A study conducted by Fuchs and colleagues looked at the effectiveness of interventions that combine training on working memory (WM) and word-problem solving (WPS). The four interventions were as follows:
- Intervention 1 – general training on WM
- Intervention 2 – training on WPS without WM training
- Intervention 3 – training on WPS with math-specific WM training
- Control group – no intervention
General WM training consisted of sessions using verbal and visuospatial modalities, to which the authors added 5 minutes on mathematics practice. The WPS intervention used in the study was Pirate Math that consists of four phases in each session: arithmetic problems, word-problem solving with a tutor, games, and practice. Finally, math-specific WM training was developed by the authors to support students in applying their working memory capacity in mathematics.
A randomized study evaluated the effects of the interventions on academic outcomes of students with math difficulties in second grade. A total of 258 students in 16 schools were randomly assigned to the four conditions: 57 in the control group, 63 in general WM, 60 in WPS, 60 in WPS with math-specific WM. Students worked with the programs for 5 months. Automated Working Memory Assessment (AWMA) was used to measure outcomes related to working memory and two measures to assess WPS and arithmetic.
Regarding outcomes related to WM, results showed significant differences between the WPS group (ES = +0.62) and general WM (ES = +1.22) compared to the control group, while no difference was found for WPS with math-specific WM (ES = +0.30). Effects were significantly larger in arithmetic and on the WPS measure for the three interventions compared to the control group. On arithmetic, the ESs were +0.71, +0.81, +0.64 for the WPS group, WPS with math-specific WM, and general WM, respectively. On the WPS measure, the ESs were +0.45, +0.32, +0.57 for the WPS group, WPS with math-specific WM, and general WM, respectively.
The authors concluded that although training on general WM had effects on both working memory and math outcomes, it cannot replace WPS interventions that showed stronger results on math outcomes. Conversely, effects are stronger on working memory when a general WM training is used.
Source: Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Sterba, S. K., Barnes, M. A., Seethaler, P. M., & Changas, P. (2022). Building word-problem solving and working memory capacity: A randomized controlled trial comparing three intervention approaches. Journal of Educational Psychology, 114(7), 1633–1653. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000752