Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

Working Memory Training and the Effect on Mathematical Achievement in Children with Attention Deficits and Special Needs

Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

Working Memory Training and the Effect on Mathematical Achievement in Children with Attention Deficits and Special Needs

Article excerpt


Working Memory (WM) has a central role in learning. It is suggested to be malleable and is considered necessary for several aspects of mathematical functioning. This study investigated whether work with an interactive computerised working memory training programme at school could affect the mathematical performance of young children. Fifty-seven children with attention deficits participated in an intervention programme. The treatment group trained daily, for 30-40 min. at school for five weeks, while the control group did not get any extra training. Looking at the group as a whole, mathematical performance improved in the treatment group compared with the control group directly following the five weeks of training (Time 2), but the results of the second post-test (Time 3, approximately seven months later) were no longer significant. Since there was only a small number of girls, the results were analysed for boys only. The boys had improved their mathematical results in both post-tests. WM-measures improved at Time 2 and 3 relative to Time 1 (pre-test) for the whole group, and for boys. Differences in training scores were related to differences in the non-verbal WM-measure Span board back.

The results indicate that boys aged 9 to 12 with special needs may benefit, over time, from WM training, as shown in the enhanced results in mathematics following WM training. However, as the intervention and control groups were not randomised, the results cannot be generalised; the results must be considered with caution.

Keywords: working memory training (WM training), attention, mathematics, special needs

1. Introduction

1.1 Working Memory

WM has a central role in learning and thinking and is conceptualised as the main cognitive system that stores and processes information. It is suggested that in order to remember information, it must first be processed in WM (Cowan, 2005). WM supports learning through the abilities to focus on the task in hand, inhibit irrelevant information and integrate information from several sources, including long-term memory (LTM). WM ability governs how successful the learning will be, as it is involved in processes necessary for achieving automatised knowledge (Cowan, 2005; Dehn, 2008).

Several theories describe the processing functions of WM. An "embedded system" is proposed by Cowan (2005), who states that attention control determines the outcome of cognitive processing. Ericsson & Kintsch (1995) propose a system that includes processing in LTM as well as in WM whilst performing skilled activities. This suggested long-term WM (LT WM) makes it possible to expand the processing and storing of specific tasks in WM (e.g., remembering many digits). LT WM is, for example, used in various professions, including by waiters (remembering and updating orders), doctors (recalling knowledge and identifying the correct medical diagnosis) and chess players (planning the next moves and considering the consequences of these).

The revised 1970s model presented by Baddeley & Hitch is often used in educational research. It consists of a central executive with three subsystems: the phonological loop, the visuo-spatial sketch pad and the episodic buffer (Baddeley, 2000). The central executive function (CEF), with its attention-control system, is considered the most complex component of WM. It eliminates unimportant information, coordinates ongoing processes of information, and controls strategies and inhibition, one of the most important functions of the CEF (Dehn, 2008). In the phonological loop, sound and speech are stored for a few seconds. The loop includes a "rehearsal" function, the articulatory loop, which prevents the information from decaying, supporting loop storage capacity and verbal processing (Baddeley, 2000). The visuo-spatial sketch pad holds visual and spatial information. The episodic buffer interfaces with LTM and the CEF in WM, and may also control the awareness of consciousness (Baddeley, 2000). …

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