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5 Comprehensive Components of Executive Function

On August 09, 2008 in Articles

5 Components of Executive Function

Based upon material from Barkley and Brown, there are five general components of executive function that impact school performance:

1.  Working memory and recall (holding facts in mind while manipulating information; accessing facts stored in long-term memory.)

2.  Activation, arousal, and effort (getting started; paying attention; finishing work)

3.  Controlling emotions (ability to tolerate frustration; thinking before acting or speaking)

4.  Internalizing language (using “self-talk” to control one’s behavior and direct future actions)

5.  Taking an issue apart, analyzing the pieces, reconstituting and organizing it into new ideas (complex problem solving).

Let’s take a more in-depth look at just one element of executive function-deficits in working memory and recall-and their impact on school work.


1.  Poor Working Memory and Recall (in-depth look)


Common Academic Problems Linked to ADHD and Executive Function Deficits:

Many students with ADD or ADHD have impaired working memory and slow processing speed, which are important elements of executive function. Not surprisingly, these skills are critical for writing essays and working math problems.

A recent research study – by Mayes and Calhoun has identified written expression as the most common learning problem among students with ADHD (65 percent). Consequently, writing essays, drafting book reports or answering questions on tests or homework is often very challenging for these students. For example, when writing essays, students often have difficulty holding ideas in mind, acting upon and organizing ideas, quickly retrieving grammar, spelling and punctuation rules from long-term memory, manipulating all this information, remembering ideas to write down, organizing the material in a logical sequence, and then reviewing and correcting errors.

Since learning is relatively easy for most of us, sometimes we forget just how complex seemingly simple tasks really are, for example memorizing multiplication tables or working a math problem. For example, when a student works on a math problem, he must fluidly move back and forth between analytical skills and several levels of memory (working, short-term, and long-term memory). With word problems, he must hold several numbers and questions in mind while he decides how to work a problem. Next he must delve into long-term memory to find the correct math rule to use for the problem. Then he must hold important facts in mind while he applies the rules and shifts information back and forth between working and short-term memory to work the problem and determine the answer.

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