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Title: Increasing children's capacity to learn : the development and evaluation of a whole class working memory training programme
Author: Skelton, Richard
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2012
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Working memory provides us with the capacity to both store and process information. It is a fundamental ability that we use throughout our daily lives to interpret, make sense of and understand the world around us. In particular, verbal working memory capacity has long been recognised as foundational to children’s ability to learn, and is especially implicated in language development, reading, comprehension and mathematics abilities. Recognising the fundamental importance of working memory, seminal research has recently demonstrated that repeated practice on computerised training programmes can lead to increases in children’s working memory capacity. However, while these programmes are promising, there are some inherent difficulties which are likely to restrict their application and uptake within the school context, both for the individual child or whole class. To overcome these limitations, the present research aimed to develop and evaluate a practical, whole-class working memory training programme. Achieving this could potentially offer every teacher and child a viable, effective way to improve their working memory capacity and, in doing so, increase their fundamental learning ability. The first phase of the research aimed to create a theoretically effective and practical programme which was grounded in the needs and preferences of teachers and children. This was achieved by first developing prototype materials based on the theoretical literature of what would make an effective programme, before drawing upon the experiences and expertise of teachers within a focus group, and children within a playtest exploration. A wide range of proposals were made which had implications for the final design and implementation procedures. The final working memory training programme involved pairs of children engaging in a series of five different card-based working memory activities, each with three levels of difficulty. The second phase of the research involved the implementation and evaluation of the programme within a mainstream primary school classroom for fifteen minutes a day for six weeks. Measures of children’s working memory demonstrated that they made significant gains in their working memory, and verbal short-term memory. These improvements were significant both immediately following the programme and at a two month follow up. Children’s responses on a questionnaire, as well as interviews with the children and class teacher demonstrated that the programme proved easy to use in the classroom to the extent that it was run almost autonomously by the children. Reports also indicated that children found the programme to be an engaging and enjoyable experience. The demonstration of a practical and effective whole class working memory training programme holds considerable potential to increase children’s capacity to learn and achieve. The wide range of factors which potentially enable a WM training programme to be effective, enjoyable and practical are discussed, and the future implications of this research are explored.
Supervisor: Squires, Garry; Atkinson, Cathy Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Ed.Chi.Psy.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Working Memory ; Working Memory Training ; Psychology ; School ; Educational Psychology ; Cognitive Curriculum