28 February 2008

Early Childhood Achievement: IQ, EF, ST Memory

What are the relationships between early childhood achievement levels, and IQ, Executive Function (EF), mental speed, and Short-Term Memory? Researchers at Durham University suggest that short-term memory may be more important than IQ, in early childhood underachievers.
Working memory is the ability to hold information in your head and manipulate it mentally. You use this mental workspace when adding up two numbers spoken to you by someone else without being able to use pen and paper or a calculator. Children at school need this memory on a daily basis for a variety of tasks such as following teachers' instructions or remembering sentences they have been asked to write down.

Lead researcher Dr Tracy Alloway from Durham University's School of Education, who, with colleagues, has published widely on the subject, explains further: "Working memory is a bit like a mental jotting pad and how good this is in someone will either ease their path to learning or seriously prevent them from learning.

"From the various large-scale studies we have done, we believe the only way children with poor working memory can go onto achieving academic success is by teaching them how to learn despite their smaller capacity to store information mentally....If the teacher feels significantly concerned about a child's performance in class, he or she can then get the child to do the computerised Automated Working Memory Assessment (AWMA). The tools also suggest ways for teachers to manage the children's working memory loads which will minimise the chances of children failing to complete tasks. Recommendations include repetition of instructions, talking in simple short sentences and breaking down tasks into smaller chunks of information.

Both tools are published by Pearson Assessment. The research that provided the foundation for the AWMA was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy.___Source
We have learned that EF can be taught--to some degree--in early childhood. If diminished short-term memory can be partially compensated, as the Durham researchers claim, then two significant limiting factors in life achievement might be amenable to amelioration. Call these interventions "crutches" if you must, but these interventions may just perform a partial "equalization" in life accomplishment that no amount of conventional governmental or educational interventions can accomplish.

The important point is that we have to look at these issues unblinkingly, without the blinders of well-intentioned political correctness. Only by seeing things as they are, can we ever be in a position to intervene in a meaningful way to the benefit of as many possible.

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