Helping students remember what they learn (Part two)

Helping Students Remember What They Learn: An Intervention for Teachers and School Psychologists (part 2 of 2)

As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong I continue to look for ways to help children learn better when consulting with teachers. This is particularly relevant for children that have ADHD, dyslexia and other developmental difficulties. The following is part two in a series on a technique for helping children remember what they learn (incremental rehearsal,IR or are call John’s coming on my).

IR is implemented by writing known and unknown items on flashcards. The unknown items are words, letter sounds, math facts, or anything that has to be memorized. The known items should be words, letter sounds, math facts, and other items for which the student gives the correct response within 2 seconds of showing them the card. Here are the steps for using IR:

  1. Start by going through all of the known items to be certain that the student can respond to each one of them correctly within 2 seconds.
  2. Show the student the fact (e.g., sight word, letter sound, multiplication fact) and give the answer to the student. For example, you might say, “This is the letter s, and it makes the /sssss/ sound,” or “This is 4 × 4 and it equals 16,” or “This word is occupy.”
  3. Show the card and ask the student to provide the correct response. If the response is incorrect, then read the card, model the correct response, and then ask the student for the response.
  4. An extra step is added when teaching words. After the student can correctly state the word on the card, ask the student to use the word in a sentence. If the student uses the word in a sentence correctly, then proceed. If the student does not use the word in a sentence, provide a succinct definition, use the word in a sentence, and then ask the student to provide a different sentence with the word. After the student correctly uses the word in a sentence, then proceed.
  5. After the student provides the correct response to the card, then the new fact is rehearsed with the sequence outlined in Figure 1.

While IR is typically used with flash cards, it is the sequence of presentation that provides the power of the strategy. Any form of presentation can be used so long as the order is maintained. For example, we often use a simple pointer (e.g., finger) when learning new words in a reading assignment. The sequence is followed by simply pointing to the word, rather than by presenting it on a flashcard.

IR is a well-researched flashcard intervention that has consistently been shown to be more effective than all other flashcard approaches and at least as efficient. However, it is not the appropriate intervention for all students. Flashcard interventions are best for items that just need to be memorized. Teachers could start with traditional drill approaches with 100% new items because it only requires 3 to 5 minutes, and use IR if the first flashcard technique does not work; or start with IR if the information is important enough to emphasize high retention or the student had demonstrated difficulty remembering what they previously learned. Either way, IR can be used by teachers and others to help students who struggle with learning reading and mathematics, or who consistently do not remember what they have been taught.


For More Information

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Burns, M. K., & Sterling-Turner, H. (2010). Comparison of efficiency measures for academic interventions based on acquisition and maintenance of the skill. Psychology in the Schools, 47, 126–134.

Helping stdents remember what they learn (part 1)

Helping Students Remember What They Learn: An Intervention for Teachers and School Psychologists (part 1 of 2)

As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong with both parents and other education professionals who are seeking ways to help children that may have learning difficulties such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. It is preferable if interventions can have some research-base establishing their effectiveness. In this series I will outline a procedure for helping students remember what they learn.

There are many reasons why some children and youth struggle with reading and math. One common reason often found in research is that they experience memory difficulties. Incremental rehearsal (IR) is a flashcard intervention with a strong research base for increasing retention of newly learned material among struggling learners.

Basically, IR is used to practice (i.e., rehearse) new items within a series of eight or nine known items. In other words, IR uses what students already know to teach them what they need to learn. Doing so makes the intervention less frustrating for students while also providing enough repetition to learn the new information until it becomes automatic. IR is easy to implement and has been used in numerous schools. Researchers have used IR for the following skills and age levels:

  • Sight-words to upper elementary-age students identified as learning disabled in reading.
  • Sight-words to first-graders who were struggling readers.
  • Letter sounds to preschool and kindergarten students.
  • Math facts to elementary-age students with severe math difficulties.
  • Survival signs and words to high school students and adults with cognitive impairments.

IR is implemented by writing known and unknown items on flashcards. The unknown items are words, letter sounds, math facts, or anything that has to be memorized. The known items should be words, letter sounds, math facts, and other items for which the student gives the correct response within 2 seconds of showing them the card. Next week, specific steps for implementing incremental rehearsal.


Cognitive Interventions for Academic Difficulties Part 2

Part 2 Cognitive Interventions

The Data

Welcome to part two in a series on cognitive interventions. Increasing knowledge of these interventions is important for professionals such as educational psychologists, individual needs teachers and administrators that work in International schools in Hong Kong. Some of these interventions are being utilized to help children with dyslexia, ADHD and autism. In part two of this series on cognitive interventions for academic achievement the results of meta- analytic studies are summarized. Some of the meta-analyses used standardized mean differences such as d and some used correlations such as r. All of the effect sizes were converted to a standardized mean difference (d) in order to compare and combine the results across studies. There were 203 studies included in the seven meta-analyses. The effect sizes ranged from 0.07-0.58, with an overall average effect size of 0.26, which suggested a small effect. Three of the meta-analyses (Kearns & Fuchs, 2013; Melby-Lervag & Hulme, 2013; Schwaighofer et al., 2015) examined the effects of cognitively focused interventions on reading and mathematics, with two of them focusing on working memory training. Kearns and Fuchs (2013) found moderate effects for cognitively focused interventions (e.g., long-term memory, planning, processing, speed, working memory, visual-spatial processing) when compared to no intervention at all, but only a small effect (0.26) when compared to academic interventions. Both meta-analyses for working memory training found consistently negligible effects (0.07 and 0.09 for mathematics, 0.13 and 0.15 for reading decoding, and 0.13 and 0.21 for reading comprehension). These 55 studies consistently show that working memory training has little to no effect on reading or mathematics performance improvements (or achievement gains). The remaining four studies examined the effects of using cognitive measures in the intervention process. Burns et al.(in press) studied the effects of determining
reading and mathematics interventions from diagnostic measures of cognitive pro- cessing, which resulted in a small effect(0.17)from 37 studies. Three of the meta- analyses examined the relationship between student response to intervention and
preintervention cognitive measures such as IQ (Scholin & Burns, 2012; Stuebing etal., 2009). The relationship between student response to intervention in reading and mathematics resulted in an average effect size of 0.35, from 94individual
studies, which equals an rof.17 and suggests a negligible to weak relationship.
Some reading this article might wonder about executive functioning. Although executive functioning was addressed in some of the meta-analyses included in this review, none of the studies examined the construct differentially from other cognitive constructs. Jacob and Parkinson (in press) reviewed 67 studies and concluded that (a) most of the research occurred in 2010 or later, (b) there was a correlation between executive functioning and academic skills, (c) the correlation with executive functioning was approximately equal for reading and mathematics, and (d) changing skills in executive functioning through various interventions did not lead to increased skills in reading and mathematics. The authors concluded that there was little to no evidence thatexecutive
functioning and academic skills were causally linked. The study is not included in the data for the current review because the article is not yet available; readers are
encouraged to watch for its release.


The Role of Play in Human Development

The Role of Play in Human Development

Pellegrini, A.D.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2009


From the perspective of an educational psychologist, ‘play’ plays a crucial role in children’s development, especially for those who have learning and developmental disorders such as ADHD, ADD and autism spectrum disorders. During consultations with parents who reside in the region of Hong Kong I am often asked about how best to develop appropriate play skills. This book is must-read for researchers and specialists who are interested in this area. Pellegrini stresses the benefits and the role of play in education with well-referenced examples in the field of psychology, sociology and child development.


Children’s play, this book makes clear, can be a serious matter. Views are polarized between disciples who believe that all play is always good for all children, and target-driven practitioners who regard it as a distraction from achieving all-important learning outcomes. Others see it as simply not worth academic discussions (including the editors of five of the six editions of the Handbook of Child Psychology). Research on play is not constrained by disciplinary boundaries, extending from the literatures on evolutionary psychology and animal behavior to sociology and child development. This meticulously researched book is therefore welcome.


