The Impact of Cognitive Intervention for Dyslexic Children

  • Cognitive
  • Dyslexia Research
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog


Gec Washman - Carroll’s mythological guru whose name is a loose acronym for “give each child what she or he most needs” - gets involved in practically every facet of Carroll School life. Today, Gec goes geek.

The Role Reaction Time Plays in Reading Fluency

Do you realize that there is a 49% correlation between reading fluency and a cognitive skill called reaction time? Do you care? Should you care? Can Gec make you care? Well, Gec is heading out on a bit of a geek limb in saying this, but you need to care. You need to understand why this finding is so important to children with learning struggles.

First, here are the definitions you need to understand what Gec is writing about:

  1. Reaction Time is the amount of time it takes to respond to a stimulus. At the simplest level, students sit in front of a computer screen and tap the spacebar whenever something shows up on the screen. They don’t have to read anything; they don’t have to think about what appeared on the screen. All they have to do his hit the spacebar. Then the task gets more demanding. When a red square appears on the screen, hit the spacebar. Don’t hit it if there is different shape or a different color. And then the task can get even more difficult.
  2. Reading Fluency is measured by the number of words a child can read accurately within a limited amount of time. Obviously, reading fluency is an essential skills for success in school and in life (even in a climate where machines can read to us).
  3. Correlation is a mutual relationship between two things.

In a study conducted at Carroll School, we discovered that there is nearly a direct correlation between reaction time and reading fluency. That is, if a child has strong reaction time scores, she or he will likely to have high scores in reading fluency. The chart of Carroll students then cascades in tight correlation to those with moderate reaction time and moderate reading fluency to those with poor reaction time and weak reading fluency.

Our Approach to Cognitive Intervention

What would happen if Carroll teachers and tutors worked on reaction time and reading fluency simultaneously? Would the impact of Orton-Gillingham be much greater than if the child had no reaction time training? This is precisely the work that Gec has inspired through Carroll’s Cognitive Intervention and Research team.

Gec points out that cognitive training is the subject of intense debate in the cognitive neuroscience world. Researchers worldwide are pursuing the best science possible regarding brain training. What is most important to Gec is that Carroll students are benefiting from the combination of factors that they experience each day: structured and systematic academics, opportunities for discovery and problem solving, cognitive development, focus on the gifts within their profiles, and social-emotional wellbeing.

Our data at Carroll suggest that the impact of cognitive interventions is a profound component of our students’ growth.

For example, 62 sixth graders at Carroll have been tested on oral reading fluency of connected text (paragraphs) from the Fall of 2014 to the Winter of 2016. As a group their oral reading fluency has improved from the 37%ile on a nationally normed standardized test to the 45%ile. During that time the students had two cognitive development sessions of six weeks each.

Gec the Geek needs to point out a reality of interpreting academic achievement data. If these Carroll 6th graders had made only a year’s worth of progress in reading fluency in a year’s time, they would collectively still score at the same percentile. The fact they have broke out of that percentile and elevated to the 45%ile means that they made considerably more oral reading progress than would have been expected -more than their peers nationally.

The key to this entire correlation is to understand what each child most needs. If a child most needs to improve reading fluency, then an intervention to improve reaction time makes sense. If a child’s reading fluency is solid, then a reaction time intervention makes little sense. On the other hand, if a child most needs to improve mathematical reasoning skills, then an intervention in executive function (planning, problem solving, pattern finding) is the more likely warranted intervention.

Gec knows that giving each child what she or he most needs is complicated. If teachers don’t know the cognitive profile of their students, they simply cannot deliver what a child most needs.

  • Cognitive
  • Dyslexia Research



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