To achieve success with any academic task requires learners to plan, allocate their time, organise their mental resources, prioritise information, flexibly apply thinking strategies, monitor their progress, and reflect upon meaning. This is part of the executive functioning of working memory and for children to use their thinking processes more efficiently they may need to be shown how to develop these skills.
However, many children with learning difficulties struggle with some or all of the following working memory functions:
Before the learning activity (Conceptualise)
- Attending: focusing attention on the task and excluding extraneous information.
- Planning: ordering information (what is known) and prioritising time. This may take the form of writing notes, drawing diagrams, visualising.
- Goal setting: prioritising and setting goals for the activity.
During the learning activity (Organise)
- Organising: sifting the main ideas from the details, by shifting and categorising.
- Encoding: arranging information and linking with background knowledge from long-term memory, encoding and storing information into long-term memory.
- Monitoring: checking whether the encoding process is making sense and whether the reading or writing strategies are adequate or whether an alternative strategy will work better.
After the learning activity (Reflect)
- Reviewing: Recollecting the events of a story or the ideas presented in an article.
- Reorganising: Reframing the recollections in a way that is more meaningful and connected to one's life experience.
- Reflecting: Thinking about what has been learned and forming an opinion, making judgements, and predicting outcomes.
In this blog I will focus on attending.
The central executive determines what to focus on when performing a particular task. If we were not able to focus our attention then we would very quickly overload working memory with too much information.
What can I do to help children focus their attention?
- Make the question or task simple and not too long.
- If the stated task has a number of steps then break it up into a small number of short sentences.
- Draw a diagram, picture, or sequence of symbols to accompany the directions.
- Ask the child to repeat the directions.
- Ask the child to take notes and repeat the directions.
- Give prompts.
- Say, "What do you have to do first? What do you need to do next? and What is the last thing that you have to do?"
- Make sure that the content of the directions are familiar and meaningful to the child.
- Make sure that the directions are naturally sequential and logical.
- Reduce distracting or extraneous material that is unnecessary.
N.B. Above all, be patient and have realistic but have high expectations. Children often try and meet your expectations particularly if they are challenged.
For more information on the COR Reading Framework see 'Catalyst' (pages 24-27) at