Pellegrini defines play as meeting two criteria: first, the means are more important than the ends; second, the orientation is non-functional, as in rough-and-tumble play, where there is no intention to hurt each other, although some aspects resemble genuine fighting. This implies no lack of purpose; different forms of play can have immediate or deferred benefits. Early chapters cover definitions and theories of play, and one discusses epigenetic theories, arguing that play enables children to experiment with novel behavior, which in some circumstances an change practice in adult life. This has gender implications, with fairly consistent differences in boys’ and girls’ play and games.


The discussion on the role of play in education should interest teachers who pick up the pieces after children have experienced failure and/or presented significant behavior problems at school. In pre-schoolers but not older children, pretend play is good predictors of reading-relayed measures of literacy. Unfortunately, when too many adults are present they can inhibit pretend play- a salutary reminder for those who ‘guide’ young children’s play. Pellegrini argues that play during break time (or ‘recess’) maximizes social and cognitive aspects of school performance; yet break time is apparently being reduced in the USA and the UK.


The author draws from a variety of disciplines in submitting theory, rhetoric and ideology to the test of empirical research. The book is well produced, referenced and indexed and will be essential reading for researchers and practitioners with a particular interest in play, but the wealth of detail may make it less accessible to non-specialists.

Social Emotional Learning in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom: Promoting Mental Health and Academic Success

K.W. Merrel & B.A. Gueldner


This book manages to strike a balance between the theoretical and practical aspects of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). It is especially useful for us educational psychologists who are eager to find meaningful ways to help children with learning difficulties such as ADHD and autism.


Merrel and Gueldner joined a collection devoted to SEL. What distinguishes this book is that it bridges the gap between a fairly academic treatment of the various aspects of SEL and the more functional how-to/ top-tips style guide.


There are eight chapters dealing with: what is SEL?; a review of SEL curricula developed in the USA: preparing and delivering SEL; using SEL to foster academic learning; SEL across cultures; links to mental health services when SEL is not enough; assessment and evaluation strategies; and finally, planning for whole school change and adoption of SEL. At the end of each chapter are a number of vignettes that illustrate the points made and suggest further reflection.


The book would be an ideal tool for teachers and other practitioners who want to understand the programmes they are using to promote SEL, adapt existing programmes in order that they are tailored to their own particular context, or develop custom-made programmes for SEL. It provides a theoretically driven overview of the area and then explores specific aspects of programme implementation. For those practitioners working outside the USA there is a need to de-contextualize the information for use in non-US settings.

Surviving girlhood: preventing teenage girl bullying

Surviving Girlhood:  Building positive Relationships, Attitudes and Self-Esteem to Prevent Teenage Girl Bullying


In my role as an educational psychologist I am often asked by parents as well as educators about the effects of bullying and strategies to prevent it in Hong Kong schools. Children with special needs such as dyslexia, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD and other developmental difficulties can be particularly at risk for bullying many times as victim but also sometimes as instigators. A good resource that addresses the issue of girl bullying in some depth is the above named book written by authors in the UK.

This book is a useful resource for preventing girl bullying, written by experienced anti-bullying officers.  They note that UK schools must have an antibullying policy by law, but these tend to have a reactive approach rather than tackling root causes.  The aim here is to prevent bullying happening in the first place through the promotion of positive relationships and improved self-esteem.

There are two sections, starting with background theory, followed by practical activities and accompanying photocopiable worksheets.  The theory part gives a context of psychological models e.g. social learning theory, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but in a highly accessible way that would not be off-putting for the less theoretical minded reader.  It includes sections on cyber-bullying and social media, which are very timely given recent concerns about increasing bullying in these areas.  The second part provides small group tasks, including activities to promote self-respect, manage friendships, and develop conflict resolution skills.

