Executive Functioning in Adolescents

Image: https://goo.gl/QrlzmK


The BSU presented a talk to the staff about Executive Functioning and the implications for learning. This topic has been divided into a series of talks to enable us to grapple with a topic that has gained ground in providing valuable insight into learning. The first talk in the series offered some background research into why adolescents in particular experience heightened challenges in the classroom. Talks to follow will address further practical strategies to implement in the classroom to support adolescents’ developing learning experiences.


Session 1: Executive Functioning – The Adolescent Experience

“Executive Functions are those cognitive capabilities that enable independent, purposeful, goal-directed behaviour.” (Randy Kulman)

 In a nutshell, this refers to how one is able to organise oneself to get things done. This involves a lot of self-regulation of both thinking and behaviour so as to set and work towards goals.

Executive Functioning recognises the 6 components to learning, as indicated below. Whilst learners can have strengths in some areas, the challenges in one can have a knock-on effect on the others.


Image: Kulman, 2012


The Adolescent Brain

Despite what we think may fill up teenagers’ brains, neuroscience points to the window of opportunity for learning as a result of the stage of development of the adolescent brain. During this time, the neural connections become streamlined to deepen interests, develop learning habits, and translate knowledge into long-term stored memory.

On the other hand, whilst the brain connections are being primed for optimal learning, adolescent behavioural control as dictated by the reptilian ‘fight-or flight’ and emotional centres can overpower the rational, thinking brain (prefrontal neo-cortex). As such, when the adolescent feels threatened, he can literally “flip his lid” (to borrow Dan Siegel’s term) whereby his emotions and fight-or-flight responses override his ability to rationally problem-solve.


Image: Dudler, 2008.


As the rational brain continues to develop well into one’s twenties, hormonal changes specifically in adolescence result in reduced emotional stability and impulse control, as well as the need for sleep. Boundaries are pushed and risky behaviour increases as teens establish their identities. As such, there is a dire need for stable role models in parents and teachers who can demonstrate rational thinking in times of uncertainty and stress.

With so many physical and emotional changes going on, the teenager is very much a work in progress, which poses for interesting implications for teaching and learning indeed!

Stay tuned for the next in the series!


Please click on the link to download the first presentation: Executive Functioning presentation


Research that inspired the presentation: 

Barkley, R. (2010). ADHD and executive function. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/fgV3w7
Blakemore, S-J. (2012). The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zVS8HIPUng .
Callegarin, M. (2015). Three things you should know about how the brain works. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/three-things-you-should-know-how-brain-works-myriam-callegarin
Forrester, J. (2016). Executive Function – You don’t have to be an executive to function like one! Presentation, Bishops Preparatory School.
Ginnett, A. (2015). Who doesn’t have trouble with executive functioning? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zq0oNVb0k58 .
Gross, L (2015). Improving Executive Functioning Skills with MyLearningSpringboard. Accessed 22nd September 2016, at http://pt.slideshare.net/mylearningspringboard/executive-function-presentation-my-learningspringboardcom
Guare, R. & Dawson, P. (2013). Smart but Scattered Teens. New York: Guilford.
Krishnamurthy, P. (2007). Brain and its functions. Accessed 20th September 2016, at http://www.slideshare.net/kprabhakar975/brain-and-its-functions-part-1
Kulman, R. (2012). Train your brain for Success: A teenager’s guide to executive functions. Plantation, FL: Speciality Press.
New Leaves Clinic (2013). Executive Functioning for Teachers. Accessed 19 October 2016, at http://pt.slideshare.net/NLClinic/ef-presentation-for-msb
Pellissier, H. (2012).  Neuroscience and the brain of a teenager. Retrieved from http://www.howtolearn.com/2012/01/neuroscience-and-the-brain-of-a-teenager/
Rozman, D. (2014, June 12). Helping adults understand teens today [Blog post]. Retrieved from  http://www.daverozman.com/tag/words-to-describe-teens/
Scheiper, L. (2014).Task Planning and Execution: The Get Ready, Do, Done model.  Accessed 19th October 2016, at https://prezi.com/mx7tr3k7nr71/task-planning-and-execution-the-get-ready-do-done-model/
Stanberry, K. (2016).  Executive functioning: A new lens for viewing your child. Retrieved from http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/executive-function-lens-to-view-your-child/
Taylor, C. (2016). Executive functioning deficits. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/H2PTcz
TeenSafe. (2014, October 19). Judgement Call: Maturity, emotions, and the teenage brain. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.teensafe.com/blog/judgement-call-an-infographic-on-the-teen-brain/
Warren, E. (2010). Executive Functioning: Definitions and strategies for success. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/ZoxdEq