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BrainHealth Research Demonstrates Cognitive Training Improves Student Learning

Jacque Gamino conducting SMART training with a group of Dallas-area teachers.

Center for BrainHealth

SMART training provides immediate and long-term academic benefits.New research from Center for BrainHealth® at The University of Texas at Dallas demonstrates that professional development with a focus on neuroscience equips teachers with the tools and confidence to reduce learning gaps in eighth grade students, as measured by State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) performance.The study, “Higher-order Executive Function in Middle School: Training Teachers to Enhance Cognition in Young Adolescents” was published in a Frontiers of Psychology special issue: Understanding Effective Education: Far Transfer from a Sociocultural and Cognitive Neural Perspective. This research shows that an intensive, ongoing professional development with a focus on neuroscience equips teachers with the tools to reduce learning gaps. The Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Tactics (SMART™) cognitive training program teaches selective attention, abstract reasoning and innovation. It has been shown to strengthen adolescent higher-order executive function. The current study investigated whether cognitive training delivered by educators during regular classes would significantly change students’ ability to process information at a deeper level, and resulted in improved academic performance across multiple subject areas, as determined by state-mandated standardized tests. English Language Arts (ELA) teachers from an urban public middle school on the southern border of Texas participated in the training and subsequently implemented the SMART program in their classrooms during the fall semester. A total of 315 eighth grade students received cognitive training from their teachers as part of the regular curriculum. Students who received SMART training showed improvements exceeding the statewide average in Reading Mathematics as measured by the STAAR test. Compared to a group of untrained eighth graders from the same school, students who received the SMART training significantly improved their achievement on the Reading, Math, Science and Social Studies. The higher scores among the SMART-trained students showed that boys and girls improved equally.Lead author Jacquelyn F. Gamino, PhD, director of the Adolescent Reasoning Initiative at Center for BrainHealth, stated, “The teachers who were trained to implement SMART helped students thrive by fostering innovative thinking and reasoning. When teachers are given opportunities to learn promising evidence-based methods, we can improve the teaching experience and students’ learning and test scores. Our research over the past two decades demonstrates that teaching students how to learn can improve achievement across all academic areas, demonstrating that SMART training has immediate and long-term academic benefits.”This research was funded by the state of Texas, the Meadows Foundation, Communities Foundation of Texas, and Capital for Kids Foundation.About the Center for BrainHealthCenter for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, is a translational research institute committed to enhancing, preserving and restoring brain health across the lifespan. Major research areas include the use of functional and structural neuroimaging techniques to better understand the neurobiology supporting cognition and emotion in health and disease. This leading-edge scientific exploration is translated quickly into practical innovations to improve how people think, work and live, empowering people of all ages to unlock their brain potential. Translational innovations build on Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Tactics (SMART™), a proprietary methodology developed and tested by BrainHealth researchers and other teams over three decades.

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Jacquelyn Gamino, PhD

Director of Adolescent Reasoning Initiative Assistant Research Professor


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