Executive functions, the brain-based cognitive skills that are a key to self-management and critical-thinking skills, are also very important for academic achievement. Executive-functioning skills such as visual-spatial working memory are an important part of mathematical skills. The executive function of time management contributes significantly to a child’s capacity to complete academic tests and homework in a timely and efficient fashion. The connection between executive functions and reading may be the most important relationship that parents or struggling readers need to understand.
Many studies indicate that struggling readers often experience significant executive-functioning difficulties. Most frequently this is evident in verbal working-memory deficits. The executive-functioning skill of focus also plays a significant role in reading comprehension and in helping children to sustain their attention to a variety of the phonological, decoding, and processing tasks that are required while reading.
Susan Gathercole, Tracy Alloway, and their colleagues describe how executive-functioning difficulties can indirectly impact reading, attention, and other academic skills. Many other studies indicate that parents and educators need to become aware of the relationship between executive functions and reading so they do not rely solely upon direct reading instruction to improve these skills.
Strategies to Improve Reading Skills & Executive Functions:
1.) Explore working-memory concerns. Working memory appears to be the most prominent executive-functioning concern for many children who struggle with reading and often contributes to difficulty with phonological processing and comprehension in struggling readers.
2.) Examine your child’s attention span. Determine if your child’s difficulty may be related more to attention problems or to the executive function of Focus. Some struggling readers cannot sustain their attention to the written word.
3.) Learn more. For more insight into the relationship between reading and executive functions, explore our charts about the connection between Thinking Skills, Executive Functions and academics.