What the evidence says about... working memory and writing

How Rollama fits with Ofsted's recent guidance


Andrew from Rollama

8/16/20234 min read

The Ofsted Research Review for English was published in July 2022. It summarises the latest evidence for pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning English. The article highlights a number of techniques and findings around writing which validate the design principles of Rollama.

A key objective for teachers, based on the evidence, is to boost fluency in the building blocks of writing. Automaticity – performing actions without conscious thought or effort – frees up working memory for writers to pay more attention to composition – audience, tone, vocabulary, purpose, etc.

“The relatively untrained student writer may be composing with the equivalent of a six digit concurrent load held in working memory, impairing their fluency and effectiveness as a writer. Accordingly, the model suggests that developing writers would benefit from reducing the overload on working memory during composition.” ~ Kellogg, et al., (2013)

“To the extent that developing writers struggle because part of their available knowledge lies inaccessible during composition, interventions focused on working memory should be of considerable benefit.” ~ Kellogg, et al., (2013)

Three techniques are recommended to avoid overload of working memory during composition. The third is most pertinent to how Rollama can help your students.

  1. Gaining domain-specific expertise — to allow the writer to retrieve relevant knowledge from long-term memory at just the right moment. Writing about topics that students know well provides a scaffold to support the writer and avoid overloading the limited resources of working memory. The ability to rely on long- term working memory ought to help writers to manage the composition process.

  2. Attention funnelling — focusing on one process (planning, sentence generating, motor programming, editing) at a time, improving the quality and fluency of writing by reducing the degree to which one must simultaneously juggle multiple processes.

  3. Deliberate practice — reduce the relative effort required to plan ideas and their organisational structure, fluently generate sentences and cohesive links among them, and review the plans and text from the perspective of both the author and the imagined reader. It is through extended practice with editing for a specific kind of error that a relatively automatic procedure emerges.

Pedagogical approaches for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities

“Struggling pupils should have more opportunities for repetition where necessary. This can secure essential knowledge to automaticity.” ~ Ofsted

Rollama is open-ended by design, to allow unlimited repetition to meet the preference of the teacher or student. Individual assignments (Teacher Tasks) can be customised by the number of required repetitions (Turns) or by an attainment goal. Rollama can be customised to suit a wide range of attainment levels and many special educational needs across a school


Rollama’s spelling activities match a number of the recommendations for spelling in the review. Here are some quotations, paired with screenshots of Rollama mini-games.

  • adding morphemes (where possible) to words in the NC Years 5 and 6 word list to spell many related new words (for example, correspond > correspondence, corresponding, correspondingly, correspondent)

  • combining vocabulary development with spelling instruction, including explaining the meaning and function of prefixes and suffixes

  • teaching irregular words by grouping these together where there are useful similarities (such as grouping the irregular spelling ‘two’ with associated regular words such as ‘twin’, ‘twice’ and ‘twenty’)


Lastly. the review advocates narrowly-focused, targeted tasks to be used for formative assessment.

More useful formative tasks could [...] include specific practice activities, focused on areas where pupils need to improve, such as specific spellings or learning to use particular punctuation. The narrow focus in these tasks means that the teacher can identify precise knowledge gaps and misapprehensions. ~ Ofsted

Our new custom feature (Check-ups) is designed for this purpose, allowing teachers to set short quizzes based around specific objectives:


Harris, K.R., Graham, S., Aitken, A.A., Barkel, A., Houston, J., and Ray, A., (2017), ‘Teaching spelling, writing, and reading for writing: powerful evidence-based practices’, in ‘Teaching Exceptional Children’, Volume 49, Issue 4, pages 262 to 272;

Kellogg, R.T., Whiteford, A., Turner, C., Cahill, M., & Mertens, A., (2013). ‘Working Memory in Written Composition: An Evaluation of the 1996 Model’. Journal of Writing Research. 5. 159-190.

Ofsted (2022) Research review series: English [accessed online, 13.08.23: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/curriculum-research-review-series-english/curriculum-research-review-series-english]

Pan, S.C., & Rickard, T.C., (2018) ‘Transfer of test-enhanced learning: meta-analytic review and synthesis’, in ‘Psychological Bulletin’, Volume 144, pages 710 to 756