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The article “The Development of Cognitive Skills and Gains in Academic School Readiness for Children from Low-Income Families” focuses on the importance of the domain-specific and domain-general processes pertaining to children’s educational development in prekindergarten age. The research team that is headed by Jane A. Welsh aims to establish the correlation between executive function skills, namely working memory and the control of attention, and emergent literacy and numeracy skills, and how they impact children’s learning achievements in the elementary school and later in life.

The article is well-structured with subsections that relate to describing the topicality of the study, two central hypotheses, which are tested in the course of the research, methods, participants, procedures, results, discussion of the results, limitations as well as conclusions and implications. The researchers postulate two hypotheses according to which the enhancement of working memory and attention control inevitably results in emergent literacy and numeracy skills throughout the prekindergarten year. Growth in domain-general and domain-specific skills entails better achievements in mathematics and reading in kindergarten. The researchers explain the terms and concepts, making it easier for the reader to grasp the gist of the study. For example, they use the term “executive function skills” to refer to working memory and attention control as the most crucial cognitive regulatory processes that underlie the behavior of individuals in challenging or novel circumstances. They employ the data and results of similar studies to reinforce the validity of their claims. Previous studies vividly demonstrate that enhancement of working memory is closely linked to reading comprehension skills, improved mathematical abilities, and reading fluency in elementary school. Attention control is also very important, as many children find it hard to focus on the tasks at hand and ignore the irrelevant stimuli.

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The researchers observed and interviewed 164 children from Head Start classrooms in 3 Pennsylvania counties. These children fall into the category of the less fortunate children who live in poverty. Therefore, promoting their early advances in learning seems a very noble aim. Children’s domain-specific and domain-general skills were measured with a number of subtests, such as the Prink Knowledge, Blending, Elision, Letter-Word Identification, Story Recall, and others at three particular periods, namely the beginning and the end of the prekindergarten year and the end of kindergarten. These three time points are taken into consideration as milestones, because they mark the skills that children have already acquired. In addition, they give the researchers an opportunity to compare the children’s achievements and define a set of characteristics for their intellectual and psychological development at the given age range.

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The results of the research confirm the hypotheses postulated at the beginning. Prekindergarten emergent literacy skills influence kindergarten reading achievement and prekindergarten emergent numeracy skills impact kindergarten math achievement. The results underscore the significance of domain-specific academic learning as the outcome of the growth and development of working memory and attention control. Thus, the researchers emphasize the need to “enrich domain-specific academic curricula in Head Start and other high-quality preschool programs”. As a practical example of developing working memory and attention control in the prekindergarten year, the researchers encourage the educators to focus on the repeated practice sessions on specific executive function tasks. They also pinpoint the lack of studies that would take into account the benefits of computer-based training for preschoolers with all the implications for academic skills. The results of the study are far from being revelatory, yet they make a good contribution to the overall understanding of domain-general and domain-specific processes and their impact on children’s development in the prekindergarten year. These results may be helpful for educators when choosing or developing the optimal strategies in order to enhance the growth in preschoolers’ working memory and attention control skills.

As for the limitations of the study, the researchers single out the failure to distinguish specific cognitive functions mostly due to the difficulty, which is connected with the children’s inability to comply with the extended test sessions. The researchers prove the importance of domain-specific and domain-general skills in the prekindergarten children’s learning, emphasizing the need for further in-depth research of the issue. Moreover, they relied on the existing and widely used path analyses in order to examine developmental possesses rather than conducting structural equations models. The study does not make any definite inferences as for the causal consequences, since there may be other basic processes beyond the development of language, which have an impact on the domain-general and domain-specific cognitive skills.

The study that is generously presented by Janet A. Welsh, Robert L. Nix, Clancy Blair, Karen L. Bierman, and Keith E. Nelson is aimed to encourage educators to improve the quality of early education programs as well as the educational outcomes of many underprivileged children. The educators have a lot of serious considerations due to the given study. They are burdened with the practical task of translating theory into concrete actions and they are the ones who are blamed in the first place when the desired outcomes are not reached. In close collaboration with researchers, educators will be able to implement theoretical results, promoting the academic growth of children at risk.

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