Computer-Based Cognitive and Literacy Skills Training Improves Students' Writing Skills

B. Rogowsky, P. Papamichalis, P., L. Villa, S. Heim, P. Tallal (2013)

A study conducted at Rutgers University finds that cognitive and literacy skills training (Fast ForWord Literacy and Reading Series from Scientific Learning Corporation) improves college students' basic writing skills.

Basic writing skills are among the most important skills in today's information-driven society.  However, according to Our Nation's Report Card, 76% of 12th graders are writing at the basic or below basic level (Saluhu-Din, D., Persky, H., & Miller, J. (2008. The nation's report card: Writing 2007. (NCES 2008-468). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC. Retrieved from ).  Using computer-based instruction, standardizes the content, its presentation, and can be scaled with efficiency for an unlimited number of learners. Evidence from this study showed that writing skills were significantly improved using computer-based instruction in college students, especially those with English as a second language.

In order to write a sentence, a writer must be able to switch back and forth between working memory and long-term memory as ideas are being formed and rules of grammar are being recalled with a level of automaticity. Writing requires the writer's full attention as the writer sorts the relevant from the irrelevant. Words must be sequenced with proper subject-verb agreement and rules of grammar—from capitulation to punctuation and usage—must be processed quickly so the writer can keep up with her thoughts or the person to whom s/he is attending. Thus, writing requires many cognitive as well as linguistic and literacy skills to be integrated quickly in time.  The Fast ForWord computer-based cognitive and literacy skills training that students received in this study is  based on neuroplasticity research designed to provide intensive training in cognitive skills, such as working memory, attention as sequencing in the context of simultaneously training spoken and written language skills.  

A screenshot from a sample exercise used in the training. In this exercise, the student hears the sentence: "Rubin is helping Maria put on her coat." The student is to click on the picture that represents the correct verb tense used. In the example, the correct answer is the middle picture. The picture to the left, "Rubin will help…", and the picture on the right, "Rubin helped…" are incorrect responses. This series of exercises was designed to explicitly train students in every rule of English grammar. In addition, the student must attend to the sentences, hold them in working memory and understand the conventions being tested. Picture used with permission from Scientific Learning Corp.

Rogowsky, B., Papamichalis, P., Villa, L., Heim, S., Tallal, P. (2013) Neuroplasticity-based Cognitive and Linguistic Skills Training Improves Reading and Writing Skills in College Students. Frontiers in Educational Psychology. 4 (article 137), pp 1-11. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00137

Paula Tallal and Beth Rogowsky