Teaching and parenting children with learning differences can mean coming across a number of issues with memory.  The following article from www.teachingld.org addresses this issue.

“It’s important to understand that this problem often is not the result of laziness or simple incompetence. While lack of effort in learning can lead to the same outcome, some students experience the problem even though they are working very hard to learn and remember their schoolwork.

There is substantial evidence that students with learning disabilities differ from their peers in what the cognitive psychologists call “working memory.” Their performance on memory tasks—repeating a series of digits backwards, for one simple example—often is more similar to younger students than to their age-mates. Not only that, but some students with LD struggle with knowing what they can do to help themselves remember things; they don’t know, for example, that it’s helpful to rehearse something as simple as a phone number in order to help remember it. Some researchers consider memory problems to be indicative of neurological abnormalities. Other researchers consider the memory problem to be the result of deficits in strategies for learning and recalling information.

Regardless of why students with LD have these problems, it’s important to help them to learn how to remember things. There are at least half-a-dozen techniques that teachers can use to promote retention. Here are brief descriptions of a few, followed by some key resources:

Mnemonic instruction refers to instructional or learning strategies designed specifically to improve memory. In many cases, it refers to modifying or changing to-be-learned information to link it directly to information the learner already knows. Use mnemonics to help students encode information in a more meaningful form and to provide them with a retrieval route at the time of recall. Mnemonic instruction has been researched in special education and is associated with the largest effect size found in the special education literature. Mnemonics were not actually invented; rather, they were discovered in the repertoires of people who were exceptionally good at recalling information. Unfortunately, there are no readily available “off-the-shelf” collections of mnemonic encodings. People interested in using this technique will need to learn how to do it and then develop their own mnemonic encodings. Fortunately, there are several resources available for people who wish to develop mnemonic encodings. I list three (Brigham & Brigham, 2001; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1991; and Willoughby & Wood, 1995) at the end of this response. In addition, in the Members-Only section of this site, Margo Mastropieri and Tom Scruggs have prepared a Teaching Tutorial with a guide to developing and implementing mnemonics.

Don’t underestimate the importance of making content interesting and exciting for students. It is critical that instruction be clear and unambiguous, but—other things being equal—if a teacher’s presentation of ideas is lively and engaging, the chances are greater the students will remember the ideas than if the presentation is dull, dreary, drab, desultory, and dark. Teacher enthusiasm can have a profound effect on the students in a given class. In a 1992 paper (Brigham, Scruggs, & Mastropieri), my colleagues and I reported that teaching enthusiastically yielded twice the achievement and one-third the behavior problems in the same lessons delivered unenthusiastically to students with learning disabilities.

Another important strategy for promoting retention of concepts is concrete experience. Students in school are awash in a sea of words. Most of the words they hear are delivered to them with the same intensity and in basically the same environment as the other words that they hear. After a while, it all becomes somewhat of a muddled soup. When we examined the impact of reading versus doing in science classes, we found that the students in lab-type experiences recalled far more of the different kinds of things that they had studied than when they had simply read about them and discussed them in class (Scruggs, Mastropieri, Bakken, & Brigham, 1993). Unfortunately, while the concrete experiences helped the students remember what they had done, they did not help the students remember the names of the different science concepts they had demonstrated. A combination of mnemonic encoding combined with concrete experience seems to be the best way to proceed when students are expected to recall the names of the things that they studied as well as specific characteristics that could be demonstrated through activity-based approaches to instruction.

Last (but not least), remember that plain, old-fashioned practice is essential. I don’t mean drill-and-kill kinds of practice (though there is a place for some of that, too). I mean that rehearsal is important. Athletes, actors, speakers, and musicians practice their skills over and over again. If there’s a simple fact answer, asking the student to give that answer to several questions that vary just a little different from each other is likely to be helpful. It’s especially important to distribute this practice over time and situations.

It is also important to give the student feedback as to how well that he or she is doing in his/her memory work. A number of my students at the University of Virginia (who are parents of children with LD themselves) report that the simple and direct feedback that can be obtained through the kind of charts used in Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM) is a major benefit to their children as they work to acquire recall mastery of things like arithmetic facts, the names of states and their capitals, and facts from history and science courses. Some researchers report that CBM measures of content-related vocabulary are among the best predictors of success in secondary content classes. The 1998 paper by Jones, Southern and Brigham may be helpful for people who are beginning to use CBM.


Brigham, F. J. & Brigham, M. M. (2001). Mnemonic instruction. Current Practice Alerts Issue Number 5. Reston, VA: Division for Learning Disabilities & Division for Research of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Brigham, F. J., Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropieri, M. A. (1992). Teacher enthusiasm in learning disabilities classrooms: Effects on learning and behavior Learning Disabilities Research and Practice 7, 68-73.

Jones, E. D., Southern, W. S., & Brigham, F. J. (1998). Curriculum-based assessment: Testing what is taught and teaching what is tested. Intervention in School and Clinic, 33, 239-249.

Mastropieri, M. A. & Scruggs, T. E. (1991). ). Teaching students ways to remember: Strategies for learning mnemonically. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

Scruggs, T. E. & Mastropieri, M. A. (2002, March 9). Teaching
tutorial: Mnemonic instruction. TeachingLD. Retrieved from
(Available to members of the Division for Learning Disabilities of
the Council for Exceptional Children.)

Scruggs, T.E., Mastropieri, M.A., Bakken, J.P., & Brigham, F.J. (1993). Reading vs. doing: The relative effects of inquiry-oriented approaches to science education in special education classrooms. Journal of Special Education, 27 (1), 1-15.

Willoughby, T. & Wood, E. (1995). Mnemonic strategies. In E. Wood, V.E. Woloshyn, & T. Willoughby (Eds.) Cognitive strategy instruction for middle and high schools (pp. 5-17.
Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.