At Torsvik School in Sweden, it isn’t unusual to walk past a classroom with the door closed and a sign that says “Do Not Disturb! Brain Training in Progress.” When teachers and students see this, they know that special-education teacher and Cogmed Working Memory Training coach Eva Ullberg’s students are using the evidence-based, computerized program designed by leading neuroscientists to improve attention by effectively increasing working-memory capacity. 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.
During the 2009-2010 school year, more than 100 students at Torsvik School trained with Cogmed. One of five coaches at the high school, Ullberg has many years of experience with Cogmed Working Memory Training.
She starts the training session with a cheerful, “Can we begin?” and the eight students in years seven, eight and nine greet her happily and quickly take their seats. These students are motivated and committed to this training. In fact, some year nine students are busy with work experience this session but still return to participate in the Cogmed Working Memory Training.
Ullberg plans the training for her students carefully. “I start by going out to our school’s teacher teams and finding out which students they think would benefit from working-memory training. It is important that they not only refer students who have difficulty in concentration, but also those struggling with reading, writing and mathematics and students who have trouble getting started on assignments,” she said.
To introduce new students to Cogmed Working Memory Training, Ullberg hosts an introductory session with the entire group and then allows them to decide whether they would like to participate – but rarely does anyone decline. Parents are also invited to a meeting to learn more about what working memory is, the kinds of difficulties it can help change, how the training works and what results it can provide. Ullberg said that the planning and introduction of Cogmed to students and parents are critical to its success. She said, “The planning work can be quite demanding, although now I have a routine for it. This process is very important to successfully implementing the training with our students.”
Ullberg sees the majority of her students benefiting from Cogmed Working Memory Training, with the impact varying from individual to individual. Some students see immediate results, while others see changes over time. For example, a student who has difficulty with impulse control might immediately stop becoming involved in regular conflicts, while a student struggling with disorganization might see slow, steady improvement over time.
After the training, most students report that they are better able to concentrate, to focus on their school work and that they find test-taking easier. Plus, they are more organized and better able to start and finish a task or project on schedule.
To help students identify what has improved, Ullberg asks them specific questions about their behavior before and after the Cogmed training. For example, she asks a student, “How long were you able to pay attention in class before the training?” The student answers, “10 minutes.” Then she asks, “And now after the training?” The student says, “Now I listen for 20 minutes.” Following up, she asks, “And how does that affect you?” The student says, “I remember more from the lessons so I do not spend as much time to read for the test.” The student has personally identified the change in his behavior as well as the benefit he is realizing from it.
In summary, Ullberg said, “What I see as the great common denominator among my students who complete the Cogmed training is that they are more able to focus and spend time on their school work and they are seeing positive results from the time they are investing. These results contribute to all of their academic success.”