DEVELOPING A SHORT-TERM MEMORY INTERVENTION PROGRAMME FOR SECOND-LANGUAGE LEARNERS: CAN IT ENHANCE WORD READING AND SPELLING ABILITIES?
University of the Free State (SOUTH AFRICA)
About this paper:
Conference name: 8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2016
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Abstract:Working memory (as a component of short-term memory) relates to an individual’s ability to attend to verbally or visually presented information, to process information in memory, and then to formulate a response. Studies in cognitive psychology have explored the degree to which long-term memory and short-term/working memory function individually or interact throughout the processing of information during different cognitive tasks, including reading and spelling. Although the specific features of these two memory systems and their relationship with each other remain unclear, it has been demonstrated that reading and spelling rely on both short-term and the long-term memory systems. Moreover, recent research findings have shown that short-term memory develops throughout childhood, and that its capacity can be developed. This has important implications for children’s academic achievement, and also for the focus of this research: the role and value of working memory in the development of L2 reading and spelling of children with learning disabilities. Consequently, the researcher developed an intervention programme to improve L2 learners’ short-term memory and L2 word recognition and spelling abilities. Since this research was carried out in an economically disadvantaged community, the core aim was to develop a user-friendly, inexpensive intervention programme for similarly economically disadvantaged populations in the future. Focusing on the most important senses for receiving and reproducing information, this study developed a short-term memory intervention programme which aimed to target the visual-oral, the visual-written, aural-oral and aural-written short-term memory skills of L2 learners. This programme was presented with the aid of concrete apparatus (memory blocks) and flash cards. We applied an experimental pre-test post-test research design. Eighteen children with learning disabilities from a rural, socio-economically disadvantaged community in the Free State Province, South Africa, were sampled and matched with a comparison group of 18 learners with learning disabilities. Results from the present study have demonstrated that, after six months of working-memory training, children in the experimental group (n = 18) significantly outperformed children in the comparison group (n = 18) who had not been exposed to this working-memory training programme. Furthermore, results have shown that improvement in the children in the experimental group’s short-term/working-memory skills translated into better L2 word reading and spelling abilities. This confirms the causal role of short-term/working memory in advancing the reading and spelling skills of children with learning disabilities. Future recommendations may include replicating this study with larger samples, whilst concurrently working towards expanding the body of scholarly knowledge within this field of special education in South Africa and internationally.
Keywords: Working memory, cognitive abilities, learning disabilities, reading and spelling development, English second-language learners.