Any experiences with brain training software?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Bored of Ed, Jun 13, 2013.

  1. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    Jun 13, 2013

    The likes of Fast ForWord, Earobics, BrainWare Safari, iFocus Jungle Rangers, others I haven't heard of? Would like to hear some firsthand impressions/advice.
     
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  3. bros

    bros Phenom

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    I've heard that FFW/Earobics work, but only for very specific children, they aren't a one-size-fits all solution and they can lead to frustration if it isn't what works for the student.
     
  4. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    I've had about twenty kids go through FastForward. I didn't see any difference, but a year later, two kids were doing much better.
     
  5. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    First, not all of those are actually "brain-training" software in that they claim to change brain processing independent of skill development. A program such as CogMed claims to affect working memory independent of any skill that uses working memory, for example. I hadn't heard of BrainWare Safari, but I looked it up and it seems that that program falls into that category. Earobics, on the other hands, is a reading program that addresses reading skills.

    In short, there has been very little evidence that any program works to improve cognitive functioning/processing. So, there are no programs out there (to my knowledge) that have successfully shown that it can improve working memory, long-term memory, focus, etc. CogMed has shown a few interesting studies and it something to definitely watch, but most folks I talk to haven't been convinced of the evidence as its limited, doesn't show strong sustainability or transfer to real work settings, etc. But, as I said, the evidence is interesting and they may get there at some point.

    The vast majority - if not all - programs and companies out that there advertise "brain training" are simply false advertising. There's just no science behind it. What they MAY do is improve skill performance in an area, which may lead to better ability to perform on tests requiring cognitive skills such as working memory in the context of those specific academic skills. For example, working memory is a component of decoding because it requires you to hold and manipulate multiple pieces of information in your mind simultaneously. If I worked with a child on decoding and that child's performance subsequently improved, it may appear as though that child was demonstrating higher abilities with working memory in the area of reading decoding. However, that's because of skill development, not necessarily because the underlying cognitive structure of working memory has been improved independent of decoding.

    Another example would be testing a child's working memory using some sort of computer-based test, then providing a lot of practice with a similar task, then measuring performance again. The company may claim that working memory has been improved, but really has just improve the child's skills with that particular task, not working memory as a construct.

    If a company claims to have improved brain functioning, I would start by asking 4 things:

    1) Are there multiple studies conducted by more than one outside evaluator who have no connections whatsoever with the company?

    2) Did the program demonstrate results on multiple/different measures of that construct, the items on which were NOT trained by the program? (E.g., measured working memory through WISC-IV and no working memory tasks from that assessment were used in the training program).

    3) Did the program lead to real-world gains such as academic achievement and behavioral improvement when NO other instruction or interventions were used, and was a control group used to rule out possibility of placebo effect.

    4) Were the results sustained over a period of time, or did effects wash out after training stopped or after 3, 6, 12 months, etc.?

    If the program shows evidence that meets all of those criteria, I think it's worth looking at more.
     
  6. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    Thanks for the organized response as usual, EdEd! And to the rest of you for sharing your experiences.

    I've been looking into BrainWare especially. It seems more promising - the claims don't seem as exaggerated as FFW (miracle cure for anything! Wowza! :roll:), the theoretical basis makes sense and is consistent with my previous knowledge, and the research is limited but looks promising. It is problematic that there isn't much outside research, but the company's own research doesn't look like it's worth completely discarding just because it may be biased. Just needs to be taken with a grain of salt and tested by others. The other issue with their research is that the controls weren't so equivalent for placebo testing. They did use the WJ as measurement.

    I am interested in using it as a supplement to my own academic skills programming. The cost is reasonable enough that I might just try it with a couple of students and evaluate for myself whether it does anything. But if others have used it and can share, I would love to hear that before putting myself out on a limb...
     
  7. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Sure thing. I think a limited trial would be interesting - I'm sure we'd be interested to hear your results. The major limitations to trying it would be cost (which it sounds like you're covering, and not asking parents to) and time lost when you could be using other interventions (not sure how long it takes to implement?). I'm not familiar with the program, though, so I'm not sure if there are any other limitations.

    Keep us posted - we'll be interested to hear!
     
  8. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    We tried Fast ForWord at my first school. A few students were extremely successful with it, but the majority in the program did not improve. We were told that it was only specifically for kids that had processing issues, and the students that were in the program were very carefully selected. One student in particular gained about three years in one school year and continued to stay on grade level the next year. So for the right kid it can be amazing. However, from what I remember it's extremely expensive and it can kind of feel like you're throwing all that money away for the majority of the students who aren't helped by the program.
     
  9. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    I will ask the parents to cover costs because I cannot afford to do it for free, but I will balance that by offering 1) lower cost and 2) it would be accompanied by my regular complement of academic coaching techniques. I would make it perfectly clear that they are participating in a pilot program, but I believe that it would be worth it for them because they are getting my regular services at a great price PLUS the chance that this promising-looking program will succeed (which I believe is a greater chance when coupled with my support as a qualified, experienced interventionist using more conventional techniques).
     
  10. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Is this in a public school setting or private tutoring setting? I'm guessing private since you'd be asking parents to pay for something :). If that's the case, it sounds like you're taking a reasonable approach which is providing them with information that it would be a pilot and relatively untested approach. I would definitely be upfront about the lack of external and high quality research.

    Also, it may be helpful to consider implementing this with some students but not all, and assigning students arbitrarily to a control and intervention group. That kind of experimental design might provide you with some helpful information. If all kids receive the intervention, it will be hard to tell the difference between the effects of your other efforts, and this program.
     
  11. Bored of Ed

    Bored of Ed Enthusiast

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    Private, yes. Can't play around like that in school, but if it works well with my pilot kids I would consider recommending it to the school.

    I don't anticipate having enough clientele over the summer to set up a whole experimentalmajig; I'm hoping maybe offering this program will be more of a draw because business is always too slow in the summer. It's a 12-week recommended protocol so it's perfect for summer break, which by us starts next week and goes for about 11 (so, ok, a little overlap to the school year but overall a good time when people are available to try things). So I'll just have to be another bit of anecdotal evidence one way or the other...
     
  12. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Well, definitely let us know how it goes. Will be interested to hear!
     
  13. cheeryteacher

    cheeryteacher Enthusiast

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    Jun 14, 2013

    My district does FFW K-6 for 40 minutes a day. The younger kids seem to really like it. Most of the older kids don't. They get bored with it very easily so they don't try and experience little growth. It's hard to keep them motivated.
     

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