Rob Budwig is the Special Education Supervisor for Southern Trinity Unified School District in Dinsmore, CA. He has been successfully implementing Cogmed in his school district since the fall of 2009.
Please click through the chapters to read his experience providing Cogmed to the students in his district, and the results that he has seen following the training program.
In our school district, we were experiencing an unusually high rate of students with ADHD or severe symptoms that are consistent with behaviors associated with ADHD. For example, at the time I found Cogmed, our sixth grade class had 8 students in it. Of those 8, four had diagnosis of ADHD, and one exhibited severe behaviors consistent with ADHD. As I examined the situation on campus, it became clear that this was not the exception but the norm. Our district is so small that we didn’t have the resources to handle this problem.
I realized that I had to find some way other than traditional classroom strategies to deal with this problem. I spent countless hours reading research on ADHD and strategies to help people who have ADHD. I was very discouraged to find the same thing over and over; the best strategy was always medication and a behavior support plan. This I already knew, and it wasn’t going to help us. Finally, I came across Cogmed Working Memory Training. Cogmed claimed to reduce ADHD symptoms in 80% of the people who completed the training. In addition to this, Cogmed said that the improvement persisted over time. I got excited, at last there appeared to be something that went after the organic nature of our problem.
80% improvement in ADHD type symptoms for those who complete the training was quite a claim. In schools, we see such promises all of the time. As a result, we are very skeptical. I thought that if Cogmed could help just a fraction of the kids it was claiming, it would be worth the try. So I pressed forward and got it in our district. I’m glad I did, the results have been beyond my expectations.
Making it happen
It required several steps for Cogmed to be successfully implemented in our school: (1) I had to get both my superintendent’s approval and support; (2) I had to get the necessary technology to run the program on a large scale (computers, mice, headphones); (3) I needed the space to train groups of kids without interruptions; (4) I needed to have someone help with the coaching; and (5) I had to create a schedule that the teachers could use to keep the training consistent.
There were other hurdles I had to clear in order to implement Cogmed in our school. In the beginning, it took work convincing the other teachers that Cogmed training would pay dividends, and that missing their class time was worth it. I had to have administration supporting me at this point, to tell the teachers to go through with it. In addition, coming up with financing for the project required some creative thinking, and of course, support from administration.
Selecting suitable users
In our first group of trainees (21), we worked only with elementary students. From this population, we took all students who had an IEP (individual education plan) – that is, they were in special education. We already had data on these students, and all of them either demonstrated severe ADHD-like behaviors, or had a working memory deficit. In addition to this, we took all students who had 504’s – these are students who have learning difficulties, but we are unable to measure the disability to the degree that they qualify for special education. As with the students with IEP’s, we already had data on these students. The remainder of the group was selected in a triage manner. I asked each of the teachers to pick the students in their group who demonstrated the most severe symptoms of ADHD and were struggling academically. Once we got our group together, our school psychologist did a cognitive assessment on all students that we didn’t have existing data on using the WISC-IV.
Our second group consisted of three students who went through the first training, were diagnosed with ADHD, were medicated from time to time, but showed no signs of gains from the first training. In addition to this, a new student was added who demonstrated ADHD symptoms, severe behavior problems in the classroom, had an IEP, and was 4 to 5 years behind his peers in reading.
Finally, our 3rd group consisted of 11 kindergarten through 3rd grade students, two seventh graders, and five high school students. The kindergarten students were selected because they were struggling to stay on task, and were already far behind their peers in basic reading skills and math skills. The 1st through 3rd grade students were selected because they tested out as the lowest readers in their groups, and were being placed in the most intensive reading intervention groups. The two seventh graders were repeat trainees, and they were selected primarily because of logistics. Finally, the high school students were struggling academically, demonstrated ADHD type symptoms, and had working memory deficits – two of them had IEP’s.
Implementing the training
Finding an appropriate location was important. The location has to be some place with no interruptions. Any time somebody walks into the room, the students stop to see who it is and what they want. In addition to this, when somebody walks in, they want to see what is going on and start to look over the trainee’s shoulder – this too is a distraction.
As far as setting up the computers, we found that it is best to have the computers in a row side by side – this way, the training aides are able to keep track of all of the trainees at all times. Also, we found it best to train six at time, with two training aides, so the aides could see all trainees.
Training is an emotional roller coaster for the coaches and aides. They go into the training with high hopes for the students, and want the students to be fully engaged. The students, on the other hand, don’t quite understand the value of the training, and don’t have such expectations. So if a student misses trials, frustration builds in the coaches. As the training continues there can be a sense of hopelessness. The students can become tired of the training, and don’t show signs of improving – the coaches can become disenchanted – they begin to feel as though they have failed. Then, with about five days of training left, switches begin to flip. The students begin to reengage in the training, activity during training decreases, improvement indexes begin to take off, teachers start to report significant changes in students, and students begin to report changes. Then, there is a period of euphoria; the coaches realize that it worked – all of the time and frustration was worth it – you have just made a significant impact on a student’s life.
In our school we have a 98% completion rate. Of the 43 students who have begun the training, only one has dropped out.
We have seen life changing results in many of the students. Not only have they gained the ability to engage in class, stay on task, complete assignments, work independently, and understand and follow directions – but their behaviors outside of class have changed significantly. They are able to accept responsibility for their actions, play appropriately with peers and toys, go to bed on time, sleep when they go to bed, and stay out of trouble.
Overall, we have seen students no longer qualify for special education and no longer need it. We have seen students move from two years behind their peers in academics, and falling further – to in one year catching up and staying with their peers. We have seen students move from struggling academically, hating school so much that they developed psychosomatic symptoms of being sick to avoid school, and not having any friends – to being one of the top students in the class, enjoying school, and developing friendships. We have seen many other students with more subtle changes, such as having reduced levels of activity in class, staying on task, being better organized, completing and turning in assignments, and giving clear, thought-out oral responses in class that are on topic. One high school student reports that she finally remembers and understands what she reads. She finds herself aware of things around her. This a new sensation to her so she is asking a lot of “why” questions now.
And the results have absolutely lasted. Our first group of trainees is in their third school year since their training, and we have not seen any change in their new behaviors or success. In fact, some are still making gains.
Teachers are very happy with the results and frequently come to me when they identify a struggling student and ask if we could put them through Cogmed training. Teachers are now realizing that when students are struggling to learn, there may be a neurological explanation. As such, I hear things like, “so and so is struggling in my class. Maybe things aren’t wired right in their brains. I wonder if the Cogmed training might fix it?” I have no problem with the teachers letting students out of their class for Cogmed.
In terms of parent reports, some see no change in their children at home. This has even been the case with students who have improved significantly at school. On the other hand, we have had parents report changes in their children at home when we saw little or no change at school.
Parents who see improvement report that their child is willing to engage in homework when told to. They report that their child comes home and starts their homework without being told, they show less frustration when working on a task, and they report that their child follows directions and accepts responsibility for their actions. They also report that they go to bed on time and sleep when they go bed – and that the child is calmer at home. I had one mother who claimed that before the training, her child was “out of control” and now is a “normal little boy.”