Working memory training helps students learn
After Cogmed training, students show improvement in working memory and math
In school, many academic tasks demand a high level of working memory. Working memory enables a person to hold information in mind for a short time and to manipulate that information during complex activities. Students with poor working memory struggle to stay focused, and poor working memory is highly predictive of low academic achievement.1
Maggie Travers, the district school psychologist for the Ladue School District, observed that some students struggling academically also had poor working memory capacity. Because of the close relationship between academic performance and working memory capacity, she thought that these students could benefit from a working memory intervention.
Travers learned about Cogmed Working Memory Training—Pearson’s adaptive Internet-based program aimed at training working memory and improving a student’s capacity to learn—and decided to pilot the program with five students in early 2012. As interest in Cogmed grew following the pilot, she applied for a grant to expand the intervention from the Ladue Education Foundation, which supports innovative programming, enabling Ladue to provide the training to an additional thirty students. Using a second grant from the foundation, Travers was able to further expand the intervention when Cogmed offered discounted trainee IDs to school customers in return for collecting data as part of a research project.
The research project took place from the fall of 2013 to the spring of 2014. Fifty-nine students, all of whom had a learning disability, executive function deficits, or low academic achievement, participated in the study, completing thirty training blocks in the course of six to eight weeks. Ranging in age from eight to seventeen, the students came from Ladue School District’s four elementary schools, the Fifth Grade Center, and the high school.
It is difficult to isolate the effects of the training because some students were receiving several other interventions in addition to Cogmed. However, students showed improvements in working memory that were consistent with peer-reviewed published findings and with the claims made by Cogmed.2
Students’ performance on standardized tests demonstrated their gains in math. On the 2013 Discovery Education Assessment, which is aligned with the Missouri Learning Standards in Math and Communication Arts, 3rd- and 4th-grade trainees’ improvement in math was greater than that of their peers across the state by an average of eighteen percentage points. Discovery Education calculates a national percentile rank for students based on a 2012 national norming study. According to Discovery Education’s data, these trainees’ improvement in math was greater than that of their peers nationwide by an average of twenty-three percentage points.
In the 2014–2015 academic year, the district decided to fund Cogmed training, which greatly pleased Travers, especially since parents were asking again for the program. Seven schools at the elementary through high school level provided the intervention.
I’ve had kids who have become better learners by completing the program. They get up early, come, and do the program before school. It’s very rewarding to see the investment that they end up making and the payoff it has for their success as a student.
Maggie Travers, District School Psychologist, Ladue School District
For Travers, the most compelling evidence of the impact of the working memory training comes from the students themselves. “I had a high schooler tell me it changed her life,” Travers recounted. “Her brain reportedly was now more like a file cabinet. She knew which folder to retrieve out of this file cabinet. Before, she would spend hours looking for her car keys and just drive the family crazy. After the training, she became more organized and was able to remember exactly where she put them. She was skeptical about the program at first, but was so glad she participated after she saw the results. She told me that she used to begin reading a book and be five pages in, and she would ask herself, ‘What did I just read?’ After Cogmed, she started picking up books for pleasure. She said her grades had also improved.”
This student is now in college. Cogmed gave her the confidence to pursue her future goals.
To learn more about the working memory training in Ladue School District, read the full success story.
1. Gathercole, S. E., & Alloway, T. P. (2008). Working memory and learning: A practical guide for teachers. London, UK: Sage Publishing.
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