A Guide to Helping All Learning Succeed with the Science of Learning

Executive function helps students stay on task, set goals, manage their time, and remember what they’ve learned. And that’s just the beginning.


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What’s Inside?

Did You Know?

Visualizing the Science of Learning in the Brain

The Glue That Holds Learning Together

The Basics of Executive Function

Top 10 Tips

For Teaching Students Who Struggle With Executive Function

What is Executive Function? 

Executive function is an umbrella term in neuroscience that describes the neurological processes involved in mental control and selfregulation. Think of executive function as the president or CEO of your brain. Basically, it runs the show and keeps all the other parts of the brain doing their jobs. So, when executive function isn’t firing on all cylinders, other parts of the brain can’t work optimally either. Here are some of the things executive function helps you do:

• Pay attention to what’s relevant and filter out distractions
• Process information quickly and connect it to other relevant information
• Recognize words so you can use them to understand and learn
• Organize and sequence everything from ideas to tasks to time
• Control emotions so they don’t get in the way of learning
• Remember information long enough to use it (working memory)
• Generate words, ideas, and concepts
• Set goals and make plans for reaching those goals
• Self-regulate so you can stick to tasks until they’re complete. This is tied to impulse control.
• Shift from one task to the next with minimal disruption

Brains are amazing! We know from the science of learning that every time you learn something new, your brain changes. When you learn and use a new word, for example, new neural networks will form and connect to other associated networks. But if it’s something more complex like a new language or academic subject, your brain will change even more. 

The good news is that because of neural plasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to change its structure, students can practice and eventually improve weak executive functions. As with all cognitive skills, practice is key. Repeatedly working on things like impulse control, goal-setting, and organization will strengthen the neural networks that regulate these capabilities

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