Posts tagged ‘executive function’

July 4, 2014

Executive function skills suffer when kids are over-scheduled

by Grace

The more time children spend in structured, parent-guided activities, the worse their ability to work productively towards self-directed goals.

Unsupervised playtime may benefit the development of executive function.

Unscheduled, unsupervised, playtime is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we give our children. It is fertile ground; the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shore up their physical health. The value of free play,  daydreamingrisk-taking, and independent discovery have been much in the news this year, and a new study by psychologists at the University of Colorado reveals just how important these activities are in the development of children’s executive functioning.

Executive function is a broad term for cognitive skills such as organization, long-term planning, self-regulation, task initiation, and the ability to switch between activities. It is a vital part of school preparedness and has long been accepted as a powerful predictor of academic performance and other positive life outcomes such as health and wealth. The focus of this study is “self-directed executive function,” or the ability to generate personal goals and determine how to achieve them on a practical level. The power of self-direction is an underrated and invaluable skill that allows students to act productively in order to achieve their own goals.

This may help explain the recent rise in diagnosed ADHD cases.  The structured lives of our children — including play dates, day care, and summer camp — is quite different from the mostly unscheduled days of youngsters growing up even 20 years ago.  Could it be that they’re missing out on an important developmental process?

Starting at about age seven or eight I spent lots of time unsupervised by adults, although there were usually older kids around.  During the summer I kept busy riding my bike, going to the library, playing with Barbie dolls, swimming at the neighborhood pool, hanging out with friends, watching TV, and doing other similar self-directed activities.

Ann Althouse had a similar childhood.

When I was a kid, virtually all time not spent in school or sleeping and eating was free play time. Nobody ever spoke of “executive function” or projected developmental improvements of any kind….

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Jessica Lahey, “Why Free Play Is the Best Summer School”, The Atlantic, June 20, 2014.

September 26, 2012

Quick Takes – New York test scores may drop next year, mining jobs pay better than Ivy League degree, girls still avoid shop class, and more

by Grace

—   Changes in New York’s standardized tests next year may cause scores to drop.

That is because the state is moving quickly to put in place new curriculum standards, called Common Core, which stress more critical thinking to help prepare students for college and careers. The state’s math and English exams, therefore, will for the first time be testing students on elements of the Common Core.

Students taking the English exams next year, for instance, will be asked to analyze and compare passages, rather than summarize them. In math, fractions, rather than probability or statistics, will be stressed.

“I would not be surprised if the test scores next year would drop, because it will be a whole new test based on much higher standards,” said one state education official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “The Common Core is a much more rigorous set of standards.”

Aaron Pallas, professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is an expert on city schools data, also predicted there may be a drop in scores next year.

“It’s almost always the case when there’s a fundamental change in a test format that scores go down,” Dr. Pallas said. “So there’s going to be discontinuity. That’s one reason why it’s hard to make judgments from one year to the next when there’s several moving pieces.”

He added: “It will take some time and next year will be a new baseline from which we can look forward to see how things are happening over the next three or four years.”


—  Forget Harvard.  Go for the big bucks in mining careers.

Harvard University’s graduates are earning less than those from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology after a decade-long commodity bull market created shortages of workers as well as minerals.

Those leaving the college of 2,300 students this year got paid a median salary of $56,700, according to PayScale Inc., which tracks employee compensation data from surveys. At Harvard, where tuition fees are almost four times higher, they got $54,100. Those scheduled to leave the campus in Rapid City, South Dakota, in May are already getting offers, at a time when about one in 10 recent U.S. college graduates is out of work.
Harvard Losing Out to South Dakota in Graduate Pay: Commodities (Bloomberg)


—  Why don’t more girls enroll in shop class?  “Stigma”, according to NPR

The Shop Class Stigma: What Title IX Didn’t Change (NPR)

Forty years ago, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX, which said no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from any education program or activity. Vocational education courses that barred girls — such as auto mechanics, carpentry and plumbing — became available for everyone. But it’s still hard to find girls in classes once viewed as “for boys only.”…

Now, for the most part, schools don’t discriminate or deny girls educational opportunities. Yet, the conclusion by a National Women’s Law Center study a few years ago raised a different point.

Boys are still routinely steered toward courses that lead to higher-paying careers in technology and trades. Meanwhile, 90 percent of students in courses that lead to lower-wage jobs, like child care and cosmetology, are female.

I don’t accept that a male/female imbalance for a particular occupation is necessarily a problem that must be fixed by legislation.  But if there is a problem of pushing girls towards lower-wage jobs, the NPR story used a poor example to show this since the girl in the story was steered away from auto mechanics toward engineering.   Her family encouraged her to aim for a higher paying job in a field dominated by men, not exactly a fit with the NPR’s narrative.


—  Reading the classics may improve executive function and other attention-related abilities.

Reading a classic novel such as “Pride and Prejudice” can be entertaining, but, according to new research by a Michigan State University professor, it also can provide many other benefits beyond that….

… blood flow was increased in areas of the brain far beyond those responsible for what cognitive scientists call “executive function,” regions normally associated with tasks that require close attention, such as studying, doing complex math problems or reading intensely….

“It’s early, but what this research suggests so far is that core skills in the liberal arts have immense cognitive complexity,” she said. “It’s not only the books we read, but also the act of thinking rigorously about them that’s of value, exercising the brain in critical ways.”

The work also brings together scientists and literary scholars to explore the relationship between reading, attention and distraction.

Imagine that.  Assigning students books with higher levels of text complexity is good for learning.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

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