This book is primarily aimed at school staff, but would also be useful for youth workers and clinicians.  Some of the activities would be helpful for generally building girls’ self-esteem, even in the absence of bullying issues.  Overall, this provides a useful proactive toolkit for helping adolescent girls to develop self-respect and establish positive relationships with others.

Autism Spectrum Disorders in Adolescents and Adults: Evidence base Interventions

Autism Spectrum disorders in adolescents and adults: evidence-based and promising interventions


As an Educational Psychologist working in Hong Kong parents often request information about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) which are sometimes referred to as autistic spectrum condition. The above book title seems a good choice according to a recent review.


To discuss a complex condition like autistic spectrum condition (ASC) in such a comprehensive and compassionate manner is both uplifting and inspiring as it works on a “strengths of ASC” perspective throughout the book.  What this book does really well is view clients with an ASC holistically and takes a “life-span” approach covering 14 chapters, including: how high functioning clients differ in their needs, co-morbidity, family roles throughout life of an adult with ASC, making the transition from education to post education employment, legal issues that can affect ASC clients, and interventions for managing unhelpful ASC behaviours.  The case studies and research included in the book highlight the need for a change in attitude toward ASC from something to be seen as a condition needing to be wholly dependent on services and family to support them, to taking a more ”self-determined” approach through behaviour and communication skills training.

The book uses the acronym HFASD to mean a high functioning autistic spectrum disorder and discusses ASD mainly to describe higher functioning adults, which could be confusing and misleading to readers who are not aware that ASD can cover a whole range of ability and functioning.  Asperger’s Syndrome is another term used for High functioning persons on the spectrum. Clarification of interchangeable diagnostic terminology at the beginning of the book would have been helpful.

The book’s “life-span” approach would make it more than suitable for staff who are working in social care with transition clients or for occupational therapists who have ASC clients on their caseloads as the book discusses strategies and interventions that could be helpful when considering education, employment or independent living skills e.g. Ziggurat Model or CAPS(Comprehensive Autism Planning System).

As the book is written for a North American audience, some of the educational plans and policies would have to be adapted to their UK equivalent.

Children Growing up Online

Children Growing Up Online


An issue that is put forward by parents in consultation meetings during my work as an educational psychologist in Hong Kong is how much time their child should be spending looking at screens. The current generation of children spend more time looking at iPhones, iPads and computer screens than any past generation. Parents are asking professionals what effects this may have on their children particularly if they have special needs such as autism spectrum disorders, ASP burgers syndrome, ADHD, dyslexia or mood disorders such as anxiety.

One of the most important things to understand about children and adolescents in the 21st century is their life in the media.  They don’t just consume the media; they live there, growing up online.  The global digital media have created the flat earth.  Millions of children are using it, and it is levelling the educational playing field, bringing much of the world to one’s hand.  A major context of contemporary child development is the amazing world of the screen.  It mediates social-emotional life and increasingly, educational life.  Children’s world is media saturated, and school psychologists need to know this world well.


A good starting place for some, or refresher course for others, is this book.  It is a short, readable compendium on media and kids with 16 chapters and 30 authors, presenting a sweeping picture of just how deep the media have burrowed into the minds and behaviour of children, and their contributions to their well-being and harm.  It includes coverage of media use in the home (a national survey); learning and media; drug use and media; sexuality and media; video games; online risk and harm; public health interventions; Sesame Street; parasocial relationships (basically, in the media context, the one-sided relationship between a child or audience and a media figure or character); parenting; media and trauma; early learning and academic achievement; effects on weight and obesity, and the harmful effects of food advertising; and much more.


The literature reviewed in this volume is strong in suggesting that the use of research-informed programming has proven to help prepare children for school.  It also calls to action those who produce programming for youth, including phone applications, to incorporate what has been proven to enhance children’s achievement.  One promising means of enhancing student achievement was shown in research on children’s parasocial relationships with media characters, where parasocial relationships showed and influence of the media characters on children’s learning of seriation tasks.


