Thursday, May 28, 2015

Domain-specific knowledge and why teaching generic skills does not work.


Tricot, A., & Sweller, J. (2014). Domain-specific knowledge and why teaching generic skills does not work. Educational Psychology Review, 26, 265-283.

Domain-general skills are skills that can be used to solve any problem in any area. Tricot and Sweller argue that these skills are acquired automatically for biological evolutionary reasons and so are unteachable. Examples of such biologically primary knowledge include learning to listen and speak, learning to recognize faces, engage in social relations, or basic number sense.

Domain-specific knowledge, on the other hand, refers to memorized information that can lead to action permitting specified task completion over indefinite periods of time. Tricot and Sweller argue that acquiring domain-specific knowledge requires learning of specific rules for solving a problem (e.g., an equation), and the moves associated with this state (e.g., when the equation must be applied). The authors consider domain-specific information to be teachable aspects of problem solving skills. The acquisition of this domain-specific or biologically secondary knowledge is viewed as heavily dependent on the prior acquisition of primary knowledge. Tricot and Sweller go on to review several lines of evidence showing that expert knowledge in a specific domain does not yield expertise across domains, but can be applied within the domain to advantage.

The authors provide two examples of instructional strategies that follow from their views on the acquisition of domain-general (biologically primary) and domain-specific (biologically secondary) information. (1) The worked example effect. Novice learners benefit from studying worked example formats. Studying a worked exampled reduces the amount of extraneous (unnecessary) work being done by working memory to generate a large set of potential solutions to a problem. By seeing the solution, working memory resources can be devoted to learning to recognize the problem and its associated moves. (2) The expertise reversal effect. Reviewing worked examples is a disadvantage for expert learners probably because working memory resources are devoted to information the expert learner has already acquired. Instead, expert learners need practice at solving the problems so that they can more automatically recognize the relevant problems and their associated moves.

Blogger: Lisa Archibald

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Consequences of Bilingualism for Cognitive Development

Bialystok, E. (2005). Consequences of bilingualism for cognitive development. In J. F. Kroll and A. M. B. DeGroot (Eds.) Handbook of bilingualism (pp. 417-432). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

            The performance of bilingual and monolingual children on cognitive tasks has been compared for decades in psychology research. Historically, research has suggested a bilingual disadvantage for cognitive tasks, such as IQ measures and mathematics problems. As Bialystok presented in this review chapter, however, many of the measures used require a considerable amount of language processing, and bilingual children may be being tested in a language they are only beginning to learn. Of course, this would offer a clear advantage to monolingual children who are being tested in their native language. In light of this bias, recent testing has focused on creating more balanced tasks for monolingual and bilingual children. And in fact, as Bialystok’s review shows, bilingual children appear to show an advantage on certain kinds of tasks.

            Bilingual children seem to show a considerable advantage in tasks that require controlling attention and inhibiting misleading information. For example, in studies involving a Towers Task, young monolingual and bilingual children were shown two towers: One made of Lego blocks, and one made of Duplo blocks. The Duplo blocks were identical to the Lego blocks, except they were twice the size. The two towers contained the same amount of blocks, and children were required to count the number of blocks in each tower. The height of the Duplo tower was hard to ignore, but it was a misleading cue. Bilingual children performed better than their monolingual peers on counting the number of blocks in each tower, and ignoring the height of the tower. Bilingual children were more able to control their attention in attending to the counting task and ignoring the misleading height cue. Advantages for bilingual children on these skills seem to fit with the idea that they are constantly inhibiting interference between their two (or more) languages when they are using language.

            There does not seem to be a bilingual or a monolingual advantage on some cognitive tasks. However, certain features of the tasks will affect children’s performance. If the task requires a high amount of language skills, such as mathematical word problem, children being tested in their native language may perform better. Or, if the task requires controlling attention and inhibiting misleading information, bilingual children may show an advantage. When testing bilingual children it is important to take into account their verbal skills in the language in which they are being tested. And, it is interesting to consider the areas in which bilingual children may be at an advantage due to their ability to use multiple languages.

Blogger: Nicolette Noonan, PhD student with Drs. Lisa Archibald and Marc Joanisse, and coordinator of the Canadian SLP blog.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Working memory in multilingual children: Is there a bilingual effect?

Pascale Engel de Abreu. (2011). Working memory in multilingual children: Is there a bilingual effect? Memory, 19(5): 529-537.

Bilingual speakers have been found to outperform their monolingual peers on several tasks of executive control (Bialystok, 2001).Working memory is an important resource that has been linked to cognitive control. The working memory system updates and manipulates information held in short-term stores. The ability to hold relevant information in mind may be considered an important component of cognitive control.
The present study examined the hypothesis that bilingual children might exhibit advantages in working memory performance because of the constant need to exert cognitive control in selection of competing linguistic representations. This longitudinal study compared the performance of 22 Luxembourgish monolingual children and 22 simultaneous bilingual children aged six to eight years over a period of three years. All children completed an assessment of working memory (simple span and complex span tasks), fluid intelligence, and language (vocabulary and syntax).

Results reveal no significant differences between bilingual and monolingual children with respect to working memory and fluid intelligence tasks, whereas the performance of bilingual children was significantly lower on language measures. As such, the study provides no evidence for a bilingual advantage related to the working memory component of cognitive control.


Blogger: Areej Balilah, PhD Candidate

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sentence Processing

Nemeth, D., Janacsek, K., Csifcsak, G., Szvoboda, G., Howard, J. H., & Howard, D. V. (2011). Interference between sentence processing and probabilistic implicit sequence learning. PLoS One, 6 (3).

The present study investigated whether sentences are processed via a language-specific mechanism, or a domain-general mechanism. The authors differentiated between two theories in the literature that account for how humans process sentences. The first is a “dual systems” theory, which suggests that humans possess two distinct systems that process language: The declarative system, which is responsible for learning words, and the procedural system, which is responsible for learning sequences, such as the learning of grammar. The second is a “single system” theory, which suggests that words and grammar are learned by the same non-language specific system. This system relies on the learning of the statistically predictable regularities within language.

To investigate whether sentences are processed by a domain-specific or domain-general system, the authors used a dual task paradigm. Participants completed a non-linguistic Alternating Serial Reaction Time (ASRT) task, which involved the learning of a non-linguistic sequence. While completing the ASRT task, participants were concurrently engaged in a sentence-processing task (linguistic), a word recognition task (linguistic control), or a mathematical addition task (non-linguistic control). The authors hypothesized that learning within the ASRT task would be diminished by concurrent engagement in the sentence-processing task, which would suggest that both tasks involve a domain-general sequence learning mechanism

The main finding was that engagement in the sentence-processing task reduced sequence learning in the ASRT task. It was interesting that the mathematics task did not diminish learning, as it was the most difficult of the concurrent tasks. This result suggested that the interference between the sentence processing and ASRT task was not due to task difficulty. Overall, the authors suggested that sentence processing involves a domain-general sequence learning mechanism.


Blogger: Nicolette Noonan, PhD Student