1 National Research Council of Italy, Institute for Educational Technology (CNR-ITD) (ITALY)
2 IC Lavagna (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN20 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 1441-1450
ISBN: 978-84-09-17979-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2020.0476
Conference name: 12th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-7 July, 2020
Location: Online Conference
In the literature, there is increasing interest in investigating the effect of training - using technologies or traditional playful activities - to promote Executive Functions (EFs) in pre-schoolers with typical or atypical development. EFs are a family of adaptive, goal-directed, top-down mental processes that are activated to focus and pay attention in cases where an automatic response would be insufficient (e.g., Burgess & Simons, 2005). EFs seem to be associated to and predictive of children’s general learning abilities, such as mathematical achievement and literacy acquisition (e.g., Blair, & Razza, 2007). For this reason, efforts to improve EFs in pre-schoolers are of vital importance so as to prevent potential delay or impairment in EF development particularly among children at risk, (e.g., Re, et al., 2015, Miech et al. 2001).

A number of studies demonstrate that EFs can be improved in pre-schoolers in regular classrooms and that the benefits are transferrable to other domains (e.g., Diamond et al., 2007). In this regard, EF training using digital applications (e.g., software or video games) or using low-cost paper-and-pencil activities exist but interventions that integrate both digital applications and traditional activities lack.

The present study intends to extend previous research on EF training in pre-schoolers by proposing EF training that combines playful individual activities with the use of low-cost digital technologies, e.g. apps, and especially designed, collective, low-cost paper-and-pencil activities.

A total of 32 children were recruited from an Italian pre-school to take part in this study. Six of these children were officially designated as having Special Needs.

In the pre- and post-test phases, teachers and parents observed the behaviors of the children and filled in the BRIEF-P (Gioia, Espy, Isquith, 2003; Ed. italiana, Marano, Innocenzi, Devescovi, 2014), a report to rate pre-schoolers’ EFs as revealed in everyday behavior. After the training, a series of interviews were conducted with both teachers and children. The findings related to BRIEF-P highlighted that, in general, parents perceived greater improvements in their children than teachers did. Analysis of the experimental session results suggests that, during the first sessions, children’s basic cognitive abilities, such as working memory and inhibition, increased; subsequently, improvements were reported in cognitive flexibility tasks that required both working memory and inhibition. The children’s performance seemed to decrease during the final sessions, in which more complex cognitive activities were proposed. Furthermore, the children with Special Needs in the different sessions returned some below-average performances but, at the same time, a similar number of above-average performances were also observed. This outcome highlights the importance of making provision for the inclusion of children who have difficulties in specific intervention contexts that involve small groups.

Finally, the interviews with teachers and children highlighted some strengths and weaknesses of the intervention.
App, training, inclusive approach, executive functions, preschoolers.