How You Can Spot Weak Cognitive Skills in Your Classroom

Picture of Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes
Learning Difficulties, Fast ForWord, Educational Neuroscience

MAPS_brain01.jpgWhat’s happening in your students’ brains when they can’t follow your classroom instructions? What if a student doesn’t want to answer your question? And why do some students struggle to tell a story?

These are all signs that a student may have a weakness in one or more key cognitive skills. Skills essential for learning.

As well as language skills, we all need four key thinking skills for effective learning. They are: memory, attention, processing, and sequencing.

Here are some behaviours you might notice if your students have a weakness in these skills:

You tell your kindergarten students, "colour the apples red, the tulips yellow, and the cats black." Those with poor working memory may only remember the first colour.

You instruct your class, “Put your homework in the box, clear off your desk, get out your worksheet and mark all the pictures with stop signs.” Students with a poor working memory may forget the last step.


Instead of paying attention to you, a student might be watching what a classmate is doing. Or they are looking for a noise they heard from the other side of the classroom. You may find them focusing on small distractions the other students ignore.


You may observe a student often misinterpreting visual cues (a sign of poor visual processing skills).

Another might be reluctant to answer your questions. This student could have poor auditory processing skills. They may not be able to accurately notice the difference between sounds. Their brains will be busy trying to figure out what you asked them, so they can’t answer you immediately.


Children with weak sequencing skills may not be able to compose or outline a story.

Why are these skills important for learning?

Memory:    Working memory allows us to remember information, an essential building block of learning. Without good recall, a child will struggle in the classroom.

Attention:    Children must be able to listen to and understand information for learning to occur. Without strong attention skills, a student’s school success will be adversely affected.

Processing:    The processing skill allows us to understand and put meaning to information we see or hear. Students will struggle with maths computation, handwriting, reading & comprehension if their processing ability is weak.

Students will struggle with maths computation, handwriting, reading & comprehension if their processing ability is weak.

Sequencing:    The sequencing skill allows our brains arrange information in order. Students need this skill to alphabetize, count, and organise information.

You can train these cognitive skills, simultaneously, in your classroom

Children will have a difficult time in school if one or more of these cognitive skills is deficient.

But there is a well-documented program you can use to improve these essential skills. It’s Fast ForWord123, the only scientifically designed and proven course that targets memory, attention, processing, and sequencing, all within every training session. 

See All Skills Strengthened by Fast ForWord

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