing a paragraph outlining their thoughts.

  • Result: Verbal rehearsal provides space in which students can refine, edit and order their thinking. Subsequent application of the thinking is thus much easier.

Read more strategies Quick CPD: Improving working memory

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