For Teachers

“Remembering to Remember: Easing the Working-Memory Strain on Students with Learning Differences”

“The amount that students – from elementary-age to the college years – have to remember and recall at any moment is staggering. It is even more startling when we factor in working memory deficits that are common among students with learning differences.”

teaching students with learning differences and ADHD
senior high school teacher teaching group of students in classroom

We are inundated with apps and digital tools designed to help us remember, organize, and streamline every moment of our lives. You would think, with all this technology at our fingertips, that we would never worry about forgetting anything ever again.

Yet, for students with learning differences and ADHD, the vast array of digital memory aids can actually add to the overwhelm rather than ease the load.

Digital Overload

James*, a student with dyslexia and ADHD, describes the digital onslaught that greets him every day: “I wake up to one of the multiple alarms on my phone. Because I’ve got so many alarms now, my mind has started to ignore them. When I eventually get out of bed, I switch on my laptop, and the same thing always happens: I’m hit by an onslaught of emails from my college and tutors reminding me of assignments to hand in (or in my case, overdue assignments), changes to my timetable, updates to the college website – the list is endless.”

He continues: “When one tutor sends an email, they think they are being helpful. But when I get 10 ‘helpful’ emails a day, my brain is set to explode. To be honest, I just ignore them all now because it’s too much for me to process. Having to remember everything is a form of torture.”

The amount that students – from elementary-age to the college years – have to remember and recall at any moment is staggering. It is even more startling when we factor in working memory deficits that are common among students with learning differences.

[Self-Test: Could Your Student Have a Working Memory Deficit?]

As a learning support teacher, I have lost count of the number of neurodivergent high school and college students who, even weeks into the academic semester, tell me that they still forget the times and rooms of their classes. There are so many reasons for this, ranging from digital overload to distraction and time blindness, but the consequences are always damaging. Students may be summoned to meetings with the school, where it can be almost impossible to explain why they can’t just remember to follow a schedule that seems easy to do from a neurotypical perspective. These same students often struggle with low self-esteem and feeling like they’ve failed.

Unhelpful Teaching Styles

Certain teaching styles also add to the overwhelm. Some students are lucky enough to have the rare instructor who centers inclusivity and teaches at a pace that helps with processing information. Many students, however, tell me that their professors “just talk at the class.”

“It’s so demotivating” says James. “I try really hard to stay focused, but I relent. The teacher’s words sort of dance in and out of my mind and eventually become meaningless.”

Memory Aids and Classroom Strategies

Educators must do more to support students with learning differences for whom working memory is an area of need. The following are a few strategies and pointers for educators. Share them with your teacher to start off the school year right:

  • Provide students with a class outline ahead of lecture so that they can follow along and even refer to it afterward to jog their memory.
  • Pause often and work in small breaks during lectures to allow students to digest material.
  • Regularly review previously covered material to reinforce it.
  • Use multisensory methods and instruction techniques that pique interest and improve long-term information retention. Online learning and time management apps are perfect examples of multisensory tools that students can use to great effect both inside the classroom and for independent study.
  • Encourage students to experiment with memory aids, tools, and techniques to support recall at a level that works for them. Expose them to multiple strategies – they may not know what is out there.
  • Don’t assume that all young adults will be able to navigate all things digital. Assume that the average student is bombarded with emails and digital resources, and keep notifications to a minimum.
  • Keep in mind that many students with ADHD and learning differences prefer concrete, traditional tools – like pencils, note pads, planners, and wall calendars – to help them remember.

[Free Guide: Signs of Dyslexia at Every Age]

*Not his real name

Memory Aids for Learning Differences & ADHD: Next Steps

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