This New York Times article, Helping Parents Deal With Learning and Attention Issues, gives an overview of a new ad campaign promoting the website Understood.org. The website is an incredibly useful resource for parents, and by extension educators, as we strive every day to understand children’s experience, make learning and growing accessible and engaging, and walk the balance between protecting our children/students and allowing them the valuable experiences of struggle, failure, and perseverance with an eye towards students who develop both quality intellect and excellent character. Our children and students move through a world that is largely organized, scheduled, structured, and geared towards adults. The website provides a multitude of resources in the areas of: brain research, learning & attention (executive functioning skills), friends & feelings (social emotional skills), and support systems for families. Understood.org seeks to make the experience of different kinds of learners more transparent and accessible for parents and teachers so that we might better support and inspire the next generation.
Executive function is a set of processes your brain undergoes to help connect past experience with present action. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University calls the executive function portion of the brain its “air traffic control system”. Children and adults of all ages use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, choosing focus, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing self and environment.
Executive function includes the external management skills of time, materials, & space. Internally it includes the cognitive management skills of filing away information, retrieving it at the appropriate time, inhibiting impulses, selecting appropriate focus for attention, maintaining focus, and flexing that focus when needed.
Whether you are a student, educator, administrator, parent or a combination of the above, below are some articles that give some additional insight and perspective into cognition & executive function skills….unraveling some of the mystery behind how it is you do all that you do:
“Being able to focus, hold, and work with information in mind, filter distractions, and switch gears is like having an air traffic control system at a busy airport to manage the arrivals and departures of dozens of planes on multiple runways. In the brain, this air traffic control mechanism is called executive function, a group of skills that helps us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, and revise plans as necessary. Acquiring the early building blocks of these skills is one of the most important and challenging tasks of the early childhood years, and the opportunity to build further on these rudimentary capacities is critical to healthy development through middle childhood, adolescence, and into early adult life.”
“Think school success is mostly a matter of IQ? Think again. Worried that your child’s learning disability is a doomsday diagnosis? It doesn’t have to be. Think being an “average” kid will prevent your child from excelling in school? Not necessarily. Natural ability to learn is only part of the equation for academic success; motivation is another key. And neuroscience is shedding light on another group of mental capacities called executive functions — the self-governing, goal-directed skills that enable children to meet academic challenges and become independent learners.…Through patience, monitoring, guidance, and collaboration with teachers, parents can aid their children in developing their own executive strategies, move toward self-supervision, and soar.” – Aden A. Burka
“Our students are the center of what we do and what we want to accomplish. We do not simply teach a subject, we teach children. We teach them how to learn and also to value the process of learning whether it be the process of writing a book report, completing a project, or preparing for a test. Our students are incredibly unique and yearn for us to know and value their strengths as learners and their qualities as people. When we appreciate our students’ diversity as learners and promise to stretch their capabilities and minds, we ultimately prepare them for independence from us, which allows them to mature as individuals.” – Greensboro Day School Learning Resource Department
“Educators, collectively, have a strong sense of what works for students, and what schools can and should do for their charges. The challenge, in order to attract and justify the allocation of precious and limited resources, is to ground our vision in research that is both substantiated and inspirational. The visionary aspirations of a school should be anchored in the science of learning, and done in a way that unleashes creative organizational and curricular possibilities that reflect what it is emerging in this exciting field of neuro-education.” – Mike Walker