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What is Executive Function?

Executive Function, or “EF”, is a distinct set of skills imperative to school readiness and academic success. Scientists refer to these skills as the biological foundation for adaptation and learning throughout life. They argue that strong working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control – the 3 components of EF – provide the basis upon which children’s abilities to learn to read, write, and do math can be built.

ef basics

This so-called Air Traffic Control System supports the process of learning— focusing, remembering, planning (i.e., the how)—that enables children to effectively and efficiently master the content of learning—reading, writing, computation (i.e., the what).

Why is it important?

In order for children to participate in the school experience as engaged, active, and competent learners and thus acquire relevant life knowledge and adaptation, these skills need to be developed and supported from infancy through adolescence.

EF is a protective factor for trauma and adverse experiences. As teachers, it is important that we understand what EF is, how it develops, and how we can support it in our classrooms, especially amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing that many of our kids have experienced more summer learning loss and academic slides due to remote learning, schools should be prepared to address and build an EF culture throughout their programming. 

How can you learn more?

There are many resources available to help teachers and administrators learn more about this topic and how it needs to be seriously addressed. 

  • Dr. Stephanie Carlson, founder of Reflection Sciences LLC, details what EF is as well as what happens when a child is not performing at a typical level in this video on Understood.org. 

  • Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child also has some of the latest research on EF and it’s development. 

  • Reflection Sciences has several online professional development courses built specifically for classroom practitioners looking to learn more about how to implement best practices to support its ongoing development in children. 

About the Author:

Carrie FruinCarrie Fruin is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Reflection Sciences and holds an Education Specialist Degree in the area of Leadership in Digital Transformation. She taught high school science for over 25 years and has worked in higher education building high quality, online professional development programs for teachers. She has a strong belief that all students can learn, and it is through the understanding of Executive Function (EF) skills and their relationship to Social-emotional learning (SEL) that will assist educators in reaching all children and providing them a true foundation for success in life.

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