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Children go to school to learn – but for some children, learning can be challenging. This might be obvious by the time children are in grade one, or not show up till later.
Memory Maestros studied working memory – the ability to hold and use information just long enough to do a task, like remembering a phone number until you dial it. Working memory varies between children, just like height and many other characteristics. Further information about working memory can be found
Several studies suggest that improving working memory helps some children learn better. Some scientists think all children should be assessed for weak working memory. Then those with poorer working memory could be offered a program that might help them learn. However, no one yet knows if this approach works.
The Memory Maestros study asked two main questions:
A pilot study was conducted in two schools from August to December 2010, assessing the feasibility of the methods that will be used in the main trial. The pilot study was funded by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
A large randomised controlled trial (RCT) was then carried out in 45 schools from February 2012 to June 2015. The RCT was funded by an NHMRC project grant.
The RCT consisted of three stages:
The program used in the Memory Maestros study was called CogMed. This program has been previously used in small studies with healthy children and children with attention problems. CogMed is like a computer game – children usually have fun, because it doesn't feel like 'work'. The computer game has a fun 'robot' theme. The games involve items (such as numbers, letters and asteroids) lighting up on the screen in a sequence which the child is asked to repeat. The games automatically get harder as working memory gets better. This happens in very small steps. This means children are always working just at their limit, but can still do the tasks successfully.
Findings from the RCT showed that working memory training did not result in longer term benefits for children’s learning, working memory or behaviour outcomes.
Of all outcome measures tested, only visuospatial short term memory showed slight gains at 12 months, but no clear benefits were apparent after 24 months. In conclusion, the findings demonstrate a lack of evidence to justify the use of CogMed in classrooms for children identified as having low working memory.
The Memory Maestros team now plans to link birth, school entry and later learning outcomes with genetic testing to help understand how genetic differences interact with cognitive and environmental factors to determine long-term learning and mental health related
Academic Outcomes 2 Years After Working Memory Training for Children With Low Working Memory
Schooling duration rather than chronological age predicts working memory between 6 and 7 years: Memory Maestros Study.
The Centre for Community Child Health is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.