How Executive Functions Impact Achievement ~ By Cindy Z. Hansen
Difficulty starting a task, staying focused on school tasks, and managing simple routines; great ideas without follow-through; late work and lost work: Sound familiar? Then read on! There are many reasons why students may have these difficulties, from disengagement due to boredom, learning disabilities, or processing and perceptual difficulties. Yet our brightest students are often labeled “lazy” or “stubborn” when they have difficulty managing their world: a realm that requires strong executive functioning skills.
Executive function is a stronger predictor of academic success than IQ because it impacts one’s ability to remember and store information, to read and understand text, to process multi-step mathematical equations, to self-regulate behavior and emotions, to inhibit thoughts in order to get to sleep, and to successfully complete a myriad of tasks. These tasks get more complex as our children move from kindergarten, where the teacher and parent do many of these tasks for the child, to middle school, where the child is faced with multiple classrooms, multiple teacher styles, and more complex tasks in content areas.
Everyone has stronger and weaker functions on a given day due to exhaustion, stress, and energy levels. And none of us has perfect functioning in all areas. The question to consider is: Does a function impair a child’s day-to day coping abilities or academic success on a consistent basis?
Acquiring executive function skills is a developmental process, like walking and talking. For our very brightest children, development in this area of the brain may be delayed 2-3 years all the way into their late 20s to early thirties. Whether the difficulty is a delay or a life-long impairment, intervention helps students develop key skills and confidence, boosting their potential for success.