Executive Function and Reading

Executive function plays a role in reading beginning in preschool when students are first developing their relationship with language and text. In middle and high school, executive function becomes even more important as  students are expected to master complex literacy skills: reading comprehension, summarizing, note-taking, and writing assignments that involve outlines, drafting, and revision.

The crucial role executive function plays in literacy is explored by Dr. Lynn Meltzer, president and director of research at ResearchILD, and Michael Greschler, director of SMARTS, in this month’s issue of The Examiner from the International Dyslexia Association.

The interplay between literacy and executive function appears in a number of crucial academic skills. For example, in order to summarize what they are reading, students must be able to prioritize information they find in text, shifting between main ideas and details and discarding irrelevant information. When students are writing research papers, they need to plan out the steps, estimate the amount of time each step will take, and monitor their progress. A poor grade on an essay or reading assignment may suggest weak literacy skills; however, executive function may be to blame.

To support students’ development of literacy skills, teachers must explicitly address the executive function component. In SMARTS, we have strategies that teach students these skills including highlighting with a purpose, organizing ideas for outlines, summarizing using active reading strategies, and more. By modelling how to apply executive function strategies to what they read, we are helping students cope with the executive function demands of literacy. This allows students to develop the literacy skills they need for success in school and beyond.

Read the full article: Executive Function Strategies: The Building Blocks for Reading to Learn


  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager