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Executive Functions Influence Learning
Let's face it. Kids today are plugged in. Although schools are still using traditional learning tools—textbooks, paper and pencils—students prefer to use Google, Wikipedia, electronic applications and smart phones. Now throw TV, iPods and video games into the mix. Instantaneous communication and constant media engagement have become the basis of their daily lives. What does this mean for learning?
Educational Implications from Neuroscience
While we seek a balance for today's student appetite for media multitasking, we have also entered a golden age of brain research. New understandings about how the brain functions are allowing educators to tackle learning issues head on.
Neuroscientists now understand that the frontal lobe area of the brain is responsible for organizing higher-order thought processes and decisions. Similar to how a CEO of a company manages the long-term vision, goals and direction of an organization, the human frontal lobe of the brain manages primary planning and organizational behaviors. However, a student's constant media use does not engage the frontal lobe, and therefore diminishes the brain's ability to concentrate or analyze and store information. Additionally, jumping from one form of media to another, decreases a student's productivity.
Studies show that media-multitasking students are less capable of reflection, analytical thinking or imagination. Students need opportunities to directly reactivate the frontal lobe through sustained concentration to develop executive function skills—such as goal-setting, time-management, organizational and self-regulation skills, among others—which are required skills in the 21st-century work and education environment.
Research in Executive Function Skills
Today's educational research uses the term "executive function" to describe higher-order, frontal-lobe skills such as goal setting, time management, self-reflection, self-awareness, strategic thinking and problem solving. These skills begin to develop in infancy and continue to mature into early adulthood, but only if the frontal lobe is sufficiently stimulated with critical-thinking activities.
It is now understood that executive function skills, especially time-management and self-discipline can and should be directly taught. Studies point to the benefit of providing all students instruction in planning and problem solving on a daily basis to improve and sustain their academic performance and to fully continue brain growth. Although these skills have always been an important element of academic success, in the past they have been implied rather than overtly incorporated into the curriculum.
When executive functions are directly instructed and developed, today's young adults will be more fully equipped to overcome the negative effects of media bombardment in today's society, and they will be able to better utilize their academic knowledge to engage appropriately in the 21st-century workplace.
The Brighton Center for Pediatric Neurodevelopment is pleased to offer Executive Function training to students in elementary school through high school.
We utilize a curriculum developed out of a partnership between Premier and Rush NeuroBehavioral Center (RNBC), which provides the only neuroscience research-based classroom curriculum to improve academic performance by encouraging the development of executive functions via directed instruction and practice.
This research-based program has proven effective in multi-year, school-based studies. The focus on foundational skills, study strategies, and personal-growth skills provides students with regular behavioral and cognitive routines crucial to succeeding in school, college and career.
The Curriculum identifies the following areas as important for classroom instruction and life success:
› Self-regulation: the ability to efficiently manage time and materials
› Goal-directed behavior
› Self-evaluation of performance
› Flexibility to solve problems and revise plans
Executive Function Coaching