Why teach executive function strategies to high school students?

Sep 2021

High school is a period of significant social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. The changes that happen during this time can be both challenging and exciting for students as this period also coincides with the formation of adolescent identity.

Taken altogether, these factors may also affect high school graduation rates, an important societal focus lately. And all educators - along with families - must be vigilant in encouraging the development of executive functions for students to succeed in becoming happier, more proactive adults.

Eliminate the achievement gap

Educators hope to eliminate "the achievement gap” between high and low performing students. One way to do this is to ensure enough educational opportunities and services for all students. For example, opportunities to learn executive functioning skills can greatly benefit students in the classroom by teaching them to learn and study independently, especially because teachers are often overburdened with large classrooms and competing responsibilities.    

Develop executive functions to improve academic performance


Given the concerns with secondary education performance, it is important to consider how related services may improve academic performance among high school students. Poor academic achievement has been identified as a risk factor for dropping out of high school as well as other post-secondary schooling in America.

What's Executive functioning development ?

The investment in executive functioning development when academic performance is at stake could be an important step forward before college or university admissions decisions begin, but what about students who have already dropped out?

What if students want a second chance after struggling through adolescence without much access to social, emotional, academic, and physical health resources that support them?

Executive function is the ability to maintain an appropriate problem-solving and time management mindset for the attainment of a future goal.

Executive functioning is what facilitates planning, decision-making, judgment, and self perception. It's important for anyone to have a well-developed executive functioning system of the brain because it helps regulate one’s ability to organize thoughts and activities, prioritize tasks efficiently, and manage time. Therefore, well-developed executive functioning ultimately leads an individual to feel in greater control and be more efficient in everyday life such as school or work.

What are the benefits of Executive functioning activities for high school students ?

Cognitive activities in early childhood are critical to develop executive functions


The science of learning demonstrates how skills related to executive functions support the development of teachers and students.

Executive functions begin to be developed in early childhood, based on stimuli and interactions with the external world. Throughout school life and into adulthood, such skills will prove essential for building a social life, carrying out tasks, making decisions, and building relationships

Among the functions that can hinder students during high school is difficulty in areas such as initiation and termination, higher-level thinking, self-control, anger management, sequencing, short-term memory, attention span, time management, and multitasking.

Executive functioning has been strongly associated with positive outcomes in learning and education, and it is believed to be foundational to the successful performance of a variety of tasks throughout life.

Executive function is an essential component of learning.

Executive function may also provide a more holistic picture of a student’s capacity and needs. Therefore the teaching of executive functioning skills may better help educators identify performance gaps that are related to comprehension deficits as opposed to organization and planning deficits.

How to help students develop executive function skills?

Cognitive skills  includes areas such as learning, motivation, and perception.


To be successful in school, students routinely have to select an optimal course of action from an array of possible options.
Academically successful students generally have to make decisions like:

  • Deciding to study for tests instead of always spending time with their friends.
  • Deciding to complete their homework assignments and class projects instead of always playing video games or watching television.
  • Deciding to show up to class instead of always skipping class or sleeping in late.

For students to be able to make these success‐oriented decisions, they rely on a complex network of cognitive skills that includes areas such as learning, motivation, and perception.

However, despite the numerous cognitive skills involved in success‐oriented decision‐making, the one that is particularly important is executive functioning.

5 executive function skills

Executive function is made up of several aspects including planning, organization, response inhibition, set‐shifting, working memory, and vigilance. These are listed across five broad categories:

  • self‐regulation of emotion—one's ability to sustain attention, alertness, and concentration.
  • self‐management of time—one's ability to prioritize, estimate time, be punctual, and plan ahead.
  • self-organization and problem‐solving—one’s ability to organize thoughts, actions, and writing, as well as one’s ability to navigate complex situations and novel tasks.
  • self‐restraint—one's ability to consider future consequences before making decisions or acting upon impulses or thoughts.
  • self‐motivation—one's ability to persevere through monotony and hardship.

About powerful tools

Time management skills are crucial in helping students organize and plan their schoolwork, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and track progress towards their own goals. Time management is also one of the most important skills that we need in adulthood in our roles as family members, community members, and as professionals.

Therefore, educators need powerful tools to help students develop the critical executive functioning skills that will enable them to get the most out of their education - and that they will use for the rest of their lives.

Smart app to help

Students often have a hard time managing their time and focusing on the task at hand. The Alta Ipsum smart app helps students develop their executive function skills so that they can learn more efficiently.

Alta Ipsum is a simple-to-use but effective tool for teachers and parents to help children improve attention span, self-control, and organization. It also benefits all students who need the development of these skills but don't know it yet!

Download our free Executive Functioning checklist.

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