The crucial role of working memory in reading, writing, and math skills

The Crucial Role of Working Memory in Reading, Writing, and Math Skills

Posted by | Dec 29, 2023

Working memory, a fundamental cognitive function, plays a pivotal role in academic achievement. It acts as the brain’s temporary storage system, enabling us to hold and manipulate information for short periods. Proficient working memory is essential for complex brain tasks such as reading, writing, and solving math problems. Working memory deficits can arise from a variety of factors, including learning differences (such as ADHD), mental health disorders (such as anxiety or depression), genetic conditions, substance abuse, medications, age-related changes, and sleep deprivation. Strategies and interventions can help mitigate the challenges posed by working memory deficits.

What Is Working Memory?

It helps to think of working memory as a collection of mental Post-it™ notes. You stick important pieces of information on these notes as you go about your daily tasks. They help you remember details briefly, but they’re not meant for long-term storage. This cognitive system enables individuals to make decisions, solve problems, and understand information in real time.

Effect on Reading

Reading comprehension relies heavily on working memory. People with strong working memory can efficiently process and retain information from text, making connections between ideas and drawing conclusions. Conversely, those with working memory deficits may struggle to retain information, leading to difficulties in understanding complex texts, making inferences, and summarizing content.

Strategies for reading more effectively for people with working memory deficits include:

-Chunking Information: Breaking down information into smaller, manageable “bites” to reduce the cognitive load on working memory, and

-Visualization Techniques: Creating mental images while reading to retain and recall information more effectively.

Effect on Writing

Writing involves multiple processes, including planning, organizing, and revising, all of which heavily rely on working memory. Individuals with robust working memory can seamlessly juggle these tasks, whereas those with deficits may face challenges in organizing thoughts, structuring sentences, and editing their work.

Strategies for writing include:

-Graphic Organizers: Using visual aids such as graphic organizers to help organize thoughts before beginning the writing process, and

-Step-by-Step Instructions: Breaking down writing tasks into smaller steps and using clear instructions to ease the cognitive load on working memory.

Effect on Math Skills

Mathematics demands the manipulation of numbers, formulas, and spatial relationships, tasks that heavily engage working memory. Students with strong working memory excel in solving complex mathematical problems, while those with deficits may struggle with computation, problem-solving, and understanding mathematical concepts.

Strategies for math include:

-Using Manipulatives: Introducing concrete objects or visual aids to represent math concepts, reducing the cognitive load on working memory, and

-Scaffolded Instruction: Providing step-by-step guidance and gradually increasing the complexity of tasks to support students with working memory challenges.

Overall Academic Achievement

Working memory is a cross-cutting skill that influences various aspects of academic achievement. Addressing working memory deficits not only enhances performance in specific subjects but also contributes to overall cognitive development. Interventions should focus on creating a supportive learning environment, implementing targeted strategies, and providing individualized support to students with working memory challenges. Implementing targeted strategies and interventions creates an inclusive learning environment that empowers students to overcome working memory challenges and reach their full academic potential.

People with learning disabilities of different types may experience deficits in working memory, and these may have a significant effect on their ability to acquire and retain new information. Some of the ways in which working memory deficits can affect individuals with learning differences include:

Difficulty in Information Processing

Deficits in working memory can lead to difficulties in processing and considering information, which can hinder the understanding of complex concepts.

Trouble Following Instructions

Individuals with learning disabilities may struggle to remember and execute multi-step instructions, leading to difficulties in completing tasks.

Reading and Writing Difficulties

Tasks such as reading comprehension and writing require strong working memory. Individuals with deficits in working memory may struggle to hold and process information while reading, leading to difficulties understanding and remembering the content. In writing, they may have challenges organizing and expressing their thoughts coherently.

Math Challenges

Working memory is essential for mental calculations and solving math problems. Difficulties with working memory can hinder someone’s ability to hold and manipulate numbers and mathematical operations, affecting their performance in math-related tasks.

Poor Academic Performance

Learning disabilities, coupled with deficits in working memory, can contribute to overall academic challenges. Difficulties in processing and retaining information can affect performance, leading to lower grades and achievement.

Attention and Concentration Issues

Working memory is closely linked to attention and concentration. Individuals with learning disabilities and working memory deficits may struggle to sustain attention on tasks, leading to decreased academic engagement and productivity.

Executive Functioning Challenges

Working memory is a component of executive functioning, which includes skills like planning, organizing, and self-regulation. Deficits in working memory can affect overall executive functioning, impairing a person’s ability to manage tasks and activities independently.

