Research School Network: Scaffolding to Support Working Memory Demands: Questions for Reflection We share questions and resources to unpick the EEF’s Voices from the Classroom


Scaffolding to Support Working Memory Demands: Questions for Reflection

We share questions and resources to unpick the EEF’s Voices from the Classroom

In the Voices from the Classroom’ video below, Sophie Law, Year 2 teacher at St Matthews Catholic Primary School in Bradford, shares some of her thinking on using scaffolds to support pupils with working memory demands.

In this blog, we encourage you to reflect on some of the themes that emerge from Sophie’s video, and provide some further reading and resources.

Using scaffolds to help support working memory

Types of scaffolds

Sophie mentions different types of scaffolds.
Visual scaffolds
, such as task planners, graphic organisers, models and concept maps.
Verbal scaffolds
, such as reminders, reteaching or the TA scaffolding framework.
Written scaffolds
, such as a writing frame, key vocabulary or sentence starters.

What are the scaffolds that you typically use?

  • List the different types of scaffolds used in your context.
  • How do each help to reduce the working memory demands?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?
  • How do you evaluate their impact?

Further reading and resources:

Our blog: three scaffolding frameworks

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TA Scaffold

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5 a day scaffolding resource

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Evaluating Working Memory demands

Sophie recommends that we should always evaluate the working memory demands of a learning activity.‘

Working memory demands will be higher when there are many unfamiliar elements, and when there are a higher number of different elements to process. It will be harder if pupils need to hold things in their working memory over space or over time.

Simple questions you can ask when evaluating the working memory demands of tasks:

  • What do pupils already know about this?
  • Is the information communicated in the simplest terms?
  • Are there any significant demands on working memory?

If demands on working memory are likely to be high, then there are a couple of options:

  • Reduce the inherent working memory demands of the material.
  • Use memory aids, or strategies, to reduce the working memory demands.

Scaffolds will play a part in doing this, but they are not the only solution. It may be that you need to structure the curriculum differently, or reteach a concept. You can read more about working memory research and practice in our free guide.

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Working Memory: Research Into Practice

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Knowing when to use and when to remove scaffolds

We think in terms of just enough and just in time

Sophie stresses the need for scaffolds to be fluid. We need to make sensible choice on when to introduce, adjust or remove them.

Consider one of the scaffolds that you listed in the first part of this reflection.

  • In what circumstances would you use this scaffold?
  • What adjustments could you make to the scaffold? For individual pupils? For the same pupil as they develop proficiency?
  • When would you choose to remove this scaffold? How would you know it is the right time to remove it?
  • In what ways could this scaffold be potentially harmful?

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