What are Executive Function Skills? Why are they Important for Student Success?
The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University refers to executive function skills as "the brain's air traffic control system," which helps us thoughtfully create an action plan for school and home. We draw from our past experiences including our mistakes to shape our decisions before taking action. We stop and think with the goal in mind before beginning a project. Knowing how long a task will take, we pace ourselves and allow adequate time to execute the parts of the job. These are critical skills for success in school and in life.
Research shows that executive function skills develop slowly, maturing by the early twenties. Yet, students are expected to manage complex daily schedules that include sports, social activities, and school. Their school work by middle school will include projects that require the ability to plan a project over several weeks, to predict the length of time that each step will take, to communicate with their teachers and other participants about their work, to manage their materials and most importantly, to execute each step efficiently and on time.
The student who is struggling with executive function skills often lose their work because they put it in the wrong place or left it somewhere; they inaccurately predict how long a task will take or get started without purchasing needed supplies. Memory and attention issues are elements of executive function as well; they may not remember the assignment or may not have written it down in their hurry to leave the class.
Addressing executive function issues is a joint effort by the parents and the teachers. Very specific strategies can be successfully taught in both environments to manage time, materials, and tasks completion. For example, Sara Ward who works in this field created a model for students for tasks completion. It is called, "Get Ready, Do It, Done." In this model, the student envisions the completed task before he begins. Using this image, he gets ready because now he knows the materials and resources; he will need to complete the task. When he enters the "Do It" step, he has the materials, he has the picture of what he wants to complete and his mental resources can be focused on the completion of the task. Often with long projects, each stage can be a complete process of "Get Ready, Do It, Done."
Metacognition is being able to look at a task such as a school project with some self- awareness. Did I manage my time, materials, and information well? How could I have done it differently? Looking back, one can assess their use of executive function skills; therefore they are acquiring the tools for consistent growth in this area. Parents and teachers can help the student look back without judging their efforts but with a desire to learn and change.
Understanding EF with Sarah Ward
Practical Strategies for Supporting Executive Function Challenges at Home and at School, from Sarah Ward, MS, CCC/SLP
From Sarah Ward's visit to Delaware Valley Friends School, October 2016.
EF and the Adolescent with Sarah Ward
Delaware Valley Friends School was pleased to welcome Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC/SLP, to speak before a full house of guests on Thursday, February 12, 2015. Around 200 people, from professionals in the field to DV parents and students, enjoyed Sarah's 2-hour presentation on "Understanding Executive Function Skills for the Adolescent Learner." Click for resources and videos-->
EF Resources from Sam Goldstein, PhD
On April 10, 2015, Delaware Valley Friends School enjoyed a lively and informative day with Dr. Sam Goldstein, author of (among others) "Raising a Self-Disciplined Child." Read more and find resources here-->
EF Resources from DVFS
Executive Function Resources