Executive Functioning – The Key to Greater Success in School

Adolescence creates a diversity among kids that is just about unparalleled. From physical development and social savvy to academic engagement and interest, the years from 5th to 8th grade (sometimes even well into high school) contain a vast spectrum of “normal.”

Consider two students assigned a project in English class.
The teacher assigns the class a book to read and writes the due date for the book report/project on the board. She spends twenty minutes in class talking about the process and requirements for the project. The class follows along with a handout of guidelines; as well, all the information is posted on her webpage.

In class, Student A makes a note in his planner to ask his parents to buy the book tonight and highlights the handout as the teacher talks, paying attention to due dates and important tasks. He understands the sequence of events that must occur to finish the entire project on time. Using multiple resources and planning strategies, he can estimate how long it will take to finish the book, considers the project as he reads and takes notes, writes a rough draft and seeks help if needed. He writes an organized, edited final draft by the due date and is confident and calm when he turns it in.

At the same time, Student B listens as the teacher explains the project and reads along as she goes over the details. He thinks to himself that he needs to ask his parents to buy the book, and he slides the guidelines into the front pocket of his binder. He leaves class excited about the book and has every intention completing the project on time. Over the next couple of weeks, he remembers the project and feels stressed about getting the work completed on time. He doesn’t have a plan for completing his work and in the end, he waits too long to start. He ends up rushing through the book and project, maybe even turning his work in late, and does not feel good about the work he produced.

The difference between these two students is not in their ability to do the work, but rather their ability to see HOW to complete the project and WHAT has to occur in order to produce their best work WHEN it’s due. This ability, so often under-addressed in school, is a group of skills called Executive Function (EF).

Think of executive function as what the chief executive officer of a company must do — analyze, organize, decide, and execute.

Students with under-developed EF skills may have problems organizing materials, creating schedules, setting goals, and completing tasks. They may misplace papers, reports, and other school materials. They might have similar problems keeping track of their personal items or keeping their bedroom organized. When reading, the student might read a chapter but not retain what he has read. He might know the material but is unable to write an answer on a test or start a paper because he cannot organize his thoughts. He might be able to write out math equations, but makes careless errors along the way. For these students, no matter how hard they try, they fall short…

No matter how hard they try, they fall short.

Such an outcome is worth repeating because the impact on the confidence and self-esteem of students cannot and should not be underestimated. EF skills are critical in just about every area of school, therefore no amount of effort or dedication will change an outcome until the underlying skill set is developed more fully. The traditional fall back to a content tutor is often the suggestion, but in many cases, it is not the actual content that is the problem.

Students need to understand context—most importantly, the context of their learning style and abilities and how to strengthen both. Gaining this type of self-awareness helps students identify the tools and strategies needed to increase academic success. Over time, as the quality of the student’s work increases, their self-confidence to be recognized as a capable learner is also strengthened. Now, the ball is rolling to develop a self-sufficient, independent learner.

Simply put, EF skills are the foundation of success—without them, we would all fall short.

executive functioning students grec


To learn more about the G.R.E.C. Executive Functioning program, designed to create Goal-oriented, Resourceful, Empowered and Capable students, please visit their website here or contact GREC Founders, Katie & Trish, at [email protected].



Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 5.02.21 PM