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Simultaneous and Successive Processing

Success in school requires students to think, learn, solve problems and complete tasks. Understanding the cognitive processes that are involved in various tasks and how the brain works helps psychologists, academic therapists, teachers, and parents have a better understanding of a child’s abilities and his or her cognitive processing strengths and weaknesses. Exploring what type of thinking is required based on the demands of the task is also important because cognitive processes are critical for learning and knowledge.

Neuropsychologist Alexander Romanovich Luria is one of the most influential scientists to study the brain, and his work supports that cognition can be described by four basic psychological processes. This specific theory is called PASS and stands for Planning, Attention, Simultaneous and Successive cognitive processes. PASS processes are involved in reading, writing, math and describe how people think, learn, and solve problems. PASS provides key information to help educational professionals understand a child’s intelligence and the acquisition of personal knowledge and skills.

Planning is the first cognitive process and is responsible for executive function where goals are formulated. It helps students select or develop necessary strategies to complete particular tasks. Planning is critical to all activities where a child must solve a problem and is also associated with controlling and organizing behavior, monitoring performance, and selecting and constructing strategies.

Attention is the ability to focus on a task and maintain alertness until the task is accomplished and it’s controlled by intentions and goals. Attention is a mental process that involves focus on selected external and internal events. If a child has problems attending, it may be necessary to change their environment so there are fewer distractions. It is also important that students are accountable for their alertness and are active participants in monitoring their ability to focus and resist distractions. Focus is critical to learning and completing tasks in a timely manner.

The next two cognitive processes are Simultaneous processing and Successive processing. These are the two main ways that the brain gathers and organizes information helping students to encode, transform, and retain information. Simultaneous processing is the ability to take separate pieces of information and see how they relate and interact as a whole. This requires both nonverbal and verbal processing and is used to recognize patterns, understand geometry, see groups of letters as words, and recognize that a paragraph is part of a complete essay or story. This process is also involved in reading comprehension because it requires the integration and understanding of word relationships and how all aspects of a specific text fits together.

Successive processing is the ability to work with information that is arranged in a specific order and organizing bits of information into a chainlike progression. Multi-step directions, the order of words in a sentence and memorizing a series of digits like a phone number are examples of Successive processing. This procedure occurs when information must be remembered or completed in a specific order or sequence.

Certain tasks determine the need for either Simultaneous or Successive processing. Recognizing patterns, shapes and letters requires Simultaneous processing and solving an algebra problem requires the Successive processing of steps, and an exact ordering of those steps. Many students display a preference for one type of processing over the other and there are times when certain tasks require a stronger need for either or both processing skills.

Students who are good at Simultaneous processing have an easy time recognizing how pieces of a whole fit together and they readily see patterns of images, words, concepts and ideas. Unfortunately, many students struggle with this cognitive process because they don’t understand how things are related and often miss the overall idea of an assignment or concept. When this occurs parents and educators need to identify the cognitive weakness and understand that a child’s poor performance may be related to a problem with cognitive processing.

Students who are good with Successive processing and ordering skills can recall multiplication facts and write a well-organized paragraph. However, students that struggle with this processing find it difficult to follow specific steps for solving an equation or arranging their ideas in a logical order for reports and essays. Cognitive processes are necessary for learning, and specific tasks require careful attention to detail and sequencing of events.

Education provides students with opportunities to gain knowledge and skills, but children also need to learn how to learn. To help kids achieve this goal they must understand that facts often go together to make something big and that parts make a whole. Strategies to improve Simultaneous processing skills include helping students better understand how information is organized. In reading, students need to extract meaning from the text and understand how this content fits into a coherent whole. Comprehension of a paragraph requires students to attend to print, focus on the meaning of the story and understand how each concept fits into the whole concept of the passage. The same is true with writing. Students who are proficient at writing organize the information into a whole concept and then present the text according to the big picture. In math, students who see patterns will better understand how mathematics work and how math concepts are applied. An understanding of how information is organized into a whole is an extremely important concept and as educators we need to teach kids to approach all their work with the understanding of focusing on the big picture.

Reinforcing Simultaneous processing skills begins by teaching kids that most information is related to other information, helping them to see a pattern. Reminding students to think about how information relates across topics and content is also important. Motivate kids by asking, “Can you see the big picture and understand how all this is related?” Implement ways to show students that information across all curriculum is related. Strategies for developing Simultaneous processing include: matching and categorizing information, the use of categorizing opposites, practicing jigsaw puzzles, hidden picture worksheets, building three-dimensional objects, supplying the missing details in a story, rhyming games, reading maps and understanding how to summarize an article or story.

Daily, the brain processes, organizes and packages information into either a simultaneous array or a serial order to preserve it. The brain accomplishes this through Simultaneous and Successive processing. The mental process used to integrate bits of information into a whole is Simultaneous processing and understanding how these parts of information fit into the big picture are necessary for navigating many aspects of school and life. Using and organizing information into a chainlike progression is Successive processing. In designing curriculum and instruction for students an awareness of Simultaneous and Successive processing is critical because different types of information are learned more effectively using specific formats. Some kids are more proficient at processing one type of information than the other and will benefit from strategies used to improve their weaker processing skills.

About the author

Vikki Carrel

Academic Language Therapist, Multi-book Author, National Speaker

Vikki empowers people! She is an Academic Language Therapist, multi-book author and a national speaker. Vikki grew up in Salt Lake City, met her husband at the University of Utah, and has owned several companies across the United States. In 2010, Vikki and her husband moved back to Utah from Doylestown, Pennsylvania and she founded Vikki Carrel & Company, a speaking and training organization. Read more about the author

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