- Kindergartners with deficits in cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control and working memory experience greater academic difficulties in math, reading and science than those without these challenges according to an examination of the results of 8,330 students in the 2010-11 cohort of the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.
- The study, shared this week at a meeting of the American Educational Research Association, found that deficits in working memory had the biggest impact on academic achievement as kindergarten students with these deficits were 10 times more likely to experience repeated academic difficulties than students without working memory deficits, even when the study controlled for deficits in other types of executive function.
- The authors of the study, from Pennsylvania State University and the University of California, Irvine, clarify that students are most likely to benefit from early interventions that target both working memory and academic skills.
This new study highlights the growing influence that neuroscience is having on the field of education. In the past decade, more attention has been paid to how executive functions affect the learning process in students.
This recent study confirms the earlier results released in 2014 by researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. In that study, lead author Clancy Blair, professor of applied psychology, concluded that, “Working memory and the ability to control attention, both important components of executive functions, enable children to focus and process information more efficiently. Our results suggest that a combined focus on executive functions and early academic learning provides the strongest foundation for early success in school.”
Research has also been conducted on ways to enhance executive function, which researchers with the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child refer to as the “air traffic control mechanism” of the brain. These suggestions include a variety of age-based approaches by teachers and parents including games, activities, and goal-setting.
These strategies can help students become more successful in kindergarten and in later years, and can increase the odds that they will be reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, another important indicator for success.