Building Executive Function Skills
A piece by Lisa Suh for the Edutopia blog about executive function caught my attention after I recently provided a professional development session for teachers about possible causes for difficulty with reading comprehension. During the training, I reviewed the following skill components associated with executive functions: organizing, goal setting, cognitive flexibility, working memory, and self-monitoring. Click here for a chart that defines each skill and its role in supporting reading.
A short video accompanied Suh’s article that likened executive function as the “brain’s air traffic controller, intercepting a tangle of thoughts and impulses and steering them toward safe, productive outcomes.”
Executive function allows children to improve their ability to stay focused, plan ahead, regulate their emotions, and think flexibly and creatively. What I liked best about Suh’s piece are her suggestions for using popular games with elementary students to build executive functions in a way that is fun. Citing suggestions from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Suh points out that using card and board games, physical games and activities, and movement and song games such as Checkers, Connect Four, and Jenga can help develop executive function skills in this way: “When students play games that involve strategy, they have an opportunity to make plans, and then to adjust those plans in response to what happens during gameplay. The students’ inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory work together to support playing the game.” Read her piece for more details.
The center cited above offers a free guide titled Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy Through Adolescence.
Another resource for explicitly teaching executive function skills is the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum developed by ResearchILD that just released their new version for elementary grades. Click here to learn more.
Finally, if you would like to learn more about how executive function specifically affects reading comprehension, consult the book by Kelly Cartwright, Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension (2015 Guilford Press). You can also visit a post I wrote in 2017 about this topic.