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Current work on efs and strategies in students with individual differences

EFs and Reading Comprehension

EFs refer to a set of top-down mental processes required when one needs to guide behavior toward a goal or to coordinate performance in complex tasks (Dawson & Guare,

2010; Diamond, 2013): skills needed to work in a motivated or engaged fashion (e.g., toward a goal that may not be reached immediately; Blaye & Chevalier, 2011; Gillberg & Coleman, 2000), which implicates the involvement of motivational and engagement processes. EFs are important to learning and cognitive and emotional development because they enable children to take time to think, resist temptations or distractions, hold information in memory, and play with ideas while staying focused (e.g., Diamond, 2013). Although there are various conceptualizations of the component skills that make up EF, there is wide agreement that there are three core EFs - inhibition, working memory, and shifting or cognitive flexibility (Diamond, 2013; Miyake et al., 2000). Inhibition, or inhibitory control, refers to the suppression of dominant, habitual, or prepotent responses when necessary for task completion (Miyake et al., 2000). Working memory includes both storage and processing components, and refers to the holding in mind and manipulation of information while performing some operation on it (Diamond, 2013; Miyake et al., 2000). Cognitive flexibility, or “shifting,” refers to switching back and forth among multiple tasks, operations, or dimensions of tasks (Chevalier & Blaye, 2008; Monsell, 1996) such as shifting attentional focus from an idea or a category to a new one. From the combination of these EFs, higher order EFs are built, such as reasoning, problem solving, and planning (e.g., Collins & Koechlin, 2012). If we consider the three core EFs, each plays a unique role in the prediction of reading comprehension. Working memory (Cain, 2006; Sesma, Mahone, Levine, Eason, & Cutting, 2009), inhibition (Cain, 2006; Kieffer, Vukovic, & Berry, 2013), and cognitive flexibility (Cartwright et al., 2017; Kieffer et al., 2013) all contribute significantly to reading comprehension. Additionally, composite measures of EF (based on factor analyses and theoretical underpinnings for similar functions/skills) made distinct contributions to variance in the reading comprehension of native ESs and ELs in the elementary grades (e.g., Taboada Barber et al., 2019). In sum, the evidence ofthe direct contributions of EFs to reading comprehension extends to a variety of readers: typically developing readers, students with RCD, and ELs.

However, the question remains: why do EFs relate to reading comprehension? If we think of each of the core EF skills, we can, at least conceptually, understand the roles they play in reading comprehension. Working memory plays a critical role in integrating information during comprehension by (a) holding recently processed information to make connections to the latest input (e.g., sentence/idea/word) and (b) maintaining the gist of information for the construction of an overall representation of text (e.g., Cain, Oakhill, & Lemmon, 2004). Cain et al. (2004) also suggest individual differences in inference making and comprehension monitoring are related to working memory. Inhibition is important to reading comprehension because it allows readers to forget or suppress information that is no longer relevant, such as inhibition of irrelevant word meanings when activating the meaning of words in a text (Barnes, Faulkner, Wilkinson, & Dennis, 2004; Henderson, Snowling, & Clarke, 2013). Inhibition may also play a role in ignoring irrelevant information at the sentence or paragraph level when building a coherent mental representation of a complete text, such as details not relevant to the overall meaning ofthe passage (Borella, Carretti, & Pelegrina, 2010; Cain, 2006; Kintsch, 1988). The third core EF skill, cognitive flexibility, is particularly important for the flexible coordination of multiple aspects of the comprehension task, such as shifting focus between words, letters, and sounds to their meaning in early childhood (Cartwright et al., 2017; Cartwright, Marshall, Dandy, & Isaac, 2010), middle childhood (Cartwright, 2002; Cole, Duncan, & Blaye, 2014), and adulthood (Cartwright, 2007; Georgiou & Das, 2018), even when controlling for known predictors of reading comprehension. Further, children and adults with RCD are lower in cognitive flexibility than typically developing peers (Cartwright, Bock, Coppage, Hodgkiss, & Nelson, 2017; Cartwright et al., 2017).

Executive Functions and Students with Individual Differences

Given that EFs refer to a family of top-down mental processes that are needed for concentration and control of attention, as well as self-regulation of behavior, their impact on learning goes beyond reading comprehension. Indeed, several areas of achievement are impacted by EFs, such as mathematics and science achievement (Bull & Lee, 2014; Latzman, Elkovitch, Young, & Clark, 2010) and writing (Altemeier, Jones, Abbott, & Berninger, 2006). However, although EFs have been explored in populations with individual differences such as students with RCD (e.g., Cain, 2006; Cartwright et al., 2017), they have been scarcely explored in ELs. Yet, the extant evidence has shown consistently that bilingual children (and adults) perform better on measures of EF skills than English monolingual speakers (e.g., Bialystok, 1999; Bialystok & Martin, 2004; Carlson & Meltzoff, 2008), possibly because bilingualism enhances a general network of executive control, in addition to targeting specific core components such as inhibition (cf. Bialystok & Martin, 2004) or shifting (cf. Meuter & Allport, 1999). Thus, an important outcome of bilingualism may be in managing executive control components to address complex goals (Bialystok, 2015). However, limited research has focused on whether the benefits of EFs found for fully bilingual populations apply to ELs in the elementary grades in the United States.

EFs and Strategies: Relations and State of the Literature

As noted above, although interest in childrens strategy use and the development of executive functions has blossomed in recent decades (see Table 13.1), few empirical connections have been made between these literatures (Roebers & Feurer, 2016). Additionally, thinking in this area is mixed, with some scholars suggesting metacogni-tive strategy use might influence the development of EF (Borkowski et al., 2000; Chevalier & Blaye, 2016), others that EF contributes to strategy use (Gnaedinger, Hund, & Hesson-Mclnnis, 2016), and yet others holding the view that strategic metacognitive monitoring may be a complex form of EF (Dawson & Guare, 2010; Meltzer, 2010). Given the incipient state of this literature, we consider the relations of EFs and strategy use in the current chapter, paying particular attention to these variables in EL students and students with RCD.

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