Difficulty in Problem-Solving

Individuals with deficits in working memory may find it challenging to apply critical thinking skills and solve problems effectively.

The effects of working memory deficits can vary among individuals with learning disabilities, but interventions tailored to their specific needs can help. Educational strategies and accommodations, such as providing visual aids, breaking down tasks into smaller steps, and offering additional support, can mitigate the challenges associated with these deficits.

Reading Suggestions

Working Memory and Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers by Susan Gathercole and Tracy Packiam Alloway

This guide provides practical insights for educators on how working memory influences learning in the classroom, including its impact on reading, writing, and math.

The Learning Brain: Memory and Brain Development in Children by Torkel Klingberg

This book provides insights into the science of memory and brain development in children. Klingberg, a cognitive neuroscientist, explores the role of working memory in learning and academic success.

Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary ‘Executive Skills’ Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare 

This book explores executive skills, including working memory, and offers practical strategies for parents to support their children's cognitive development and academic success.

Working Memory and Academic Learning: Assessment and Intervention by Milton Dehn, a leading expert in the field, offers a comprehensive guide that explores the link between working memory and academic performance. The book provides assessment tools and intervention strategies for educators.

The Working Memory Advantage: Train Your Brain to Function Stronger, Smarter, Faster by Tracy Packiam Alloway and Ross G. Alloway

Geared toward a general audience, this book explains the concept of working memory and its effects on various aspects of life, including learning and academic achievement.


Evoke has been absolutely essential to the academic success of all three of our children. Evoke’s skilled staff and tutors were able to assess and remediate gaps and challenges that... read more

Laura Harvey Avatar Laura Harvey
November 17, 2023

Vic has been an amazing support for our teen. I catch bits of their sessions together and Vic is so compassionate, engaging, practical and intentional. Our teen truly... read more

Bruce Sellery Avatar Bruce Sellery
October 22, 2023

This tutoring has been a game changer for my son. The staff are fabulous; kind and patient with him and his learning needs. Highly recommend! And we love Lea!

Amanda Tulk-O'Reilly Avatar Amanda Tulk-O'Reilly
October 6, 2022

My son was diagnosed with ADHD-Combined, and we were very fortunate to discover Evoke Learning. Over the past 1.5 years, Evoke Learning has been instrumental in helping my... read more

JT Avatar JT
April 6, 2022

I worked with Richard at Evoke over several months and he was immensely helpful. Besides being professional and effective, Richard was very compassionate and empathetic. During my time working with... read more

Bree Avatar Bree
April 6, 2022

My son was diagnosed with ADHD plus an LD and he was having difficulty with his high school classes. After searching for tutors for my son and coming up... read more

Trecia Downes Avatar Trecia Downes
April 6, 2022

Our experience with Evoke has been fantastic. Everyone from the administrative staff, to the assessment staff to the tutors are incredible professional, and knowledgeable. The virtual experience was great, my... read more

Anne-Marie Gabrini Avatar Anne-Marie Gabrini
April 6, 2022

My name is Jessica and I’ve had Richard as my academic coach for the last 1.5 years. I am completing my Master’s and as someone with ADHD, I was very... read more

Kimberley Gemmell Avatar Kimberley Gemmell
April 6, 2022

I went to Evoke for several months for ADHD counselling. I had Richard Comeau, who was unbelievably helpful with improving my work ethic, organizational skills, motivation, and note taking/studying strategies.... read more

Evan Applebaum Avatar Evan Applebaum
April 6, 2022

The reading program at Evoke helped me feel empowered and strengthen my reading. This program truly has impacted my life in such a positive way. This program not only helped... read more

Vanessa Garritano Avatar Vanessa Garritano
April 6, 2022

I had the chance to work with Richard this year on improving my learning skills and over that time I've become a different person with a completely different mindset on... read more

Naomi Tomeo Avatar Naomi Tomeo
April 6, 2022

My 14 year old son has been working with Andrew for a couple of years to get help with math and science and he loves it so much my 16... read more

Dorothy Steel Avatar Dorothy Steel
April 6, 2022

I worked with Richard at Evoke over several months and he was immensely helpful. Besides being professional and effective, Richard was very compassionate and empathetic. During my time working with... read more

Bree Lawrence Avatar Bree Lawrence
November 22, 2021

I feel so much gratitude for the services of Evoke Learning. Our child developed reading skills during our time with Evoke which was a huge milestone. Dollar for... read more

Lee May Nikoletos Avatar Lee May Nikoletos
April 6, 2021

A friend recommended Evoke after I shared concerns with my daughter’s reading development. She had used Evoke more than five years ago and still raves about the positive impact for... read more

