Can Brain Training Improve Low-Income Kids’ Academics?


A new study shows that the performance of students from poor economic backgrounds can be changed through the use of cognitive exercises that show students how to obtain important information from text and analyze it.

Researchers from the University of Texas looked at middle schoolers in Dallas, dividing a group of 900 seventh and eighth graders into two groups. One group received the special training, and the other did not.

The training included 10 different 45-minute sessions that took place over the course of a month. Students participated in interactive group activities in addition to written exercises that taught students how to discover the main points from written text as well as how to analyze it. Students were assessed both before and after the training in order to see how well the training was helping them to succeed.

The training was found to help all children (from poverty-stricken areas and not) to increase reasoning and be able to better recall activities. Students who did not participate in the training showed no improvements.

Interestingly, the effects could be seen among eighth-grade girls and boys who participated in the training, but not seventh-grade boys. Researchers suggest this could be due to the boys not having reached a maturity level that would benefit from the exercises, writes Nick Chiles for The Atlanta Black Star.

"It's really the cognitive steps you and I take quite naturally to understand information and get to the big picture. We walk [students] concretely through various stages," Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino, who led the research team, told the Huffington Post. "We start by helping them focus on what's most important by deleting what's least important, we help them chunk information … get them to think at a higher level."

Researchers discovered that the brains of children who grow up in poverty may develop differently from children who do not grow up in such conditions, making it more difficult for those children to solve problems or even pay attention. It is the hope that the regimen could help turn that situation around.

Researchers believe the training could be easily integrated into a school setting to benefit all students.

"I think we all know people who are very immature, who make bad decisions and don't control their emotions. They haven't developed the ability to use their frontal lobe to the full potential," Gamino said. "The more we know from neuroscience, the more we know we can activate certain parts of our brain to make those connections become stronger. We have kids doing pen-and-paper tasks that help them use their frontal lobe."

The researchers believe the new method could be instrumental in closing the achievement gap between middle-class and low-income students. This could in turn have a significant impact on African-American students, who many times come from low-income and poverty-stricken areas.

12 26, 2014
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