Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WWC Review of a Recent "Tools of the Mind" Study

This study examined whether the Tools of the Mind program increased academic achievement, cognitive flexibility, working memory, attention control, and cognitive processing speed for kindergarten students. Tools of the Mind is a pedagogical approach that emphasizes teacher-led interactions between classmates. Tools of the Mind is designed based on the idea that students’ executive function, or self-regulation, is the main mechanism by which they can increase learning.
The study authors randomized 79 classrooms to implement either Tools of the Mind for 2 years or to act as a comparison group that did not use any programs similar to Tools of the Mind. Up to six students per class were assessed on the outcome measures at the beginning of the kindergarten year (baseline), at the end of the kindergarten year, and at the beginning of first grade.

The study examined math skills, reading and vocabulary skills, and general reasoning. In addition, the study examined response accuracy and response time for students on three tasks that measure cognitive flexibility, or the ability to perform multiple cognitive duties at the same time. Lastly, the study examined working memory (the number of digits that children could repeat after hearing them from an assessor), attention control (identifying the location of a dot on a computer screen after neutral or emotion pictures were displayed quickly), and cognitive processing speed (time to complete tasks such as naming the colors of blocks in order).

What did the study report?
The study reported that students who were exposed to Tools of the Mind had improved math skills, response time on cognitive flexibility tasks, working memory, and cognitive processing speed at the end of kindergarten relative to the comparison students. Students who were exposed to Tools of the Mind in kindergarten also had higher reading skills in the fall of first grade than students in the comparison group.

How does the WWC rate this study?
Some students in the analytic sample joined the study after the random assignment of classrooms to conditions had occurred. As a result, there were some students in the analytic sample who were not effectively randomly assigned to the treatment or comparison groups. Therefore, the study cannot meet WWC standards without reservations. The study can meet WWC standards with reservations if the authors provide additional information to determine whether the intervention and comparison groups are similar at baseline. A forthcoming review will report more fully on the study’s results.

Citation: Blair, C., & Raver C. C. (2014). Closing the achievement gap through modification of neurocognitive and neuroendocrine function: Results from a cluster randomized controlled trial of an innovative approach to the education of children in kindergarten. PloS ONE, 9(11), e112393. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0112393

The WWC conducts quick reviews of studies that have received significant media attention. This study was mentioned in Education Week, Chalkbeat, The Huffington Post, and Reuters.

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