This is the best currently available book on media and school-age kind, emphasizing positive health and well-being, and will get the reader to the point where they can incorporate state-of-the-art research and ideas into their own work with new-century children.  It is highly recommended.

The Assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorders

  1. Goldstein, J Naglieri & S Ozonoff(Eds.) New York: The Guilford Press, 2008


As an educational/child psychologist working in Hong Kong I have provided hundreds of assessments for children with suspected autism spectrum disorder. A recent book by widely respected practitioners and researchers from America was recently reviewed. Although the book is slightly dated the bulk of it is still relevant today. This is a book written by a multidisciplinary team of authors mainly based in the USA, with one chapter, the Epidemiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders, written by authors in the UK and another, Assessment of Social Behaviour in Autism Spectrum Disorders, by authors from Israel.  This book will be a valuable asset to clinicians and other professionals involved in the assessment and intervention planning for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Although the main focus of the book is on assessment, the first chapter provides an informative overview of the key historical figures form the last 200 years.  A chapter written by Lorna Wing and David Potter, which reviews the epidemiology of these conditions, then follows.  The authors debate the impact of both the modifications of the diagnostic criteria and the increasing global awareness of these conditions on prevalence rates.  There is also a balanced discussion of the role of possible environmental factors.

Chapter 3 provides a comprehensive critique of several of the key diagnostic tools.  Other chapters consider in more detail the diagnostic process, including a comprehensive skills and needs based assessment.  This process takes time and can be resource intensive.

The main body of the book focuses on various aspects of the diagnostic process.  Each subsequent chapter covers a different aspect of assessment such as speech, language and communication; intellectual functioning; neuropsychological functioning; and the assessment in schools.  As a senior trainee clinician in child and adolescent psychiatry two other chapters stood out.  The first was the Assessment of Comorbid Conditions, which provides a framework for assessing comorbidity and outlines some of the difficulties in the process.  The second was the chapter on intervention, which includes helpful case vignettes that illustrate how the assessment findings can be used to formulate an individual education plan (IEP), identify therapeutic targets, and maximise the generalisation of newly learnt skills.

In summary, although the majority of the authors are based in the USA, the underlying assessment and intervention principals are universal.  This new publication provides an up to date overview of the literature and examples of current best practice.



Children and Bullying

Children and Bullying:  How Parents and Educators can Reduce Bullying at School  by J Rigby.

Like other educational psychologists around the world in Hong Kong we often have to deal with issues of bullying. Children with special needs such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders dyslexia and other developmental difficulties can sometimes have more difficulty dealing with bullying issues. A new resource for both parents and educators is always welcome. Children and bullying is a thoroughly detailed exposition on how parents and teachers can help to reduce bullying.  Rigby is realistic in his approach, believing that it is more about reduction than eradication. The book is very readable, well structured and informative, with the author looking at the issue holistically.  Interestingly, the author noted that bullying is a reflection of the human condition and generally defines it as “the systematic abuse of power in interpersonal relationships’, citing examples in recent history such as slavery.

Parents are increasingly being provided with the opportunity to take part in anti-bullying initiatives and this book is a timely recognition of that.  It understands their contribution to the issue and values their inclusion in the discussion.  Schools have the greatest power differences amongst social groupings and so there is often space for conflict.  Rigby identifies these power differences and gives us the opportunity to get inside the mind of a bully as well as offering a focus on bystander support.  The author states what some good schools are doing about bullying, and educators are provided with guidance on how to write an anti-bullying policy.

Mental health issues are covered both for the victim and the perpetrator, and the author suggests that these characteristics can be inherited.  Parenting styles are discussed and parents are encouraged not to feel guilty about what their child experiences.  Excellent advice is given on how to help children with their bullying problems.  The section about the influence parents have on their children at different ages will be enjoyed by anyone who has heard themselves talking to a child and sounding like their own mother.