Executive Function and Reading Skills

Executive Function and Reading

If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail.
– Benjamin Franklin

Executive function is all about planning and organizing. It’s also your ability to strategize and pay attention to and remember details. Executive function also involves flexible thinking. This is used when you have an assignment or project, or a problem that can be done in several ways. Do you get stuck, or do you look for a different way to do it? When we read, we use our executive function skills.

Executive Function Directly Impacts Reading Skills

Every time you read:

  • You decide what you are going to read.
  • You decide when you are going to read.
  • You plan your reading to fit into your day, whether it is at a break, after school, after dinner, or before bed.

While reading, whether it’s a news story, social media, an article, or a book, your brain constantly uses executive function skills by asking yourself:

  • Is this important? 
  • Do I need to remember this?
  • What associations or connections can I draw from the characters?
  • Do I have any personal experiences that I can relate to what I’m reading?

The process the brain uses as it asks these questions is executive function. Asking these questions filters and sends the information to both the short and long term memory centers of the brain. This helps you to retain, understand, and fully comprehend what you read. 

Scholar Within After-School Reading Program with Spelling and Phonics

3 Brain Processes Work Together

  1. Working Memory:
    Your ability to recall steps of a word problem while solving it or recalling the steps of a recipe while cooking.
  2. Flexible Thinking:
    When you are stuck, flexible thinking is the ability to try new ways to solve a problem.
  3. Executive Function:
    This is your ability to ask yourself questions, plan, and organize your thoughts. 

When you are able to retain what you’ve read, organize your thoughts with your working memory and flexibility, you are able to act succinctly.

Specific Areas of Reading are Impacted by Executive Function

  • Vocabulary:
    Helps you organize, associate, and categorize words to retain meaning.
  • Grammar:
    Helps you to interpret the content. e.g.: Let’s eat grandpa. vs Let’s eat, grandpa.
  • Word and Sentence Emphasis:
    Helps you determine the mood or emotional context of the passage which aids comprehension.

Your ability to maintain focus impacts your ability to read easily. Working memory comes into play by helping us to hold onto multiple bits of information in a paragraph as well as a story. Executive function helps us to comprehend.

Executive Function Skills Build Foundational Reading Skills

Many researchers, including Laurie Cutting and George McCloskey have established the connection of executive function to the reading process. Executive function skills work directly with working memory. If you improve your executive function skills, your reading comprehension skills will naturally improve. There are specific activities for different age groups that strengthen executive function and reading skills.

In a nutshell, executive function is a term used to describe a set of mental processes that helps us connect past experience with present action. We use executive function skills when we perform the following activities:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Strategizing
  • Paying attention to details 
  • Remembering details

These skills allow us to:

  • Finish work on time.
  • Ask for help when needed.
  • Wait to speak until we’re called on.
  • Seek more information.

Executive function can improve. These are learned skills and can improve with instruction! Study skills instruction that incorporates planning skills can and does make a real difference!

Many schools do not teach these executive function skills. They expect students to just catch on to how to plan. However, when you teach your kids these skills, both reading and overall learning improve.

Learn about our After-School Reading Program to find out how we integrate executive function skills into reading instruction.

Scholar Within After-School Reading Program with Spelling and Phonics

Who is Scholar Within?

Scholar Within was founded by learning expert Bonnie Terry, M. Ed., BCET. Bonnie began designing and developing her own custom educational tools when she started her private learning center in the 1990s. Teachers kept asking what she was using with the kids who saw her because of the dramatic improvements that the kids made in school. From there, Bonnie decided to make her materials available to teachers and families worldwide.

Now, Bonnie Terry has turned her materials into a full-service online program that you can follow step-by-step at home, on your schedule. School alone is not enough anymore. Bonnie’s programs boost your kid’s overall learning skills by focusing on improving the auditory, visual, and tactile processing areas of your brain to make it work more efficiently.

Learn more about Scholar Within.

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Norma Doss
8 months ago


Where’s it held?
Do you allow volunteers (I ask because I volunteered in a program at Crosstimbers Elementary in Tecumseh, OK.).

Bonnie Terry
7 months ago
Reply to  Norma Doss


This is an online program.

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