image of numerous safe lock combinations illustrating working memory

What is working memory? How can allowing more processing time help working memory issues?

The working memory is function of the mind and brain where we store pieces of information which we only need to remember for a short period of time. 


This may include pattern, sequences, codes or instructions. To give you a day-to-day example of this, imagine that you’ve got some kind of passcode from your bank of a few digits. If you are neurotypical (more about neurodivergent people shortly), you would be able to remember those a few seconds later, or even a few minutes later, but it’s highly unlikely that you would remember it the next day.

The reason for the disappearance of such information is because the working memory fades quickly and therefore the data doesn’t move into the long-term memory where it would be stored permanently. This is useful because it prevents our memory from getting clogged up with material, we don’t need to retain such as our pin number from our student bank account or the instruction your Home Economics teacher once gave you on a wet, November, Wednesday whilst you were in year 8.


For example, if you have 4 slots you can remember 4 instructions. If I give 5 instructions you will forget one, because you can only hold 4 in your head. Therefore you will be unable to follow my full set of instructions. This is why it’s important…

To know your pupils processing time

To work out how many ‘slots’ they have.

Because This way you can change the way you give instruction to make it easier for them to

What is processing time?
This is the amount of time it takes to process a piece of information, data or instruction.

locked bank details due to memory processing issues

Did you know…?
The average Neurotypical child takes 6 second to process and instruction.

Try counting to 6 after each instruction. It feels like a long time, but if you play with it you will soon notice that leaving this short gap will improve how well your class respond to what you say.

Now if we have a look at our neuro divergent students, there is something quite different going on here. It is highly likely that your Neurodivergent student will have a different way of processing information. We’re going to start with differences in processing time. It may be that your Neurodivergent students take 15 to 30 seconds to process information. I’ll be honest with you. This can feel like a painfully long amount of time. And you may already be asking yourself ‘How I am supposed to accommodate this
need processing differences when I have a class full of Neurotypical children will process things much more quickly?
However, I promise you that just by doing this simple thing, it will make a massive difference to the order in which your children respond to instructions and the speed.


Blaine loved Poetry

I’m going to give you a really good example, one that I saw at a grammar school that I worked with a few months ago.
There was a young man there called Blaine. He was extraordinarily bright, but also had multiple. Neurodivergent needs;
autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. And yet this highly academic school, we’re doing an amazing job of accommodating him. The way in which they did this, mainly involved using his difference in processing speeds, to his advantage, and the advantage of the entire class. In this example, it was a year eight English lesson. The class were studying a poem, and the way it went like was like this, the English teacher introduced the title and the poem to the class. He then asked the entire class to read the poem to themselves in silence.

Next, the teacher went to Blaine’s desk and said to Blaine.
‘I want you to read the first stanza look at how similes are met and metaphors are used to help characterisation.’ He then said he would be back in five minutes and went to work with the rest of the class who looked at the poem. He divided the class up into groups to look at stanzas. Then he came back to Blaine and asked him to kick off the class discussion by describing what he’d asked about the first stanza. Blaine did an amazing job! He truly understood what would be expected of him. The teacher still had incredibly high standards for him (and rightly so) and the class got a valuable introduction to the poem from somebody who clearly understood very well.

I think this is an excellent illustration of how differentiation cannot only help the pupil who has the additional needs/Neurodivergent needs, but also improve things for the entire class. if you have any questions about how this could work within your classroom, please get in contact with me. If you’d like to join the online course on Embracing Neurodiversity and Adaptive Teaching Online Course click the button below.

Related blog to read: Don’t ditch differentiation


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