Executive Functioning and Academic Performance: From the Laboratory to the Classroom

Project Number
OER 17/11 KL

Project Duration
February 2012 - April 2014


The proposed series of studies focus on linkages between mathematical proficiency and several socio-cognitive variables that were identified in our previous studies. Study 1 stems from our previous findings that children with poorer working memory or updating capacity had poorer performances in mathematics and reading comprehension (Lee et al., 2004, 2009, 2011, Lee & Peh, 2008). Because this ability to simultaneously process and remember information can potentially be improved, we will work with the Ministry of Education to build upon and improve our prototype programme for intervention. Study 1 will establish the efficacy of our updating intervention programme and compare its efficacy with more established, but costly approaches to intervention. Study 2 flows from our previous work on the relationships amongst trait and state test anxiety, working memory, and academic performance. Contrary to existing theories of test anxiety, Ng and Lee (2010) found state anxiety did not mediate trait anxiety's influences on performance. The first experiment in this study will investigate this discrepancy by clarifying the relationship between trait and state anxiety at different levels of situational stress. To improve precision of measures, we propose to use biological markers to supplement self-reported measures. The second experiment will examine whether attention state training can effectively ameliorate the adverse effects of trait anxiety on children's academic performance. Study 3 will address inconsistent findings regarding abilities to inhibit the effects of irrelevant information and mathematical proficiency. Our previous studies found marginally significant (Khng & Lee, 2009) or non-significant (Lee, Ng & Ng, 2009) correlations between inhibitory abilities and performance in algebraic problem-solving tasks. Other studies have findings to the contrary. Because the presence of irrelevant information is a key difference between traditional versus ''authentic'' questions, it is important to ascertain whether the increasing use of authentic questions will put additional burden on children who may already be struggling. This study investigates whether different aspects of inhibitory abilities contribute to children's performances on algebraic word problems, which contain different amount and type of irrelevant information. Our studies contribute to education in two important ways. First, findings from Studies 2 and 3 will enhance our understanding of the influence of real-life contextual factors (i.e., test anxiety and task-irrelevant information) on children's mathematical proficiency. Second, findings from our intervention studies will help develop effective programmes for aiding children with poor cognitive functioning.

Research Themes
Applied Cognitive Development & Motivational Studies

Funding Source

Related Links
ReEd Vol 14 (2014): Helping Students through Progressive Research

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