St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School
Educators at St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School, a private elementary school located in Jacksonville, Fla., were seeking an innovative way to help students with attention deficits and working-memory issues. “Medication works well, but we wanted something to add to it or other options for our families,” explained Sheryl Brantley, who teaches in the school’s Academic Support Center. Wherever they turned, one solution kept coming up: Cogmed Working Memory Training from Pearson.
Before long, St. Mark’s, which serves 415 students, from toddlers through sixth grade, was piloting the Cogmed program. Now, six months later, Brantley and her colleagues are seeing positive, lasting results with the students in the pilot. One student is now able to recall math facts more fluently and has achieved gains of three reading levels. Another student, once a reluctant and struggling reader, is reading with ease. “We are excited with what we are seeing. These students are utilizing what they have learned and holding on to their gains,” she said.
Cogmed Working Memory Training is an evidence-based, computerized program designed by leading neuroscientists to improve attention by effectively increasing working-memory capacity over a five-week training period. By training a tightly defined cognitive function with the Cogmed program, students create a cascading effect of improvements. They are better able to pay attention, resist distractions, self-manage and learn.
The St. Mark’s pilot group was made up of six students in grades 4 through 6, all diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and working-memory issues. Implementation took place after school under the guidance of teachers trained as Cogmed coaches. To limit the potential for distraction, the coaches separated the students into groups of two or three in different rooms. Their classroom teachers were “very much on board” to accommodate the students during the weeks they were using the Cogmed program, making sure homework was lighter than usual, she said.
The coaches, most working with just one student at a time, “expressed very positive experiences,” said Brantley, who coordinated the pilot as well as served as a coach. They appreciated the fact that the program is adaptable to each student, allowing for different kinds of encouragement and feedback, and were impressed with how students responded. “It was refreshing for us to see the students learn how to problem-solve, prioritize and manage their time,” she said.
Communication with parents was vital to the success of the project, she said. She and her colleagues explained the potential benefits, received buy-in and kept parents apprised of progress.
Since completing the Cogmed program, the students are reporting that they have gained new skills, including the ability to focus better, read faster and recall information more easily. “Over time, they have come to appreciate all they’ve accomplished. They are seeing what they can achieve and believing in themselves,” she said.
And teachers are seeing noticeable changes, too, noting that the students are better able to retain math facts and use mental math, and are stronger readers with improved comprehension and retention. The students are remembering what was talked about in class, are following directions and are planning ahead for projects. “Teachers are thrilled with the students’ ability to stay on task and achieve,” she said. “Several have commented, ‘Wow, what a difference.’”
Parents, too, are seeing the academic changes in their children, as well as personal growth: greater organizational skills, confidence and improved behavior.
Before undergoing the Cogmed training, some of the students had difficulty maintaining appropriate classroom behavior. Their teachers are now seeing improvement, she said. “Those who struggled, even on medication, are doing much better. They’re participating in class in a positive way and are more engaged in learning. That’s a victory for the entire class.”
Since the successful completion of the pilot, educators at St. Mark’s have continued to build on their success with the Cogmed program, sending a group of students through the training over the summer and then another at the beginning of the school year.
They plan to expand their use of the Cogmed program to reach every student at St. Mark’s who needs help with working memory. “This is exciting for us. I really foresee it benefiting our students in a big way,” said Brantley. “As someone who provides interventions on a daily basis, I can tell you it is a program that works. The Cogmed program is a gift for students and families, as well as for the teachers. It gives students who struggle an opportunity for success.”