In terms of execution, the presentation was excellent (which I would expect from a presenter specializing in executive skills!). He reviewed the different areas of the brains and their functions. Most notably he discussed how certain functions of the brain can interfere with one another. For example, the Amygdala’s job, roughly speaking, is to watch for danger. If it senses danger (which can be physical or more abstract, such as danger of embarrassment) it reacts and pushes the frontal lobe, which makes rational decisions, out of the way. Likewise, if chemicals related to anxiety flood the brain, it is harder for the brain to learn.
Of course, he also discussed executive functioning and its definition. Executive functions are those skills that allow you to plan, organize, control yourself, and make decisions. According to the Upside Down Organization there 10 separate executive function skills:
- Time Management
- Working Memory
- Emotional Control
- Sustained Attention
- Task Initiation
- Impulse Control
- Goal-Directed PersistenceIn my opinion, the presentation went downhill after this. Mr. Kros had us take a self-assessment to determine our executive strengths and weaknesses. The assessment has major typos, was poorly organized, and had no data or research to back its design or use.
He then taught us a variety of little games that would help children develop executive function skills. However, he did not share any research that showed the generalization of these skills to other activities. In fact, I explicitly asked him to share research with me. He promised to email it but never did.
That is my issue with concept of executive functions in general: the lack of research. While the Upside Down Organization believes there are 10 executive skills, George McCloskey (who spoke at the NASP summer conference) believes there are about 32. There is no research to show the relationship between executive skills and success in school or in the world. There are no research-based interventions for executive skills. There is no reliable way to evaluate if children have adequate executive skills. Of course, none of this is surprising if we can’t even agree on a definition.
In short, I find executive skills fascinating. The concept helps to fills the gap between cognitive ability and successful. Some of only research that Mr. Kros did share was done by Lewis Terman in the 1920s. he followed 1,470 children with IQs above 140 and found, after 20 years, that the majority had ordinary careers, quite a few were financial failures, and only a small group were successful. Clearly there is something besides cognitive ability at work. I’ll even buy that this something is executive functioning.This concept of executive functioning as a strong predictor of success, however, is not useful if we do not know what it is or how to improve it. It drives me nuts when training is offered based off only the barest notion of what is effective. I hope that more research is done on executive functioning good assessments and interventions are developed. In the meantime, I know it’s there, but I don’t know what to do about it.