Executive Skills in Learning

“Executive function” is a term first used by neurologists and neuro-psychologists to describe a set of high-level thinking skills we need to get things done. The first researchers to try and describe this skill set were focused on people with impairments, like head injuries, and relating it to brain development. Work with children and teenagers who had sustained traumatic brain injuries revealed problems involving planning, organization, time-management, and memory. Inhibition and regulation of emotions was often weak.

More recently, executive skills have assumed a larger role in the explanation and treatment of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and we’re seeing an increasing number of children and adolescents who seem to struggle in school because of weak executive skills, but don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for ADD/ADHD or other learning differences. 

We have found that  students can benefit from strategies designed to improve executive function while getting direct instruction and academic coaching.  We provide EF coaching in the context of our comprehensive reading intervention (i.e., we do not offer EF coaching as a stand-alone service).  Children learn and retain executive function strategies best when paired with meaningful academic instruction and intervention.

A List of Executive Functions

Here is a list developed by Drs. Gioia, Isquith, Guy and Kenworthy – a little different than the list you see in our scrolling window on the right (from Executive Skills in Children & Adolescents, P. Dawson & R. Guare, 2010)

  • Inhibition-The ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. The flip side of inhibition is impulsivity; if you have weak ability to stoop yourself from acting on your impulses, then you are "impulsive."
  • Shift-The ability to move freely from one situation to an-other and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation.
  • Emotional Control-The ability 10 modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings.
  • Initiation-The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies.
  • Working Memory-The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task.
  • Planning/Organization-The ability to manage current and future-oriented task demands.
  • Organization of Materials-The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces.
  • Self-Monitoring-The ability to monitor one’s own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected.

Read more . . .

Executive Skills by Age