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Executive Function in High School Students

High school in most school systems encompasses grades 8-12, or from about the ages 14 to 18. This is an important time for applying and expanding the foundational Executive Function skills that began in primary school.

What Executive Function Skills are Expected in High School?

  • Self-regulation: managing strong emotions and inhibiting impulsive behaviours
  • Attention: sustaining focus, especially for lengthy or challenging tasks that may have many components
  • Task Initiation: starting a non-preferred task and overcoming a desire to procrastinate
  • Organisation: keeping track of materials at home and in school, organising ideas and information for essays and research papers, managing digital data and files
  • Planning and Prioritising: mapping out multi-step tasks such as long-term class projects, and tackling assignments in order of importance
  • Time Management: allocating time for schoolwork and other commitments such as sports, clubs, family, friends, part-time jobs, volunteer work, and other involvements
  • Cognitive Flexibility: taking the perspective of teachers and peers and formulating different solutions to problems
  • Metacognition: the ability to reflect on one’s own learning and have self-awareness that drives good choices

While some students seem to develop these skills seamlessly, many struggle and benefit from a level of direct 1:1 instruction and support that is often unavailable in most high schools. With the stakes being higher, in terms of the University application process, many students who got by adequately in primary school often face roadblocks in high school. They can be unprepared for the rigor and productivity expected of high school students.

What are the signs of Executive Function problems in High School students?

Parents often see signs of Executive Function challenges in their child in high school when students face increased demands for self-management.

Parents and teachers may notice:

  • Organizational challenges: the student has difficulties organising class materials, keeping track of and turning in homework, or approaching writing assignments and long-term projects
  • Behaviour or emotion management challenges – the student may have poor relationships with teachers, be unable to resist distractions, have difficulty settling down to do work, or give up easily on challenging or tedious tasks
  • Time management challenges: the student leaves work until the last minute, causing panic and stress at home, maybe overscheduled, and stressed
  • Academic challenges: the student lacks persistence or often does not complete or even start assignments, may do poorly on tests due to ineffective study habits, may lose credit for late assignments, may not know how to take notes in class

Why is it important for High School students to work on Executive Function skills?

Executive Function plays a central role in shaping student achievement. In high school, students must adapt to the expectations of many different teachers at once, who may schedule project due dates and tests on the same day.

Moreover, teens must be productive amidst the distractions of phones and computers, which is challenging even for many adults. Adding to the stress, parents see that their high school students may insist on managing their academics independently when they are unequipped to do so, given underdeveloped Executive Function skills.

Finally, parents know that the clock is ticking, as by 12th grade, these self-management skills are needed for a smooth transition to university or the workplace, where heightened school demands compete with new freedoms and extracurriculars. Unaddressed, a deficit in the critical foundational area of Executive Function skills can have long-term effects on a student’s success and, consequently, their self-confidence as a learner.

Understanding if your child has executive function problems can help you support them more effectively. Seeing these things as specific skills, and figuring out which ones might be a problem for your child, makes it easier to understand why they are struggling and how to help them.

Biolink Attention Training is expert in executive function and has developed a test to measure how well a child can perform specific functions. Those measures allow us to identify where each child needs the most assistance.

Learn more about this test by clicking here.

Lizaan Spangenberg
Biolink Attention Training Head Office