How to recognize a low working memory in children!

Jorun Nyléhn, who is an associate professor in science education at the University of Bergen, I got to know a few years ago when I was looking for others who were interested in the MBE field in Norway.

She is particularly interested in working memory, and I contacted her to hear her thoughts on working memory and teaching. ‘Working memory is highly relevant for anyone who teaches,’ she says as we start a conversation. ‘Here, we differ from the rest of the animal kingdom because we have a frontal lobe that has developed significantly over millions of years. It gives us overarching control over our lives.

For example, it’s important to know that working memory is not an absolute quantity but can be reduced by various factors, such as being tired, exhausted, or already having filled working memory with information. It’s also good to know that working memory can be enhanced when we focus. We need some stress to perform at our best. Not too little, not too much.’

Signs of children with low working memory:

  1. You can see that the child easily drifts into their thoughts, daydreams, or gets easily distracted.
  2. You notice that the child doesn’t pay attention or only pays attention to things that truly interest them.
  3. The child has limited creativity and problem-solving abilities.
  4. The child is quiet in large groups, more active in smaller groups, but often without a clear purpose.
  5. The child rarely volunteers to answer questions in front of the whole class.
  6. Academic progress is poor, not just in one subject but in multiple subjects.
  7. The child struggles to follow instructions, not just in one subject but in multiple subjects.
  8. The child has particular difficulty with tasks that require both information storage and processing.
  9. The child is inattentive and possibly restless.
  10. The child struggles to keep track of their progress on tasks.
  11. Also, be attentive to children who are dealing with life challenges such as illness, parents’ divorce, and similar situations. Such stressors can reduce working memory capacity.

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