For too long, executive function has been a term used primarily among special education professionals to discuss deficits, ignored by mainstream educators as the path to achievement for all.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.14.57 PMSimply put, academic rigor refers to academic engagement that focuses on higher-order thinking and application. It is a door-opener for students!

If students can thrive in academic rigor, they can nail those standardized tests, tackle most problems and challenges that come their way, and follow any of a vast number of career paths. Building academic rigor should be the goal of every school, every teacher. Executive function may be the missing link to increased student achievement.

How many of the following skills would you say are required for students to perform at rigorous levels?

  • Focusing
  • Concentrating
  • Shifting focus from one event to another
  • Changing perspective
  • Seeing multiple sides of a situation
  • Being open to other people’s points of view
  • Being creative
  • Catching and correcting errors
  • Thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously
  • Storing and manipulating visual and verbal information
  • Identifying same and different
  • Remembering details
  • Following multiple steps
  • Anticipating
  • Persisting in a task
  • Organizing actions and thoughts
  • Considering future consequences in light of current action

These are the skills of executive function, controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

The good news is, the more you use these skills, the stronger they become. You can build executive function in students by engaging them in these skills.

If you are running a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you can explore ways to build executive function through the various structures inherent in the model. If not, you can still use this list to brainstorm how you can engage students in using the skills listed in the third column. This assessment sheet can be used by teachers to assess students or by students to self assess.

For more information, read chapter 6 of It’s Not What You Teach But How: 7 Insights For Making the CCSS Work for You, published by Routledge.