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  • Writer's pictureBeth Morrant

What do memory, processing and retention problems look like?

What do memory, processing and retention problems look like?

In a classroom setting, pupils with memory and processing difficulties tend to stick out to teachers.

Students with processing difficulties tend to be in the lower ability groups and are likely to be performing below age-related expectations. Students can struggle to keep up with input teaching and follow spoken or written instructions. There may be challenges with learning new vocabulary or new topics or languages. Some children can find it hard to maintain social relationships and friendships.

‘Memory’ refers to our ability to hold, process and recall information that we have been given. For pupils who have difficulties with this skillset, this will be evident in their ability to respond to longer instructions or answer questions based on the teaching input you’ve just given.

How do memory difficulties impact on learning?

Children need memory and processing skills to underpin their learning in all aspects of the curriculum. Let’s look more closely at where memory and processing difficulties may impact on learning:


Over 80% of children with poor working memory struggle in reading and maths.

Skills such as counting sequences, times tables and number bonds all require a level of ability to remember, rehearse and repeat these set, familiar sequences.

Children in younger age groups (early years and key stage 1) may struggle with remembering the days of the week, months of the year and their own birthdays.

Older children (i.e. key stage 2 upwards) are likely to find more complex equations and formulae tricky.


Memory and processing skills impact on reading comprehension, including understanding the text, being able to relate their own lives to the information, draw inferences and re-tell the information to another person.

Phonics skills such as sounding out words when writing or recalling spelling patterns can be impacted which will affect pupils from key stage 1 upwards. Remembering grammatical features such as irregular verbs and tenses may also be affected.

Reading comprehension tasks will be challenging and students will find it hard to recall parts or most of what they have just read. Answering specific questions on the text will be very tricky without the student applying strategies to help them visualise, relate and recall.


For all age groups, remembering and following precise instructions can be a challenge and strategies to support pupils with this will be the key to a successful experiment.

Students may also find it difficult to learn categories such as animal families, forces, textures and types of rock. Older pupils can find the learning and remembering of formulas and elemental properties a challenge.

Wider Curriculum

Key dates, important historical facts and key information about eras will be incredibly hard for some children with memory and processing difficulties to recall without targeted interventions and teaching.

In Geography, learning about countries and continents, planets and space, species and demographics could prove a challenge for pupils with processing difficulties.

Learning about different religions, cultural norms and religious festivals all require good memory and processing skills.

Meeting Age Related Expectations

Children with memory and processing difficulties are likely to make poor academic progress without support from high quality teaching, reasonable adjustments in class and targeted interventions where necessary.

These children often fall below the criteria for SEN and are not always flagged up to Inclusion or SEN support in school, let alone for assessment by outside professionals like Speech and Language Therapy or Educational Psychology.

How can we help our students with these problems?

A combined approach of strategies and interventions can help.

First, adults working with children who have memory and processing difficulties should be aware of and use a range of strategies to support them.

Secondly, the students can be shown a number of strategies to use by themselves and which they can self-refer or prompt when they are needing to remember and recall information they are learning.

Lastly, there are lots of interventions, activities and games which can be played with children of all ages and key stages which can boost their memory and processing skills which in turn will have a positive impact on academic progress and achievement.

What does this help look like?

Teachers need help and training to boost their skills in identifying and supporting the needs of pupils with memory, processing and retention difficulties. They, along with Learning Support Staff need to have a selection of impactful, fun and effective interventions and games to help develop the missing skills and improve the learning experience for the pupils.

In my Supporting Children with Memory and Processing Difficulties course, you’ll find the information, tips and strategies you need to help children and young people of any age to improve their memory, processing and retention skills.

You’ll also find lots of video demonstrations of activities to use in 1:1, small group or even whole class in interventions.

In addition to this, there are multiple documents that you can download, including the Memory and Processing Interventions eBook which contains a selection of games which can be adjusted to meet the age, ability, interests and motivations of the pupil(s) you work with.

The course is mostly video-based with around 75 minutes of total video time, but allow some extra time for your own reflections. It's available instantly, with no waiting for start dates or deadlines and there's no written 'homework' for you to do. As it's all pre-recorded, you can stop and start as much as you like, completing it at your own pace.


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