WWC review of this study

Does Cognitive Strategy Training on Word Problems Compensate for Working Memory Capacity in Children with Math Difficulties? [Word problem instruction with verbal strategies vs. word problem instruction with verbal and visual strategies]

Swanson, H. Lee (2014). Journal of Educational Psychology, v106 n3 p831-848. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1054473

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
     examining 
    29
     Students
    , grade
    3

Reviewed: January 2023

No statistically significant positive
findings
Meets WWC standards without reservations
General Mathematics Achievement outcomes—Indeterminate effect found for the domain
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Wide Range Achievement Test-III, arithmetic subtest

Word problem instruction with verbal strategies–Swanson (2015) vs. (Not applicable)

0 Days

Verbal strategies intervention group vs. combined verbal + visual strategies intervention group;
29 students

1.28

1.46

No

--
Whole Numbers Word Problems/Problem Solving outcomes—Substantively important positive effect found for the domain
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Comprehensive Mathematical Abilities Test (CMAT) - Story Problem Subtest

Word problem instruction with verbal strategies–Swanson (2015) vs. (Not applicable)

0 Days

Verbal strategies intervention group vs. combined verbal + visual strategies intervention group;
29 students

0.99

0.26

No

--


Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.


  • Female: 50%
    Male: 50%
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    West
  • Race
    Asian
    5%
    Black
    9%
    Other or unknown
    29%
    White
    57%
  • Ethnicity
    Hispanic    
    20%
    Not Hispanic or Latino    
    80%

Setting

The study was conducted in 22 third-grade classrooms in two charter schools within a Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) district in the southwestern United States. These schools enroll a large number of students with learning disabilities (20% of students have special needs).

Study sample

The authors did not provide the demographic characteristics for the subgroup of students with math difficulties, which is the focus of this SRG. Based on the total study sample (N=147), about half (56.6%) of students were white, 20.4% were Hispanic, 8.8% were Black, 5.4% were Asian, and 8.9% were mixed race or other. About half (50.3%) of the study participants were female.

Intervention Group

For the contrast reviewed here, the comparison group is the visual only intervention group. Students in this group received 20 30-minute scripted lessons, administered 3 times a week over 8 weeks. Trained tutors (doctoral or masters-level graduate students) delivered lessons to small groups of 4-5 children. Students received a booklet at the beginning of each lesson to record their answers. Each lesson within the booklet consisted of 4 phases: (1) warm-up, (2) strategy instruction, (3) guided practice, and (4) independent practice. During the warm-up stage (3-5 minutes), students were asked to solve simple problems (such as 9+2=x or x-5=1) and a set of puzzles based on problems using geometric shapes. During the strategy instruction phase (5 minutes), children were instructed or reviewed rules for solving problems (e.g., “to find the whole, you need to add the parts”). In the verbal only condition, children were instructed to use 6 verbal strategy steps (find and underline the question, circle the numbers, put a square around the key word, cross out not needed information, decide on what needs to be done, and solve it). During guided practice (10 minutes), children worked on three practice word problems with tutors provided feedback. In the independent practice phase (10 minutes), students worked independently (without feedback) to solve three additional word problems. Students’ progress was assessed at the end of each session.

Comparison Group

For the contrast reviewed here, the comparison group is the verbal + visual intervention group. As with the intervention group, students received 20 30-minute scripted lessons, administered 3 times a week over 8 weeks. Trained tutors (doctoral or masters-level graduate students) delivered lessons to small groups of 4-5 children. Students received a booklet at the beginning of each lesson to record their answers. The structure of lessons was the same as the intervention group, consisting of 4 phases: (1) warm-up, (2) strategy instruction, (3) guided practice, and (4) independent practice. During the warm-up stage (3-5 minutes), students were asked to solve simple problems (such as 9+2=x or x-5=1) and a set of puzzles based on problems using geometric shapes. During the strategy instruction phase (5 minutes), children were instructed or reviewed rules for solving problems (e.g., “to find the whole, you need to add the parts”). In the verbal + visual condition, children were instructed to use 6 verbal strategy steps (find and underline the question, circle the numbers, put a square around the key word, cross out not needed information, decide on what needs to be done, and solve it) and 2 types of diagrams (parts making up a whole and comparison of quantities). During guided practice (10 minutes), children worked on three practice word problems with tutors provided feedback. In the independent practice phase (10 minutes), students worked independently (without feedback) to solve three additional word problems. Students’ progress was assessed at the end of each session.

Support for implementation

Trained tutors implemented both conditions. Intervention fidelity was assessed by two independent observers who observed 6 randomly selected lessons for each tutor.

In the case of multiple manuscripts that report on one study, the WWC selects one manuscript as the primary citation and lists other manuscripts that describe the study as additional sources.

  • Swanson, H. Lee; Lussier, Catherine M.; Orosco, Michael J. (2015). Cognitive Strategies, Working Memory, and Growth in Word Problem Solving in Children with Math Difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, v48 n4 p339-358.

  • Swanson, H. Lee; Lussier, Catherine M.; Orosco, Michael J. (2015). Cognitive Strategies, Working Memory, and Growth in Word Problem Solving in Children with Math Difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, v48 n4 p339-358.

 

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