City Research Online

Improving Working Memory in Children with Language Difficulties

Christopher, E (2020). Improving Working Memory in Children with Language Difficulties. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)

There is a more recent version of this item available.


Children with language impairments show considerable difficulties with working memory, the underpinning abilities that allow us to carry out every day thinking and reasoning tasks. Most working memory interventions, usually carried out through computer-based approaches, have provided limited support for benefits to other areas of academic ability and cognitive skill. However, previous research that has adopted a non-computerised approach has found effects on working memory and other cognitive skills such as reading comprehension in typically developing children (Henry, Messer, & Nash, 2014). The current research aimed to assess whether the same intervention would be effective for children with language impairments.

Forty-seven children with language difficulties as a primary need, aged 6-11 years, were randomly allocated to either a working memory intervention group or an active control group. Both groups of children were visited by a researcher three times a week for six weeks, totalling 18 sessions, for approximately 10 minutes at a time. Children in the working memory intervention group were administered 11 trials of an Odd One Out span task (Henry, 2001) and 11 trials of a Listening Recall task (Gathercole & Pickering, 2001). Both tasks required executive level working memory skills. All trials in both tasks were adaptively titrated to the child’s ability levels and adjusted continuously to ensure that the tasks remained appropriately challenging in order to facilitate improvement. Children in the active control group were administered the same number of trials but with the working memory requirement removed. All participants were given a battery of assessments before the intervention, immediately after the intervention was completed, and also at a 9 month
follow-up, to see if there were any near and far transfer effects from the intervention to other working memory and language skills, and if so, how long these were maintained.

Regression analyses controlling for pre-intervention scores (and age) showed that group membership (trained vs active control) was a significant predictor of performance on both of the directly trained tasks, Listening Recall and Odd One Out, immediately post-intervention and at a 9-month follow-up. In similar regression analyses, group was also a significant predictor of performance in all six near transfer measures (working memory tasks that had not been trained), digit recall, word list recall, block recall, counting recall, backward digit recall and pattern span, at both post-intervention and at a 9 month follow-up. In further regression analyses, group was also a significant predictor of performance in one far transfer effect (a cognitive skill not directly related to working memory), sentence comprehension, both immediately post-intervention and at a 9 month follow-up. This suggests that improving the ability to divide attention between processing and storage may have resulted in benefit to sentence comprehension ability. However, no group differences following intervention were found for reading accuracy, reading comprehension or receptive grammar.

The current study’s findings reveal that following a short, adaptive, face-to-face working memory intervention, group membership (trained vs active control) is a significant predictor of immediate and longer-term performance in directly trained, near and far transfer tasks. Further research is needed to better understand why many computer-based working memory interventions have been unsuccessful in obtaining far transfer effects, when the current intervention produced some significant effects.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics > RJ101 Child Health. Child health services
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
[thumbnail of Emma Christopher Thesis with amendments completed pdf_Redacted.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 30 November 2024 due to copyright restrictions.

To request a copy, please use the button below.

Request a copy


Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Available Versions of this Item

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login