What Are Executive Functions & How Do They Impact Learning?

child writing on desk

There are many processes involved with learning. Some can be observed in a student’s attention to a subject or reflected in his or her assessment scores. However, there is a major component of learning that exists under the surface: executive functions.

What are executive functions?  These are a set of skills surrounding memory, cognition (thinking), flexibility, and self-control. Although these skills might seem unconscious, for many students, these skills are imbalanced or underdeveloped, creating barriers to learning.

If a student is struggling with executive functions, he/she may have problems with self-control, following directions, or handling emotions.

At Banyan Tree, we focus on executive functioning as a core component of our curriculum. We use the COGx program. Social Thinking, and several other programs to help students develop these skills in order to feel regulated, confident, and prepared—in school and in life.

Executive functions are a central part of our everyday lives

Brushing teeth, putting on clothes, walking to the bus: these processes are all guided by executive functions. Learning how to chronologically move through steps, regulating when something is off balance (for example, losing a shoe or the bus running late), and adapting to change is important not only for everyday life, but especially in school.

In school, students will be challenged to think on their feet, react appropriately to transitions, and overcome physical and mental obstacles. Strengthening executive functioning skills will help roadblocks seem more manageable.

Learning self-control can help with social skills

Executive functions are not only important for self-regulation, but they are also instrumental in developing social skills. As students interact with peers, there will undoubtedly be disagreements and conflict. If a student practices self-control, advocacy, and calming strategies, he or she will be able to handle conflict with ease. This will build rapport, connections, and lower social anxiety.

Developing these skills can help students with focus and organization

Executive functioning impacts learning in so many ways. Students who are routinely practicing and developing these skills will be have an awareness of their surroundings. They will be able to assess when they are getting distracted and be able to redirect their focus. They will be more conscious of their physical space and how they are potentially impacting others. They will also learn to be more organized with their materials in order to stay on track with learning.

One of the biggest growths we see with our students is ownership of materials, assignments, and tasks. Students with strong executive functioning skills will be able to find strategies for remembering homework, cleaning up their desk or workspace, and advocate for themselves when they are confused.

In learning, there are many different processes at work. Learning isn’t as simple as connecting with material on a page or screen, it is also about finding strategies for engagement, overcoming obstacles of focus or disorganization, and growing in self-awareness in order to become a successful student!

At Banyan Tree Educational Services, we prioritize executive functioning because we know how valuable these skills are for our learners—in and out of the classroom. To learn more about our programs, click here. To get in touch with us and request more information about our curriculum and programs, click here.

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