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Executive Function Skills and An Argument for Homework

September 18th, 2017

Executive Function and The Homework Puzzle

Executive function and homework, is there a connection? No one talks about it. It seems that no one even thinks about it. It’s not being discussed or covered in the literature. I have read so much about concern with homework, as well as experienced homework struggles with my own kids, my students, and of course, in my own studies. Homework has been a part of my life for over 50 years.

I agree with much of the concern recently raised about the quantity, content, and effectiveness of homework. Kids are too stressed in school, as well as at home. They need to: play, have down time, time to be creative, investigate, and dream. It is not reasonable for children as young as 8 and 9 to be spending 1 to 2 hours beyond the school day working on academic homework.

However, I see two pieces missing in the homework puzzle. First, development of executive function is the main purpose of homework. Successful development of executive function is critical to both academic success and general success in life. We’ll cover the second missing puzzle piece in next week’s post.

Executive Function and Homework

The first piece of the homework puzzle that is missing is executive function skills. This post addresses the primary reason for homework, teaching executive function skills, or the planning skills. Executive function skills do not just appear overnight. They involve time management. They require shifting from one activity to another, getting out supplies you need when you need them, and putting them away when you are done with them. Just 15 minutes of homework a day can help develop these skills.

What Is Executive Function?

A term used to describe a set of mental processes that helps us connect past experience with present action. We use executive function when we perform such activities as planning, organizing, strategizing and paying attention to and remembering details.

These skills allow us to finish our work on time, ask for help when needed, wait to speak until we’re called on and seek more information.

Executive Function Problems

Executive Function and the Brain

There is a specific connection between the brain and the ability to manage time productively. Neuroscience shows that executive function skills take place in the frontal cortex of the brain. Because the frontal cortex is not fully developed until the mid-to-late twenties, development of executive function skills is a very long process. So if your kids are having trouble completing assignments, forgetting their books, not turning in their work, it is okay. They are not alone. Their brains are still developing.

We develop the executive function skills of planning and the ability to foresee consequences over time, making new neuro-connections each and every day. When we are able to make these connections relevant, both learning and planning come more easily. The nature of homework inherently lends itself to an easy way to teach and improve executive function skills.

How to Do Homework Successfully
executive function skills, graphic organizers, reading comprehension

There is a wonderful planning skills- executive function section in the Ten Minutes to better Study Skills.

Beth C., from Florida states, “These forms are a great help in training students to develop better study and organizational skills.”

Executive Function and Homework Planning

Homework allows kids to practice planning and organizing steps. In everything we do as adults, we need to plan. To get up in the morning, we plan what time we need to get up, set the alarm, and then respond to that alarm by getting up. We plan all of our meals. We plan and organize the process of doing the laundry. We shift from one activity to another throughout each and every day. Most kids don’t do this shifting naturally. Homework allows them to practice these skills in small increments over time.

The key here is to realize this benefit of homework and apply it accordingly. Kids can and do learn these skills with short assignments. They don’t get burned out or hate school if the total homework time is 15-minutes. The detriment of homework comes in when daily homework is longer than that. So, let’s use homework to teach those important executive function skills. Let’s teach kids how to prioritize their time so they can complete assignments. Teach them how to be flexible, how to anticipate the outcomes of their assignments, and how to have a sense of balance.

Blog Topics

Executive Function and Homework