Our research group have used Cogmed Working Memory Training (CWMT) for about six years now. We have trained hundreds of primary school children with a range of cognitive and behavioural deficits including those with poor working memory, ADHD, dyslexia and brain injury, as well as typical groups and ones with more general learning impairments. Our method of coaching has evolved over time as we’ve discovered what works best for our groups.
Here are ten tips that I think make for better Cogmed training. These tips are based on our work with primary school-aged children but many would work well with other age groups and with other training interventions.
1) Engagement from colleagues
In the past we’ve been contacted by head teachers who have invited us to into their school to use CWMT with a particular group of children. However, when the coach turns up at the school for the first day of training, the class teachers can occasionally be less enthusiastic. This is hardly surprising as we take children (and usually ones that are falling behind too) out of class each day for the next five or six weeks. I think that this potentially awkward situation could be avoided if the class teacher was fully informed of what we are trying to achieve.
To address this issue I wrote a short PowerPoint presentation for education professionals to show to their colleagues. The slides explain a little about what working memory is, why it’s important, what Cogmed is and the potential benefits it could bring. This presentation serves as an introduction to CWMT and could also be used on INSET or training days. You can find this slide show in the Cogmed training web.
2) Time planning
Plan what time of day you intend to carry out training. Usually schools have a structure in place, with literacy and numeracy at set times of the day. Obviously it’s not ideal for an individual to miss out on the same lesson every day for five or six weeks, so try and fit a suitable time to train that doesn’t interfere with the timetable too much. Typically, much of our training has been carried out first thing in the morning, often during registration and assembly time. This is usually judged to be less critical than lesson time. However, we’ve also trained during lunchtime, afternoon or even after school.
Different schools have different structures to their day so try and find 30-45 minutes at a time that suits your school.
3) A good place to train and using right equipment
We’ve trained children in busy hallways and rooms no bigger than cupboards. Ideally, you would want to be training in an IT suite or a decent sized room with plenty of space for your students and equipment. I would also suggest that each child wears a set of headphones so they can really concentrate on training. If training on laptops I prefer trainees to use an external mouse rather than a track pad as in my experience an external mouse offers finer motor control.
4) The training book
Cogmed produce a training book that explains to the trainee what CWMT is in age-appropriate language. I normally have a one-to-one introductory session with the child and work through the training book. Firstly, this gives the child more information on working memory and secondly it lets them know why they are training and what the benefits might be.
5) Setting some goals
This is something that has recently been incorporated into my trainings. Before starting, perhaps in the one-to-one introductory session, it might be a good idea to sit the trainee down and discuss where they feel their weaknesses lie. For example, I was working with one child who said that she struggled with mental maths, and another that said that he had problems with paying attention in class. These are both weaknesses that could be potentially alleviated with a better working memory so we made a note to follow-up progress on these after training has finished.
6) Group sizes
What is an ideal group size? I think for one coach a group of between 6-8 children is ideal. Bigger groups can work fine too, but coaching may be difficult if the coach spreads himself too thinly. Basically, adjust your groups based on the individuals you are working with, a group of hyperactive 8 year-olds would undoubtedly present you with more problems than a well behaved older group. Obviously group sizes can be extended with more coaches.
I generally offer a small reward for every five days of training. This is usually something inexpensive like a piece of stationary. I find that if the trainee has something to aim towards then it helps with compliance and motivation (more on that later). Other coaches have come up with far more imaginative ways in which to offer rewards.
One coach offered raffle tickets every time a trainee achieved a top score and at the end of the week a ticket was drawn and the winning trainee got a prize (the idea being that more top scores = the more chances to win the raffle). Another coach played ‘secret student’ with their training group. This entailed picking a student in secret and if that student improved then everyone won a prize, and as none of the other trainees knows who the secret student is everyone works hard. Rewards don’t have to be expensive, even something like a sticker works well for younger children. In fact you don’t have to offer a material prize at all; one school gave well behaved trainees 5-10 minutes of free time at the end of the training session to surf the internet.
8) The coach talk
I do this on a weekly basis. This is just a very brief feedback session that lets the trainee know how they are progressing. Before the coach talk I log on to the Cogmed training web to garner some information on training. I would be looking for information such as: has the trainee trained all the days they supposed to have? Have the trainee’s scores improved? I also usually find one exercise that they are doing well on and congratulate them on it and then find another that they are not doing well on and make improvement on that task a goal for the following week. It’s my chance to play good cop-bad cop good coach – bad coach!
9) Engagement from parents
I have had children approach me during training more than once to say: “I enjoyed this at first but now it’s too hard and my [dad/mum] says I don’t have to do it anymore”. Inevitably this would end up with me telephoning the trainee’s parent to explain the importance of what we were trying to do namely improve their child’s working memory. Once they had a little more information on why training was important, they were usually back on board and the trainee’s attitude improved as a result. There is now a parent information guide that gives details on training. The guide also has space on it to insert the child’s login details so the parent can also monitor the trainee’s progress too.
10) Motivation, Motivation, Motivation…
I’ve saved the most important point till last. There is no getting away from the fact that CWMT is difficult. It pushes trainees to the limit of their working memory capacity on a trial-by-trail basis and due to the adaptive nature of the program the difficulty level increases until even the greatest of us starts to get answers wrong. Therefore, it stands to reason, that from time to time trainee enthusiasm wanes.
This is where a good coach comes into his or her own. When the trainee is down, it’s the coach’s job to try and pick them up again and when a trainee thinks that they have improved as much as they’re able it’s to coach’s job to tell them to keep trying.
It will be tough for some children to complete training and in my experience motivation is the key to ensuring they get the most out of it.
Date posted: April 8, 2014
You can also view this article as an interactive Prezi Presentation
About the Author:
Dr Darren Dunning is a researcher at the University of East Anglia and a trainer on the Cogmed Coach Training courses.