Brentwood boarding school Currey Ingram Academy recognizes the crucial role Executive Function (EF) plays in a person’s success in school and in life. The faculty and staff share a common goal of helping all students make strides in this area.
What is Executive Function and how does it affect one’s ability to learn?
EF is a set of mental processes that help connect past experiences with present actions. EF skills allow us to retain information, focus our attention, filter distractions, and switch mental gears. According to a paper published by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, EF skills have three basic dimensions:
- Working memory - The ability to retain information and use it.
- Inhibitory control - The ability to master thoughts and impulses in order to resist temptations, distractions, and habits. It is also the ability to pause and think before acting.
- Cognitive flexibility - The capacity to shift gears and adjust to changing demands, priorities, and perspectives.
We use EF skills in activities that involve planning, decision making, strategizing, problem-solving, managing emotions, focusing on a particular task, remembering details. In an academic setting, EF skills help students think critically, keep track of deadlines, engage in group discussions, wait for their turn to speak, and ask for help when necessary.
Helping teenagers develop EF skills
Teenagers typically haven’t fully developed their EF skills, and unfortunately, they are often situations that demand that EF skills already be in place. Teens need to communicate in different contexts, manage academic and extracurricular requirements, and complete complex projects. If you’re a parent or a teacher, there are activities that can help support EF skills development in young adults:
Ask them to identify a specific goal they want to accomplish. This goal should be personally meaningful and not set by someone else. Start with something simple and achievable, such as working towards having a driver’s license or saving up for a laptop. Move on to long-term goals such as applying for college.
Break that goal down into small, manageable pieces. For example, if the goal is to win a swimming competition, what skills should they need to learn and how might these be practiced? Let them anticipate potential problems that might arise so they can prepare for these.
Take on social issues. Discuss issues such as domestic violence, homelessness, and bullying, and what concrete steps can be done to solve them.
Promote self-awareness. Ask them to do a self-check to see if their actions are still part of the plan, or if they have veered off course. This exercise helps keep their eyes on the goal.
Remind them to prioritize. There is strong evidence that suggests multitasking impedes focus and performance. There will always be several things vying for their attention; what’s important is they know how to set priorities and tune out distractions such as social media.
Explore possible motivations behind other people’s actions. This could help them look at situations from different perspectives. Encourage them to consider alternatives. “Can you think of reasons why your friend did this to you?”
Get them into sports. The focus and responsiveness that’s essential to competitive sports draw on one’s ability to keep track of what’s going on and make quick decisions.
Currey Ingram Academy has both individual and team sports for students in grades K-12. Everyone is encouraged to participate in and/or support the school's athletics program.
Support their artistic inclinations. Playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, or performing onstage requires students to learn complicated pieces, focus on their timing, improvise when needed, and manage their behavior.
Currey Ingram Academy’s Upper School Fine Arts Department provides opportunities for students to explore and to deepen their passion for music, visual arts, and theatre.
Equip them with organizational skills. Managing multiple classes, deadlines, projects, and extracurricular activities can be overwhelming for some students. Equipping them with organizational skills can boost their efficiency and confidence.
Using a planner with a monthly view gives students a broader look at their activities and projects, which they could then break down into daily and weekly to-do lists. Having a watch or a timer enables them to keep track of how much time they’ve got to do a specific task. Color coding belongings and maintaining an easy-to-remember filing system helps them stay organized at school and at home.
Encourage journal writing. A journal is a safe space where they can explore their thoughts, feelings, actions, beliefs, and decisions.
While we are not born with EF skills, we all have the potential to develop them. It is a gradual process that starts in infancy and continues on into early adulthood, shaped mainly by meaningful social interactions and activities. At Brentwood boarding school Currey Ingram Academy, faculty members identify EF skill development areas for each student and provide generous opportunities for practice and improvement.
A boarding school in Brentwood, Currey Ingram Academy empowers students with learning differences to achieve their fullest potential - academically and socially - within an environment that fosters holistic student development. Get in touch by calling (615) 507-3173.