Shalini Mitchell Avatar Shalini Mitchell
April 6, 2021

I have nothing but positive things to say about our Evoke Learning experience. From the initial phone call, to the intake meeting to, in our instance, the weekly sessions, there... read more

Mike Dietrich Avatar Mike Dietrich
April 6, 2021

Kate is quite possibly the most helpful person I have worked with in the 20+ years of managing my ADHD. She is down to earth, intelligent, compassionate and truly incredible... read more

Emmett Johnston Avatar Emmett Johnston
April 6, 2021

I had the pleasure of being mentored by Richard. He taught me how to maximize my school performance, and to learn how to work with my ADHD and learning... read more

Cameron Oland Avatar Cameron Oland
April 6, 2021

I’ve had nothing but positive experiences at Evoke, having worked with two of their coaches (Aaron and Richard). With their professionalism, kindness, and expertise, I’ve been making real progress on... read more

C. James Avatar C. James
April 6, 2021

Our daughter has learning disabilities and ADHD. When she began having difficulties during university, Kate Lloyd was recommended. Kate’s counselling was excellent and enabled our daughter to graduate... read more

Marilyn Gillespie Avatar Marilyn Gillespie
April 6, 2020

I have been working with Evoke Learning for my ADHD for about five years. Before I started working with my tutor I was having a lot of difficulties at school... read more

Keegan Gardner-Elmer Avatar Keegan Gardner-Elmer
April 6, 2020

As a Mom of a student with learning disabilities, I highly recommend the coaching and tutoring services of Denise Harding and the staff at both the Evoke Learning Aurora and... read more

Glenna Davis Avatar Glenna Davis
April 6, 2020

****5 STARS HANDS DOWN!!!!**** Kate Lloyd, the owner of Evoke Learning- is one of the most amazing and outstanding human beings that I have ever met in my life.... read more

Malaika Jackson Avatar Malaika Jackson
April 6, 2020

It is difficult to sum up how much Evoke’s services have helped me to reach my goals and realize my full potential at university and beyond. From my in-person coaching... read more

Carli G Avatar Carli G
April 6, 2020

I have been using Evoke's services for the past two years while being in university. I have to say, Kate (the owner) has gone ABOVE and BEYOND for me! She... read more

Hailey Merten Avatar Hailey Merten
April 6, 2020

I worked with Evoke's learning for helping my niece. She wanted to be in the baseball team and we weren't ready to allow her as she is an ADHD kid.... read more

Linda Wells Avatar Linda Wells
April 6, 2020

We have made Evoke our go-to resource for several years. One of our children had been diagnosed with a learning difference and ADHD, in grade three, and needed a support... read more

Anouchka Freybe Avatar Anouchka Freybe
April 6, 2020

I had the pleasure of working as a coach and mentor at Evoke Learning. I was very impressed with the quality of training I received by Kate Lloyd, and have... read more

Uzma Abdullah Avatar Uzma Abdullah
April 6, 2020

I would give 10 stars if I could! Kate Lloyd is amazing at what she does. I had always struggled to take tests through University and Graduate school so... read more

Jaclyn Clarkson Avatar Jaclyn Clarkson
April 6, 2020

I hired Evoke Learning to help coach and organize my child when he went off to university. They did an excellent job and were very professional with their services, invoicing,... read more

Diana Lawrence Avatar Diana Lawrence
April 6, 2020

We have had the greatest pleasure of Learning about Evoke. They have been phenomenal working along with my daughter. Denise was a great mentor for my daughter... read more

Daniela Saker Avatar Daniela Saker
April 6, 2020

My daughter has been with Evoke Learning and with the academic coaching program for two years. In that time, I can say that she’s really become much stronger in her... read more

Lily McClelland Avatar Lily McClelland
April 6, 2020

Great coaching services for students with ADHD and/or executive function deficits. Denise is organized, structured and holds her clients accountable for their 'homework'. I highly recommend Evoke to parents who... read more

B “onekgirl” K Avatar B “onekgirl” K
April 6, 2020

I can say both my boys used Evoke Learning to sharpen their study skills and benefitted from the coaching they received. I would recommend Evoke Learning when a child needs... read more

Lily Polemidiotis Avatar Lily Polemidiotis
April 6, 2020

My Son Marco has been going to Evoke for English and Math, and we are so happy with his progress. He has worked with Bridgitt and Mohammed and they... read more

Amy Gesualdo Avatar Amy Gesualdo
April 6, 2020