It's no secret that our society has become increasingly dependent on screens for interaction, which means less time spent reading books but also, less time to become better readers.
Good readers tend to be those who can make conscious decisions about their use of specific strategies for their reading. While this, the readers who have difficulty understanding a text tend to have problems adjusting their strategies.
Struggling at reading is a strong indicator of deficit in executive functions. And, unfortunately, there are countless studies linking low executive function skills to poor academic and social performance in students.
So what can educators do to help students readers? One way to go is to train some executive functions, to make sense of the text.
Executive functioning skills lead to reading skills
To maximize performance, it is crucial to help students by encouraging reading skill development. Teaching them the following executive functioning skills is a good start!
Because all educators aim to teach students in order that they become self-reliant members of society, skills such as organization, time management, speech and language development, distance learning, problem-solving, and digital skills are relevant to adult life.
So, teaching executive functioning skills is now critical for any educator.
They have been studied in different age groups as well as in different domains such as mathematical reasoning, theory of mind, and reading. They are a group of cognitive processes evoked when an individual needs to coordinate and self-regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. They can be performed intuitively and automatically or in a conscious and planned way with dedicated tools like AltaIpsum app for example.
Executive functions can be the foundation of intervention programs for students who have reading comprehension difficulties. They also serve as a preventative measure to protect students in low socioeconomic conditions who may have less access to resources and opportunities.
Understanding these processes is essential to encouraging success in school and in professional spaces.
Are you a good or bad reader?
Good readers tend to be those who can make conscious decisions about their use of strategies specific to their reading. In contrast, readers who struggle with comprehension tend to have difficulty adjusting their strategies and show little awareness for evaluating text type.
One of the better known qualities of good readers is that they are adept at applying strategies to make sense of text regardless of what type of text they are reading.
Readers at the lowest end of comprehension or with typical reading abilities might not consider how to read text that is not presented in a linear structure.
Assessing reading capabilities and recognizing potential improvement is not an easy step. But it should… because reading is hard.
Reading is a set of complex activities
Reading is so hard that it requires several years to learn to do it efficiently and many people feel that reading and studying are a form of torture. Fortunately, there are easy-to-learn skills that help make these school tasks less torturous and more fun. But let’s go through the activities and processes involved in reading :
- letter identification
- word recognition
- access to meaning
- syntactic and semantic integration
The identification and recognition of words, although necessary to understand a text, is not enough. The faster the identification of each word, the more available resources are in the working memory to carry out syntactic analysis, semantic integration of sentence constituents, and integration of sentences in the textual organization, all of which are important processes for reading comprehension.
Reading comprehension is also strongly related to exposure to writing, vocabulary knowledge, metacognition, semantic skills, and syntactic awareness, in addition to processes that are also used for oral language comprehension, including general knowledge about the topic covered in the text.
Metacognition is fundamental for reading comprehension
Before going any further, it’s important to understand what is meant by metacognition.
Metacognition refers to an awareness of personal knowledge and thought processes along with the ability to understand, control, and manipulate that knowledge for deeper understanding. Since metacognition is, simply put, learning how you learn, it lays the foundation for successful academic and occupational performance.
So, Metacognitive skills lay the foundation for the transfer and generalization of learned skills for daily functioning and are the critical link between cognition and role performance, which can be seen as behavioral outcomes of executive functions.
Theories about how these skills work together have been around since World War II when Jean Piaget introduced his theory of cognitive development and proposed four stages: sensorimotor (0-2 years), preoperational (ages 3-7), concrete operational (age 8 onwards) and formal operations (age 11 and onwards). These theories were later extended by other psychologists such as Luria who developed the idea of three levels within an individual’s mental process, which includes both conscious verbal reasoning as well as nonverbal intuitive processes.
How can teachers improve students’ executive function ?
Several theoretical and experimental models have been proposed and tested regarding how such skills make up executive functions.
Volition (action of choosing or deciding), selective attention, resistance to distraction or inhibitory control, cognitive, affective and behavioral flexibility, working memory, metacognition and self-regulation, the ability to choose goals, plan for oneself, perform self-monitoring, self-assessment and behaviours oriented by goals and purposes.
But improving executive functions requires a holistic approach.
Imagine the gears of a machine. One gear might be spinning steadily while another is sputtering and sparking, causing the engine to cry out for maintenance. These gears represent two separate mental sets that we face every day: one in which our brain processes information with ease, and the other when it feels sluggish or distracted as if resisting cooperation at all costs.
Shifting refers to one’s ability to switch or shift attention across multiple mental sets. Applied to the context of reading, this involves navigating different strategies, pieces of information, or tasks to focus on the most relevant one.
Inhibition is the ability to purposely ignore automatic responses or behaviors when necessary. Readers who can inhibit can limit attention focused on less relevant information in the text in favor of more relevant information.
Working memory refers to a system that manages sensory input and allows for the manipulation of incoming and stored knowledge, such as remembering important information, instructions, and planning.
As planning and regulation are central elements of the learning process, a lack of such skills can contribute to academic difficulties and lower performance, especially when it comes to reading.
Support to learn and read more efficiently?
Specialized tools can support the learning path of executive functions.
Alta Ipsum is one of them : a smart app that helps students develop their executive function skills and learn more efficiently, which can help them become better readers.
Students can use the app to organize and plan doing homework, studying for tests, or just practicing reading aloud.
Take away: Executive Functions help readings skills
The task initiation for a reading process is a challenge to teachers, parents, and, mainly, to students. Reading, for some students, is far less attractive than the world of games and electronic devices and young students are often drawn to experiences that split their attention spans rather than require concentrated activity.
And that’s where executive functions come in. Since reading is the foundational skill on which all other academic subjects are taught, helping students develop their executive functions so they can become better readers could be the difference between success and failure.