Does Cognitive Flexibility Training Improve Reading Comprehension for Elementary Students?

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Alycia Hund

Mentor Department



Successful reading requires the ability to think about multiple details (Cartwright, 2002). For instance, reading comprehension involves constructing meaning from text using a variety of information from the text, reader, and situation (Gnaedinger et al., 2016). One factor linked to improving reading comprehension is executive functioning, especially cognitive flexibility - the ability to switch fluidly between activities (Cantin et al., 2016). Previous studies have found that a training program focusing on reading-specific cognitive flexibility has led to gains in reading comprehension (Cartwright, 2002, 2006; Cartwright et al., 2016). The purpose of this study was to test the mechanisms by which cognitive flexibility improves reading comprehension during the elementary years by comparing four training procedures, which involve sorting object or word cards in multiple ways at the same time or on subsequent trials. We also included measures of oral reading fluency, vocabulary, executive functioning, and demographics as control variables. We recruited children in second to fifth grades to participate in our study, as well as their parent or legal guardian. To date, 53 children and parents/guardians have participated. Parents completed the demographic form and children completed six tasks throughout the study. Each child read a passage for three minutes and selected the correct word that made the most sense in that specific sentence. This data served as the baseline measure of reading comprehension prior to receiving the cognitive flexibility training. There were four versions of the training, and each participant was randomly assigned to one condition. Two conditions required simultaneous sorting to follow a pattern in a matrix whereas the other two conditions required sequential sorting into separate bins. The cards contained words or pictures of objects. Then, another reading comprehension task was given to assess change. Participants read a passage aloud to measure oral reading fluency and provided definitions of common words to measure vocabulary. The final task was the verbal fluency subtest from the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D- KEFS, 2001), where children provide lists of words with certain features. Preliminary results show that as expected, age, oral reading fluency, and executive functioning were related to reading comprehension. Sorting words sequentially led to large gains in reading comprehension, whereas the other three training procedures led to virtually no change in reading comprehension over time. These findings suggest training of reading-specific flexibility can improve reading comprehension during the elementary years.


Bove-undergraduate, Rodriguez-Harris-undergraduate

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