New research from Britain is suggesting that defects in their working memory may explain the problems some children have with learning.
Working memory is the brain's temporary storage bin and the researchers from Durham University suspect as many as 10 percent of school age children may be suffer from poor working memory yet the problem remains rarely identified.
Lead researcher Dr. Tracey Alloway says working memory can be thought of as a pure measure of a child's potential but many children with poor working memory are considered lazy or of low intelligence.
Alloway says some psychologists consider working memory to be the new IQ because it has been found to be the single most important predictor of learning; poor working memory is believed to be genetic.
Alloway compares working memory to a box which allows people to hold and manipulate a few items in their minds, such as a telephone number.
For adults, the basic box size is thought to be three to five items and people who have more than that on a mental list are likely to forget something.
The researchers say if poor working memory is not identified and addressed in children, it can affect their long-term academic success and prevent them from achieving their potential.
Using a new tool that they have developed, the research team surveyed more than 3,000 children of different ages and found that 10 percent of them suffered from poor working memory, which seriously impairs their ability to learn.
The tool is a combination of a checklist and computer program that can be used in the classroom to assess memory capacity in children as young as 4 years old.
Alloway's tool for teachers has been used in 35 schools across Britain.
Dr. Alloway says as a result of the various large-scale studies they have done, they believe children with poor working memory can go on to achieve academic success if they are taught to learn despite their smaller capacity to store information mentally.
Dr. Alloway says currently children are not identified and assessed for working memory within a classroom setting and early identification is a major step towards addressing their underachievement.