Research on Memory in Students with Learning Disabilities
Several researchers have summarized the relevant research and suggested that children with learning disabilities apparently have no distinctive difficulty with long-term memory (Cutting, Koth, Mahone, & Denckla, 2005; Swanson, 1994; Sousa, 2001). This is shown by a number of research studies that suggest that manipulation of motivation, selective attention, or coding ability for memory will improve the memory of children with learning disabilities to levels commensurate with children who do not have such disabilities (Swanson, 1994).
Rather, the memory problems among children with learning disabilities are twofold. They seem to be based on an inability in working memory to code information for memory storage and decreased motivation for such intentional mental efforts (O'Shaughnessy & Swanson, 1998). For example, several research studies have demonstrated that when supplied with a memory strategy, children who are learning disabled can perform memory tasks as well as children who are not (Swanson, 1999). This research suggests that memory-encoding strategies are differentially effective for students with learning disabilities. In other words, students without learning problems use some method of encoding the information without being told to, but students who are learning disabled apparently do not. Consequently, when a memory strategy is presented to both groups, the memory score of the group with disabilities increases, and the score of the control group remains constant. Clearly, one teaching recommendation for children with learning disabilities is the provision of strategies to assist them in performing tasks that involve the use of memory.
This body of research on memory is another factor in the development of the metacognitive perspective on learning disabilities, as discussed in Chapter 1. However, the metacognitive perspective is essentially an optimistic perspective because it suggests that provision of memory strategies enhances the child's memory.
Torgesen's (1984) work in the area of memory skills among children with learning disabilities is an excellent example of this optimistic view. In one of the early studies, Torgesen and colleagues (1979) demonstrated that rote memory differences between children who are learning disabled and those who are not could be eliminated if both groups were given a common memory strategy. Each group was comprised of 19 students. Two tasks were performed. In the first, 24 pictures of common objects were used. Every object belonged to one of six categories. After a practice trial, the children were shown the stimulus cards, asked to name each picture, and told to study the cards in any manner they chose for later recall. The study period lasted 3 minutes. The children with learning disabilities performed less adequately than the other children, thus demonstrating a memory deficit. However, the procedure was repeated again. This time, the students were told to sort the cards into groups that "go together in some way." A measure of immediate recall was then taken. Results demonstrated that those with learning disabilities recalled the same number of cards as the others when a memory strategy such as sorting the cards was provided. This study and others in the same series (Torgesen, 1984) have supported the metacognitive perspective on learning disabilities, as well as providing an optimistic prognosis for the learning disabled. These studies have provided a research basis for the use of memory strategies and other organizing strategies among students with learning disabilities. A provision of memory strategies seems to result in adequate memory performance of most children who are learning disabled.
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