In a recent survey study, elementary school teachers ranked executive function as the most important characteristic necessary for school readiness, while indicating that more than half their students lack effective executive function skills.
"Teachers are the only professionals required to change brain connectivity and structure on a daily basis." -Dr. Jonathan Sharples
What Research Tells Us
Educators know the value of executive function (EF). In a recent survey study, elementary school teachers ranked executive function as the most important characteristic necessary for school readiness, while indicating that more than half their students lack effective EF skills. Research further reveals that 90 percent of teachers believe that knowledge of the brain is “important” or “very important” in the design and delivery of educational materials.
Increasingly, research is finding that EF skills are directly related to early reading and math skills. In addition, EF competencies such as self-regulation have accounted for variance in several academic outcomes for young children. For example, a 2008 study with at-risk preschoolers showed that initial EF skills predicted gains in both cognitive and social-emotional abilities, demonstrating a potential need for EF intervention at the early childhood level.
What Educators Can Do
Executive function skills can be taught and practiced with students of all ages. Following are some examples of fun, practical, research-proven strategies:
- Planning and Task Management: Provide templates with explicit steps for students to follow as they complete projects.
- Impulse Control: Play games such as Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says or I Spy.
- Working Memory: Use mnemonics, memory tricks and acronyms.
Educators also find that modeling behavior using puppets, singing, and fingerplays; playing board games; reading books; and even using classroom or outdoor obstacle courses can provide opportunities to reinforce good EF skills!
To learn more about executive function in the classroom, read Executive Function in Education: From Theory to Practice and Promoting Executive Function in the Classroom, edited by Lynn Metzler.