Help Build Executive Functions Skills

In a multimedia world, students' brains need help navigating what is important.

Thank you for your interest in implementing executive functions skills in your school. We are passionate about this topic and believe the development of executive functions in every student is critical to their academic and life success.

We recently launched a new curriculum program as part of our educational tools portfolio. Our Executive Functions Skill-Building Program, made possible through a partnership with neuroscience experts at Rush NeuroBehavioral Center, provides interactive resources for educators and students. The combination of an active student guide and in-depth educator notebook provides an effective program. With a comprehensive scope and sequence, educators are able to help students build on previously taught skills.

(The free unit provided was authored for middle-school-aged students, but it is applicable in both middle and high school classrooms. While the high school version is similar, the sequence and language follows a slightly different, more age-appropriate format. We believe this download provides valuable insight into and is useful in both the middle and high school versions of this program. The official high school format is available for purchase now to implement into classrooms Fall 2011.)


A free webinar, titled "Students and Multitasking: Helping or Hurting?" took place Jan. 27, 2011. We invite you to download the recording of it now by filling in the form on the right.

In this webinar, Dr. Georgia Bozeday from Rush NeuroBehavioral Center explains how helping students develop executive functions skills improves their academic performance. In a media-driven world, a structured process that reinforces students' ability to plan, manage time and apply executive functions is critical to their success.


Executive Functions Impact Learning

Let's face it. Kids today are plugged in. Although schools are still using traditional learning tools—textbooks, encyclopedias, 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? Read more...

Neuroscience research tells us that constant media multitasking hinders students' ability to focus and filter out distractions. The incessant bouncing from one slice of information to the next in short time periods makes it difficult to concentrate or think in-depth on any one subject. Although students believe they are accomplishing more by using various media to multitask, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) shows that the long-term memory sections of the brain are not engaged during these activities.

Studies correlate the number of hours of daily media exposure to grades and drop-out rates at both the high school and college levels. Forty percent of students in 7th through 12th grades now say they are usually engaged in another medium while studying. Academically, heavy media users (16 hours or more per day) received significantly lower grades (47% Cs or lower); compared to the light media users (three hours per day) whose grades were better (23% Cs or lower).

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 in the classroom environment. At least one study cites self-discipline as a substantially higher indicator of academic success than IQ, classroom size, textbook selection or teacher competency.

Studies such as these, 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. Classroom time spent actively teaching planning will benefit students in all subject areas.

What Can We Conclude About Educational Settings That Reinforce Students' Ability to Plan, Manage Time, and Apply Executive Functions?

As any parent will tell you, babies and toddlers seem to have no concept of time. The seeds are there, rooted in the brain, but they must be stimulated and reinforced in order to grow. By the time children reach school age, the need for self-discipline and time awareness is essential for their academic advancement and maintaining a functioning classroom. As a student matures, so does their need for direct instruction and coaching in these executive function skills.

An educational setting that supports brain growth incorporates foundational executive function skills at all grade levels, with relationship to all parts of the school year. Students should begin the year by consciously structuring their learning environment and learning to manage materials and time appropriately. As course work advances, students must internalize how to take notes, memorize and study for tests. Eventually students are ready to analyze their goals and learning strengths to make complex decisions. Students are most successful when teachers guide them through self-monitoring this progress, and celebrate their successes.

As executive functions are allowed to flourish, 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.



Download the complete white paper, titled Media Multitasking and The Student Brain: The Impact of Media Multitasking upon Students' Academic Performance.

Change the impact of media multitasking upon students' academic performance. Change the experience of learning from the inside out.

Download Now!

Complete the form below to receive two links via email to download the free unit of the program and the recording of the webinar event, which happened Jan. 27, 2011.

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