Develop executive function out of anything
Executive function permeates our daily activities. From the workplace to the classroom, it is something we use everywhere. Thus, teaching it starts with identifying what situations are suitable for developing this area of our mentality.
School is a varied and exciting place where students are engaged with a plethora of challenging activities. Executive function has a place in all of this.
Often times, we can use role play to teach concepts to children but there is an chance to develop Executive function here. In a role-play situation, students are to play a part often based on complex ideas. If you were to place students in a doctor’s office situation, a student playing the doctor would have to actively shape their speech in order to say things that would benefit the patient. Naturally, they would have to inhibit their natural impulses. If we stress this in the classroom, we can develop their inhibitory control and thereby improve focus.
Additionally, since the situation often has many components, kids must switch between states of mind. Going from testing, diagnosis, advice and finally treatment calls for a different mentality. All the while, they will be drawing on their own experiences to flesh out the roleplay. Their state of mind is constantly shifting and, as a result, their cognitive flexibility is being trained.
In an art class, children are often asked to examine books to get an idea of how to draw an animal or insect. We do this to train a child’s working memory: taking an idea they’ve seen and applying it to the task at hand. However, it goes much further if we encourage them to use these ideas to create their own creature. They may make improvements to an animal’s design by thinking carefully about a component’s application. They may even combine animals to optimize their drawing!
Taking it further, if we ask our students to present their creations and explain their choices, they are to express their ideas in a structured manner. Furthermore, because they are under pressure to present, they will naturally aim to exercise inhibitory control adjust their behavior and emotional tendencies. What started as an art class because a deep exercise in executive function.
When we take a look outside the classroom, perhaps at older students who live a life outside of school, we can equally find opportunities to develop executive function.
Learning a second language is incredibly tool for this development. A research paper by Gregory J Poarch and Janet G van Hell in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology reported a dramatic increase for bilinguals in areas of conflict resolution. The ability to understand and deal with conflict comes from our empathy for others. Learning languages allows children to exercise their working memory and often times their cognitive flexibility. By dealing with problems in learning a language (grammar, literature, translation), a student is able to think actively and adapt to all situations. Especially in classes where students are compelled to speak a non-native tongue, there are able to exercise inhibitory control and apply this discipline to high-tension situations.
The same goes for hobbies like music, drama or chess. Students that play instruments must apply their memory to gain command over their instrument. Those who act in small productions are constantly examining their characters, solving the problems of how to deliver lines and looking for inspiration in their previous experiences. In chess, players must actively think but also maintain the discipline to check their moves thoroughly. They must gain the ability to think from another perspective and preempt the strategies they face.
If we get our kids into the right classrooms, encourage activities like sports, board games and music, push them to reflect and temper their minds, we are able to make an opportunity to develop executive function out of anything. This paves the way for success so make sure everyday, they’re functioning.